Startup office imitators usually go for superficial things, but startups aren’t special because they have bottomless beverages, games, or toys. Startups make magic with imaginative areas for collaboration, spaces that allow freedom and flexibility, and design elements that convey a spirit of possibility and innovation.
Keep reading to learn how to bring all those sought-after startup vibes into your office.
What does it mean to have a “Startup Office”??
This term pops up again in job descriptions and company profiles. It seems like “startup” vibe” is the thing every office is trying to be. But what makes this idea so attractive? And what does it really mean to behave – or just feel – like a startup?
Let’s first look at what it means to be a startup. Here’s a simple definition from Investopedia:
A startup is a company that is in the first stage of its operations. These companies are often initially bankrolled by their entrepreneurial founders as they attempt to capitalize on developing a product or service for which they believe there is a demand. Due to limited revenue or high costs, most of these small-scale operations are not sustainable in the long term without additional funding from venture capitalists.
So on a technical level,“startup” really just refers to the growth stage of a business. And yet it means so much more – and it means different things to different people. Before we get your office looking and feeling like a startup, let’s take some time to reflect on those meanings.
What people think: Startups are all about ping-pong tables and free beer.
What it’s really like: Games and free drinks are just side effects of more meaningful startup characteristics, namely teamwork and camaraderie. Startup employees work hard toward a common goal and solve customer problems, and then they celebrate their victories with coworkers. (But a lot of work happens before anyone cracks a beer.)
What people think: Startup founders live a sweet life of freedom.
What it’s really like: Startup founders are doing a ton of work. According to billing company Chargify, startup founders end up juggling multiple roles, including CEO, product manager, and sales representative. Founders may be bosses, but they are not cutting themselves any slack.
What people think: Startup work is fast-paced and exciting all the time.
What it’s really like: According to Inc., startup work may be fast-paced during growth spurts, but a thrilling pace is not the norm.
What people think: Startup employees get to be as creative as they want.
What it’s really like: Most startups need to prove themselves to investors and customers as soon as possible. That means they have to deliver what people want, using firm logic and sound metrics. Startup work is certainly creative, but startup employees do not spend their days dreaming.
What people think: Startups break the rules.
What it’s really like: According to Crowdspring, many startups find success by building on existing ideas and concepts—not blazing radical new trails.
What people think: Startups launch careers.
What it’s really like: Startup employees have to do a variety of tasks for the greater good of the company, and many of these tasks—including picking up food, taking out the trash, and other menial responsibilities—do nothing to advance a career… at least not right away.
What people think: The founders have everything figured out.
What it’s really like: Startup founders hire smart employees who share their vision to help them figure everything out. Every single startup employee has a powerful voice in the company, regardless of position or rank.
What people think: All startups are hip and high tech.
What it’s really like: While many entrepreneurs look for ways to break the mold and solve problems using modern technology, many other startups are simply traditional businesses providing traditional services no one has even thought to offer.
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Startup Office Design Tips
1. Create casual meeting areas.
The Sociable Blog recommends creating lots of small, nontraditional meeting spaces around the office to encourage brainstorming.
What makes it “startup”: Casual meeting areas reject corporate norms of sleek boardrooms, rigid agendas, and scheduling acrobatics by providing a place for impromptu meetings that flow with new ideas.
Benefits: Nurturing spaces for brainstorms and creative empowerment.
How to: Grab some whiteboards, bean bag chairs, card tables, thrift-shop couches, and anything else that falls within your budget. A few seats and a whiteboard is really all you need to create an effective space for brainstorming.
2. Add local flare.
As the proprietors of a decor visualization app and web platform, Hutch put a great deal of thought into designs for their main office. The design experts gave their home city, Los Angeles, a nod by using iconic neighborhoods as inspiration for their decor. They also brought in local artists to paint wall murals.
What makes it “startup”: Personality.
Benefits: Employees love working in a beautiful office, and clients will never forget visiting your city-inspired office.
