This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.
The right office space can make or break a business. It’s not easy getting the balance between affordability and the perfect premises, especially if your experience is limited, but it’s crucial to take the time to do so.
“Getting the right office space is so important because your business will have to live with it for the life of a lease,” says Paul Kelly, head of marketing for Morgan Lovell, a leading office interior design, build out and refurbishment specialist with offices across the UK. “Get it right and you have happy and productive staff; get it wrong and it will slow people down, cause aggravation and waste money.”
Mashable spoke with Kelly to create a checklist of basic considerations for your new space. While not every point will be relevant to your business — and you may need to compromise on a few areas — it’s a useful list to work through once you’ve drawn up a shortlist of properties.
1. The Location
- Is it a safe neighborhood?
If premises seem cheap, there’s often a very good reason. Is the area safe? “Your staff and visitors will feel safer visiting your office if the area has a good reputation,” says Kelly. “Employees spend in excess of eight hours a day in the office, so having a secure neighborhood where your employees feel safe should be a priority. Consider the route staff will need to travel to and from local transport, especially if traveling by foot.”
- Are there good transport links?
How easy are the premises to commute to? The obvious question for big city center offices is how close the nearest subway or rail line is, but consider bus, bicycle and automobile routes, too. Your staff may be open to a different style of commuting if say, there are no trains but a fantastic bus service. Kelly suggests sitting down with staff to look at their options. “Map your employees’ new journeys into work to assess how the move will affect their daily commute.” If relevant, visitors’ and clients’ access should also be a consideration. “You may also wish to pull together a travel plan to identify alternative routes for visitors,” suggests Kelly. If you struggle to make such a plan, then maybe it’s not the location for you.
- Are there amenities nearby?
Are there places nearby where staff can buy their lunch? Where you could take clients for drinks or a meal? Where you can buy essential supplies for the office? “Life carries on when we are in the office; your employees will have errands to run after work or during lunch. Find an office close to a bank, pharmacy and shopping area and your staff will thank you forever,” according to Kelly.
- Is it a trendy neighborhood?
Setting up in an area with a reputation as a hot spot for up-and-coming startups or promising young businesses can have a positive effect on how clients and staff view your company, as well as on hiring, not to mention being more likely to boast a thriving social scene.
2. The Building
- Is the building secure?
“Nobody likes to work in an insecure environment, and your staff are no different,” says Kelly. “How secure is the building? Do you need extra security for different areas? Have there been any recent break-ins? Are windows, skylights and doors secure, or will they need to be altered upon occupation?”
- Is there a manned reception? If so, what’s the customer service like?
Does the building provide a manned reception, and even more importantly, does it provide good customer service? Is it manned by security types or more traditional receptionists? Even if the staff at the front desk aren’t your own, they will still be the first impression a client or other visitor has of your company.
- Is there major building work planned?
It’s worth asking about any long-term building work planned for the near future. Moving into a brand new office only to find out the floor above is being completely renovated — and you’ve signed up to live with the noise and mess for many months — isn’t going to be a great experience.
- Is the building well-maintained?
Does the company that manages the building do a good job? Kelly suggests canvassing existing tenants to find out: “Find out who is managing the day-to-day operations, security and services of the building. Is it a credible firm? Ask other tenants about the quality of service.”
- Is there out-of-hours access?
If you’d like access at all times, this is essential to determine. “If your staff are likely to need access to the building outside of normal office hours, you’ll need to consider how easy it is for them to do so. Is there 24-hour access and security?” Kelly says.
- Is there parking or bike storage?
There’s no point analyzing how long it takes to drive or ride to the office unless you also consider what you’re going to do with your car or bike when you get there. “Are there enough parking spaces? If your building doesn’t have its own car park, is there sufficient parking nearby for employees and regular visitors? You may wish to consider renting out several individual parking spaces for those all-important client visits,” suggests Kelly.
- Are there competitors in the building?
It might seem an odd consideration, but you don’t want staff from a rival firm lingering in public spaces where they can overhear going-ons at your company, or worse still, elevator-pitching your potential new clients.
3. The Space
- Is there enough room?
Rather than agonizing over square footage, if you’re hiring an office designer, Kelly has a suggestion to work out if you’ll fit into the space. “Get your office design company to do a ‘test fit’ of the space before deciding on a property. That way you can be sure you’re getting exactly the right amount of space for your business,” suggests Kelly. For smaller offices, if you can’t afford that, why not mock out a potential layout with newspaper taped together to represent desks, chairs and other equipment? You might feel a little foolish in the moment, but it’s a great way to better visualize how you’ll use the space.
- Can you decorate?
You need to ascertain how much freedom you have to make the space your own. Are there any restrictions? If you can decorate as you see fit, will you have to return the space to neutral decor before you leave?
- What are the acoustics like?
There are things to consider which are easy to miss when viewing an empty office with the windows closed. “A noisy office is one of the most common complaints from staff. Check the acoustics of the internal space. An echoing space can be very uncomfortable to work in,” says Kelly. And be sure to consider the external sound, too. It’s worth visiting the premises at different times of the day to check what it’s like at rush hour, when schools kick out, at night, etc.
- Will the layout work for your business?
Take a long, hard look at the layout. It’s easy to be wowed by a clean, empty space or a tidy suite of offices, but how will the layout work for you? Is it on just one floor? Are there separate offices? Are they big enough or too big? Is it an open floor plan? Can areas be easily divided if need be? Will this work with your company’s existing style of work? Is it possible to carry out modifications on the space? And, if you are planning to divide the space (even temporarily), are there enough outlets, windows, heating units, etc., in each area? Kelly has two pieces of advice on this topic: “Larger floor plans are more cost effective because they lessen the need for multiple [break rooms], copy points, etc.,” and, “Irregular shaped buildings fit fewer desks and will increase your cost per employee per square foot.”
- Is there room to expand?
Finally, it’s an obvious one, but if you’re hoping for growth, then make sure that there is room to grow.