How to Handle the Office Accommodation When Planning the Office


Whether you need 500 or 5000 square feet of office space, the problems remain virtually the same, and the choice of the right kind of accommodation is as important to small businesses as it to larger concerns. Office space is expensive to acquire and maintain and should be considered as much a part of the company’s assets and resources as personnel or capital equipment. A successful company, whatever its size, will expect to grow and it will certainly change as it reacts to market forces and develops new ideas and methods. Unless you give as careful consider­ation to planning your accommodation needs as you would to marketing and sales strategy, you could find your business in a straitjacket which will inhibit its development and growth as effectively as a badly planned costing system. Shortage of space presents a barrier to recruitment when you most need more staff; overcrowding exacerbates problems of noise, leads to poor ventilation and reduces efficiency.

The short-term expediency of ‘squeezing people in’ may work wonderfully well if the motivation is there, as it often is with the first flush of success, and if it really is a short-term measure. However, the dynamic hub of your enterprise may quickly degenerate into a sweat-shop atmosphere with dis­gruntled staff spending their lunchtime scanning the small ads. There are too many office ‘slums’ around, both large and small, which effectively demonstrate this point.

Office Accommodation

The search for space

The first consideration is the amount of space you actually require. The legal minimum is 40 square feet per head (or 400 cubic feet where ceilings are less than 10 feet high). However, in practical terms, this is too small an allocation and is certainly not an appropriate figure on which to base your calculations.

A more realistic figure is 60 square feet for clerical workers, but this does not take into consideration space for filing and office equipment which should be added in separately. Other elements for which you should allow space include circulation and corridors, and any supporting facilities such as meeting rooms, coffee machines, library, stationery store, telephone equipment and so on.

Once you have made this kind of assessment, you should then plan your search for office space systematically, or you will Waste time which is as likely to be in as short supply as money when you are starting up. Whether you take on the search your­self or instruct an estate agent to act on your behalf, the first essential is to prepare a brief in writing. Your requirement is not just ‘a small office suite in West London’; it is important t be as specific as you can or want to be on the following points.

Location

  • Usable area: minimum and maximum
  • How it is divided: open space or divided into rooms?
  • Type of office: self-contained suite or multi-tenanted block?
  • Standard: prestige building in prime location or a room over a butcher’s shop?
  • Furnished or unfurnished?
  • Ready for occupation? If not, are you prepared to spend money on fitting the space out for your own purposes?
  • Total cost target: rent, rates, service charge, amortisation of any premium payable.

The process of setting down this type of information will help to clarify your thoughts. If you use it as a brief to instruct a good estate agent, he will be able to provide a more informed service and he will not deluge you with details of unsuitable properties.

Assessing the space on offer

With your carefully prepared brief, you will be able to appraise the alternatives and check off the points that have been met sat­isfactorily. When it comes to the size of space in question, do not take paper figures quoted in the property details at their face value: floor areas measured from plans are notoriously in­accurate and, even more importantly, figures often include space which, in effect, is unusable. It is quite common, for example, for measurements of the so-called carpeted area in an office block to run under the 12 inch deep heating units at the peri­meter, into cleaning and electrical riser cupboards, and to include all the corridor space. By taking careful on-site measure­ments of the areas which are truly usable, we have on many occasions been able to negotiate substantial reductions in the total rent payable on behalf of our clients, when this has been quoted at the outset on a price per square foot or square metre basis.

It is also important to analyse the way you work and what your requirements are in terms of open areas and individual rooms, and recognise that the building will exert constraints on what you can do within it. These will affect the size and shape of single offices, the acoustics, the physical environment and how services such as power and telephone can be provided where they are needed.

In fact there are many factors which may prevent you from providing the size of rooms you had originally planned. Oversized offices, access corridors, dead areas without venti­lation, heating or natural light, for example, may all eat into the available space and result in cramped or badly organised accommodation. Draw up a rough layout of the available space ensuring that the constraints the building and its services might impose are not overlooked, and this will help you determine what can and cannot be achieved within the given area. Check your plan on site to make sure that what you have in mind is feasible.

Coping with expansion

There are a number of ways in which you can allow for future development and growth in terms of your accommodation without taking on more space than you can cope with financially, or finding yourself in a situation where you have to seek new premises every two or three years.

The first essential is to maintain contact with the right firm of agents and instruct them to send you information until you tell them to stop (in the spirit of James Bond with vodka martinis). Resist the temptation to shelve the search until a move is crucial; you may then be forced to take the first vaguely acceptable alternative that turns up.

You should also consider properties which offer more space than you appear to need. Take on the excess and organise a sublet on short leases. Small packages of offices are in very short supply, so you should not encounter any problems in finding a tenant. At the end of the first term you can either renew the lease of repossess the area for your own occupation; your legal position is secure in the latter case.

Or you could consider taking on the additional space and simply leaving it empty. This will depend on the total rent you pay for the use of given space, but located almost anywhere out­side Central London, it will still represent a small proportion of your total operational overheads. Do not overlook the derating factor on empty space, and the possibility that no heating, light-lng or cleaning costs will be incurred.

Consideration could also be given to using the extra space as Meeting or conference rooms, or as a staff recreation area or restaurant. This facility could then be rented out or the costs snared with neighbouring tenants.

Office Accommodation

Then there is the cuckoo-in-the-nest syndrome to consider. If you move into a multi-tenanted building, a close ear to the ground will often secure first option on additional space as it becomes available.

A strategy to provide additional occupation in ‘steps’ might also be appropriate. Assess your liability to meet the business plan within a given space. If, say, 40 per cent of your staff are out of the office at any one time, they will probably accept a squeeze in order to accommodate extra people. You need then take over extra space only when you have reached a certain tar­get level of recruitment.

Conclusion

The management of office space, or indeed of any space for commercial or industrial use, is as important as any other as­pect of management. Tackled in a thoughtful and logical way, it will undoubtedly contribute towards the overall effectiveness of your operation.

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About the Author: Marie Mayle is a contributor to the MegaHowTo team, writer, and entrepreneur based in California USA. She holds a degree in Business Administration. She loves to write about business and finance issues and how to tackle them.

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