How to: What do you find beautiful about your city? If it’s the city skyline, then consider purchasing or commissioning some sleek photography from a local creative. If it’s a general vibe, then you can create a color palette that captures the spirit of your city.
3. Choose a design that broadcasts brand values.
Quirky, a collaborative invention platform, encourages people to pursue creative ideas. When you think of invention, you probably think of free thinking, creativity, and maybe a hint of the unexpected. Quirky’s office decor captures all those concepts with a variety of nonstandard design elements, including a locker reception desk, a pallet-crate conference table, and a mashup of cozy and industrial looks. If you are looking for office furniture stores be sure to check out our friends at Calibre Furniture.
What makes it “startup”: A strong, singular vision that’s perfect for inspiring office designs. (Compare this with older companies who struggle to lock down a mission statement.)
Benefits: Constantly surrounded by reminders of company vision, employees will have no trouble keeping their mission top of mind.
How to: Do some word association exercises to nail down a few key terms that describe your brand values. What qualities do all employees possess? How do you want to be perceived as a brand? Once you have a few keywords, write down objects you think of when you say each word, and then see if any of them can be translated into decor.
- Honesty: Yellow, Abraham Lincoln, and apples
- Translates to: Bright yellow desk chairs, Abraham Lincoln portraits, and bowls of apples (no wax) on every conference table
4. Get colorful.
A little color goes a long way. Things as simple as bright wall murals and colored cubicle walls bring energy to a space.
What makes it “startup”: Just as greyish-beige cubes say “corporate, mass-produced, and generic,” colorful spaces say “creative, individualized, and unforgettable,” just like your startup.
Benefits: According to Psychology Today, “a beige world is understimulating—and that’s stressful.” Provide plenty of color to achieve plenty of inspiration.
How to: You don’t have to repaint the entire office to get some color. Paint (or wallpaper) an accent wall, put up some convenient decals, or add some bright carpets.
5. Accommodate different work styles.
Startup Chartbeat knew they wanted to make sure everyone could do their best work from day one. The company also knew not everyone likes to work the same way. Instead of setting up an office with rows of uniform, efficient cubicles, the founders set up an office with meeting rooms, lounges, and quiet places.
What makes it “startup”: Flexible work spaces capture an anything-goes startup attitude.
Benefits: When employees have control over how and where they do their work, they’ll do better work.
How to: Set up your office with a mix of work spaces—from bustling and collaborative to calm and quiet.
6. Avoid long-term commitments by renting furniture and equipment.
Startups usually shape-shift for years before they settle on any kind of clear trajectory that justifies major office investments.
What makes it “startup”: Flexibility. The reality of startup of life is that strategies, situations, even offices change at a moment’s notice.. Startups may have long-term ambitions, but many have no idea what the future will really hold.
Benefits: It can be boring to look at the same things every single day. A rental strategy keeps things fresh, so your startup vibes can last for years.
How to: Explore your decor and furniture rental options to make some visual updates with few strings attached.
7. Stock your kitchen.
The well-stocked startup kitchen is iconic to employees and job seekers alike. Even if you can’t make any updates to the rest of your office, you can easily update the kitchen with a variety of healthy snacks or even a recurring subscription.
What makes it “startup”: Providing fuel for employees’ jam-packed days.
Benefits: Hunger depletes productivity, so maintaining a well-stocked kitchen doesn’t just provide that startup image you want, but it also helps employees do their best work. Plus snacks just make people happy.
How to: Start with a variety of snacks and see what goes.
8. Play music.
What makes it “startup”: Music in the office is something many in the old guard workforce might frown upon, making it ideal for game-changing, disruptive startups.
Benefits: One Cornell study found that feel-good music in the office increased cooperation and enhanced decisions.
How to: Get some inexpensive Bluetooth speakers that can be moved around and paired with different devices. Throw on our Ultimate Productivity Playlist, a specially curated set featuring more than 16 hours of focus-enhancing tunes.
9. Create a space for play or relaxation.
It might seem counter-intuitive to create a space specifically for not working in a “workplace,” but sometimes, a space for a little downtime is all employees need to reinvigorate their work.
