Your office and what it says to your client
Hafa Adai Mrs. Salas, please have a seat and Mr. Tudela will be right with you!!
This is the first and most important thing you should hear when you enter any establishment, especially an office. The next impression that a client or customer will get is what your reception area looks like. Generally, this will be the lasting impression that the client or customer gets and you most definitely want it to be a good one. This is where the design and layout of your reception area speaks very loudly.
Are you organized? Is the seating comfortable? Is the décor pleasing to the eye? The most important issue is organization.
You want the seating to be comfortable but not too comfortable. You don't want them dozing off on you. I also suggest ganged seating, the kind that is connected together so they can't make a day bed out of the chairs. It is also a great idea to have a kid's area, depending on the nature of your business. These days, many parents take their kids with them because of costs for child care. This could be a rug with a small table and chairs (coloring books are a great addition).
If you have a nice reception area it says to your client, "We are organized and this is the way we will handle your account." If they see that the receptionist's desk is cluttered and disorganized, they will assume that this is the way you do business.
The next major issue in your office is filing and file retrieval. If Mrs. Salas came into your office to consult with a staff member and it takes you 25 minutes to find her file, what does that tell the client? Filing is one of the easiest things to fix and nobody ever wants to do this job. Most people think once you put old files in a banker's box, it becomes invisible. Suggestions are to create a central file area and have only one person in charge of it. Of course, you need an alternate in case of illness or leave. This way your files are signed in and out and accounted for at all times. There is a simple formula to evaluate your filing needs. You need to know the number of existing files you have, average size, new files generated, old files destroyed or archived. Once these numbers are compiled you can easily project growth and design your file area to accommodate the next five years of your filing needs.
Now, let's move on to the staff area.
When your client enters the staff area for their consultation and sees files laying all over with loose papers stacked around them, once again, this is a lasting impression on your client and it is not a good one.
Many companies like the open-space approach. This means cubicles or workstations with low partitions that enables the client to have some privacy, at the same time allows the supervisor to be in eye contact with the staff to insure good client care and productivity. There are some instances where higher partitions are required for client privacy, especially in the health care areas. This is required by law.
You need to insure that you have comfortable guest seating and make sure that it is tailored to the type of clients you service. If the majority of your clients are elderly, you need to insure that the chairs have arm rest so they can easily boost themselves up at the end of your meeting.
What your employees display in their areas is also a concern. While your clients are sitting there, they are guaranteed to scan all that is easily visible, including family pictures, awards, etc.
Our next area of concern is the conference room. Only in the past five or so years, the purpose of the conference room has changed. It used to be huge wood tables that had only one purpose, to impress the people that sat at them. Massive leather chairs with zero ergonomic value.
Nowadays, space is at a premium and most conference rooms are designed to be converted into training rooms, think tanks and lastly, fiesta rooms.
Conference tables can now be designed with what we call teaming tables. When they are all connected, they make a standard conference table but can easily be converted into smaller tables for training. It is also imperative to have some kind of visual board for lectures and training. This market has improved considerable. Many times, the visual boards are dual purpose. They can easily be converted for use in video conferencing or internet training. Conference room seating should be comfortable and adjustable. Many times, employees or clients spend entire days occupying these chairs.
Management offices are usually outfitted to say, "I am a manager" and deservedly so. You earned the office and work hard to keep it. How you design and maintain your area gives the clients a very good idea of who and what you are.
Clutter is one of the worst enemies of enclosed offices. When a client sees this, they automatically think, "This person doesn't care what his office looks like and that is probably how he will handle my needs and concerns."
Private offices should be very organized and once again, what you display in your office will leave a lasting impression with your clients. The most important issue with an enclosed office is to insure that it gives your client a warm feeling. Many times, enclosed offices make people nervous and can be intimidating. It is recommended to have a small table with several guest chairs. When consulting with clients, get out from behind your desk and sit with them at the table. This brings you out-of-the-executive status and levels the playing field.
Another major office issue is clean air. Many offices are kept locked up tight as a drum. There is a condition called "sick building syndrome." This is created when there is no outside air pumped or ventilated into your office. Once the air is contaminated by someone who has the flu, it will spread very fast. To help eliminate this you can use air filtrations systems or a simpler and less expensive method is to open the doors and windows. This can be done at the end of the work week or on the weekend and only needs to be done for an hour or so. This will evacuate the stale air and replace it with fresh air.
In closing, the two most important entities of your office are your clients, who help pay you bills and your staff who help generate the business. To ensure that both of these groups are well taken care of, you need to evaluate your seating.
Ergonomic seating is something that you need to take seriously. If a person has a good chair, they should feel as good at the end of the day as they did when the day began. The chair needs to be designed to accommodate the tasks of the employee and the physical needs of the clients. Good seating will help keep both of these groups happy and healthy.
(Michael R. Ady is the president of M80 Office System.)
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