As a property solutions company, J.T. Ross works closely with a number of space planners, architects and designers to create the perfect office space for corporate tenants. The key to cost effective and practical new office space, is designing it correctly from the start. J.T. Ross has successfully worked on various projects with Sketch Design Studio, a full turnkey, hands on interior design firm based in Durban.

Owner Mike Long, previously with Egg Design and Fahrenheit Design has established offices in Westville and has been running his own business for six years. Sketch Design Studio works alongside the client from concept, development, costing and feasibility studies all the way through to procurement and project management. 

We stopped to ask Mike Long for a few tips for clients to consider when planning their new office space.

Q: What are the first things a client needs to consider when growing into larger office space or consolidating into a smaller space?

A: The client needs to have a very clear understanding of their space requirements. Why are they moving? If it’s because they are growing, they should include area to grow into. It is cheaper to pay rent for a portion of your office that you will not use for a while, rather than having to disrupt staff again for a second move to even larger premises. Your strategy could also include subletting a portion of the office space over a few months or years, and then when you expand you can start taking up portions of those areas.

If downsizing, be aware of keeping staff morale up. If budget allows, possibly procure new furniture for the space. There is no point in downsizing and bringing across large desks and trying to squeeze them into smaller space. The biggest item to consider when moving an office anywhere, regardless of size, is staff. Communication is key and keeping staff informed of the process is imperative. A good idea is to interact with the staff, send out surveys of what they would like to see in the new offices and what they did not appreciate in the old space.

It is always beneficial to enlist the services of a space planner. The fees you will pay for a space planner will end up saving you the equivalent amount, and much more. A good space planner will advise not only on office layouts, but also office size, furniture sizes, filing requirements, electrical and lighting issues as well as keeping the project, budget and contractors in check. A large amount of time is required on site, time that would be better spent in your office, keeping your customers happy. Let us do the dirty work.

Q: Where would one typically locate boardrooms and meeting rooms when planning a new office layout?

A: It is always beneficial to plan your meeting rooms closer to reception. Clients can be greeted in the waiting area and led straight into a boardroom or meeting room. This would serve two purposes, firstly the client is not led through the back of house which can be untidy and can put the first impression of the company’s brand at risk. Secondly, for security reasons, it is always a good idea to have access control between your front of house and back of house areas. Some companies spend significant amounts on the front of house area, to create a good impression, saving costs at the back of the offices. Whilst this makes sense, it is also important to keep staff happy and comfortable as they are responsible for keeping the client pleased. You do not have to break the bank to buy a good ergonomically correct desk and chair.

Q: What unforeseen expenses should clients look out for if they are looking to keep within a budget?

A: It’s important to involve a designer or speak to a good office furniture company, like Cecil Nurse, when drawing up a furniture budget. Furniture does form a large portion of the overall cost of an office move, but if designed and priced correctly in the early stages, it does not have to blow the budget. A big budget item is data cabling and telephony. This is often left to the end of a project to sort out and can be a nasty surprise. There are some companies that will try to get away with running completely on wireless, and then find that it is not always reliable. They end up resorting to running cable after the fact, which can be a messy affair. If not planned correctly, surface cabling can result in a general mess of wires around the desks. One last item to remember is to never underestimate the amount of filing space you require. Enlist the services of a good filing solutions company to assist you with your filing requirements.

Q: What have been some of the major changes in office design over the last five years?

A: Open plan, open plan, open plan! The trend has not gripped South Africa entirely, and there are some executives who are hanging on to their offices with all their might. We are getting there however, slowly but surely. It is a tough decision to make and is a different mind set completely, but it does work. It is more space efficient, brings down fit-out costs such as air-conditioning, partitioning, electrical etc. and the biggest gain is better communication amongst staff. Most companies now operate with an open door policy, so why keep the door? Open plan does not mean sitting in a cluster with 5 other people. The trend is for the general staff to sit in clusters of 4 to 6 people, with the managers sitting on the periphery, in a sectioned off area with low screening. Meeting rooms, or pause areas are then used for private conversations and in-house meetings.

Q: What difference can colour make when designing new office space?

A: Whether designing a residential project, restaurant or commercial office, colour will always play a big role. Colour will affect your mood. Red will excite whilst green or blue will calm. What we try to stay away from is decorating offices in a company’s corporate colours. If your corporate colours are maroon, we don’t want to walk into reception and see a bland maroon wall; we can bring the colour in subtly with planters, lighting or furniture. A big trend at the moment is to keep the general finishes monotone in greys, black and white, and warm these finishes with timbers and cladding and appropriate lighting. We then use colour in small areas such as desk screens, chair backs and to a smaller degree artwork.

Mike Long is the Owner of Sketch Design Studio in Durban and can be contacted by email at