What makes it “startup”: Non-working spaces capture the essence of a free-spirited startup taking on old-fashioned visions of 24/7 productivity.
Benefits: Activities that promote active rejuvenation like meditation or gameplay have a measurable impact on productivity and engagement. Employees can always take breaks, but when companies actively encourage breaks, they send a clear message that employees should take a step back and come back to work re-energized. These activities can have a lasting impact on the office and improve overall employee morale.
How to: Pile bean bag chairs in a corner and post signs that say “no-work zone.” If you have the space, dedicate one of your lounges or conference rooms for relaxation space instead of workspace.
10. Add mobile privacy screens.
What makes it “startup”: Acknowledging that hard-working employees sometimes need privacy to do their best work. Startups also track the latest trends and know that popular open floor plans drain productivity.
Benefits: Privacy when it’s needed.
How to: Get a variety of wheeled partitions and dividers. Bonus points if they come in cool colors or designs.
11. Decorate with books.
Avoid spending lots of money on trendy art and opt to decorate the office with books.
What makes it “startup”: A dedication to quenching the steady thirst for knowledge that most startup employees possess.
Benefits: Books add interest to a space and provide employees with a free library.
How to: Find some bookshelves and then send out an email asking employees to bring in any books they no longer want or would simply love to share. If you need to buy books, many websites offer inexpensive used books, and some libraries do regular book giveaways.
12. Design a show-stopping reception area.
According to Decorilla, the first impression provided by a startup’s reception area can make or break relationships. This option is perfect for offices that want to freshen up without spending money on a complete office overhaul.
What makes it “startup”: A strong image; a stylish reception area is the perfect way to show a company’s personality to the world.
Benefits: A positive first impression does wonders for employee morale and client engagement. Even if the rest of the office could use a little work, if your front door is dazzling enough, that’s all people will remember.
How to: Browse some photos for inspiration and then figure out what you need to purchase and install. (Most reception areas are quite simple, consisting of a statement desk and an eye-catching backdrop.) Be sure to pick a look with elements that could translate to the entire office should your company decide to do a complete redesign.
13. Add quirky accents.
Whether you put a disco ball in the breakroom or a Victrola player in the lobby, adding quirky and unexpected elements to your office provides a fresh, nonconformist vibe.
What makes it “startup”: A statement—that your company does what others are afraid to do.
Benefits: Visual interest and a lot of good conversation starters.
How to: Ask employees what they’ve always wanted in the office but were too afraid to ask for. Some employees might even have some treasures gathering dust in the basement.
14. Make the walls into collaborative tools.
Make it possible for employees to write and doodle on the walls, and you won’t just increase productivity and collaboration, but you’ll also save money on wall decor.
What makes it “startup”: An intense collaborative spirit, which startups are famous for.
Benefits: Giving employees plenty of space to brainstorm fosters collaboration and idea exchange, plus the very act of writing on the walls brings out a bit of childlike creativity in everyone.
How to: Cover office walls with chalkboard paint and whiteboard wallpaper (or large whiteboards).
15. Create themed rooms.
This Business Insider “tour” of Foursquare reveals rooms with themes such as vinyl, socialite, and herbivore.
What makes it “startup”: Fun and excitement; naming conference rooms is unnecessary, but it adds a great deal of joy to the office.
Benefits: Go-to rooms that spark imaginative new ideas.
How to: Consider some room themes that tie into your company and would be easy to create. Even better, see what design elements you have lying around that could be repurposed; you can have themed rooms that don’t directly tie into your company.
16. Bring in nontraditional seating.
Startup seating includes a variety of options besides the notorious swivel chair. Consider swings, rocking chairs, hammocks, bean bag chairs, and standing desks.
What makes it “startup”: Creativity and open-mindedness.
Benefits: Most employees spend a lot of time sitting, so adding some flexibility will make employees happy (and healthier too).
How to: Scatter new seating options around the office—in the meeting rooms, lining the walls, and next to desks.
17. Add a coffee bar.
Ditch the automated K-cup machine and add an in-office coffee bar to make even coffee snobs jealous.
What makes it “startup”: Being attuned to what employees really want, and delivering.
Benefits: Caffeine, specifically caffeine in the form of delicious espresso.
How to: A long stainless steel food prep table and an espresso maker might be a bit of an investment, but a coffee bar goes a long way for employee happiness and productivity.
18. Become “pet-friendly”
What says “startup fun” more than a plethora of puppies, running free in your office?l.
What makes it “startup”: A willingness to do cool things, like letting live animals into the office.
Benefits: One poll shows that employees thing office pets relieve stress and make offices more friendly.
How to: Make sure to vet (pun intended) your new four-legged additions. Dogs should have all their shots, be well-trained, and play well with others. (This doesn’t work if your core business activities are constantly disrupted). Make sure you know if anyone has any allergies or objections, and communicate that this perk is a privilege, not a right. But trust us, it’s worth it. Check out our guide to making your office pet friendly.
19. Bring in a dishwasher.
If your kitchen doesn’t have a dishwasher, then it’s time to install one.
What makes it “startup”: Startups are all about efficiency, and having employees wash their own dishes wastes time.
Benefits: Saved time and increased sanitation. (Who knows when that funky sponge on the sink was last replaced?)
How to: Unless you’re a plumber, we recommend enlisting some internal help for this one.
20. Add lamps and other soft lighting sources.
What makes it “startup”: Overhead fluorescent lighting is harsh and so 1980s, and not in a good, trendy way.
Benefits: Less eye-strain.
How to: Create a cozy startup vibe by switching off some of the overhead lights and switching on a variety of homey lamps equipped with eco-friendly light bulbs.
What do you think? What makes startup life so appealing? And what creative things have you done to give your office that startup vibe? Let us know in the comments.
I love it!!! I work in a “start-up” Real Estate Investing firm and will try to incorporate a few of these suggestions.?
Awesome! Good luck, Chantal!
I think startup life is so appealing because it allows you the freedom to be yourself.
I really love all the wonderful ideas they have come up with.Create themed rooms is my favorite.
We do have a dishwasher! And I love it!
It was nice to see the design ideas we have already used, and get some new inspiration as well!
Soft lighting is my favorite. We have it in some areas and people are drawn to them. I hate that our main open office area has such harsh lighting. Currently looking for ways to reduce the light noise in that space actually but still keep it bright enough for everyone.
We have some Yogibo beanbags in a few conference rooms and phone rooms – it allows people to be comfortable, relaxed, and really is a small thing to contribute to a positive vibe in the office.
Nothing wrong with a little lounge time! Thanks for sharing, Grace!
We have a dishwasher! Although it’s helpful, some folks don’t know how to properly load it so dishes and glasses are often broken! 🙁
I definitely love the coffee bar idea!
I love the idea of relaxation areas for staff to rejuvenate to energize and get back to work with a clear head. I also love the idea of having walls you can write on, which give opportunity for creativity. Colors in the office do bring smiles and energy.
Love some pretty colors to brighten the mood!
I like the part about non-traditional seating. That’s my favorite part of my workplace.
I love everything about this. The “start up” work place makes work feel like home. The work place no longer needs to be this tense place of business. It can be fun, creative, and comfortable. We are currently in the process of trying the “Pet Friendly office”.
The start up style described here seems more comfortable which actually promotes better productivity. I hate when people think you can’t be comfortable to be able to work hard
I really love all the wonderful ideas they have come up with.Create themed rooms is my favorite.
The first job I had was with a startup company. It was SO much fun!! I now work at an architecture/interior design firm so I don’t really have much wiggle room for adding my two cents about how to decorate our office. I leave that to my (professional) coworkers. 🙂
We have a gym, it’s really something small, we only have 10 machines, in a regular space.
We have a living room, we have it divided into cubicles, refreshments, fun, social, and naps.
Love it! Way to be resourceful, Jonathan!
Good platform having a good materials posted thanks for sharing.