Kudos for looking this question in the face.
Tradeoffs are like spring cleaning. Agony at the time, a relief once you’re done, and there’s always a risk that something important gets broken by accident. (At least there aren’t as many spiders.)
Unless you’re one of the few lavishly profitable companies out there, you *know* you can’t have it all in your new office. You’ve got a budget to stick to and a bunch of people to please. And you need to nail the task without putting the rest of your responsibilities on hold.
That means scoping out your constraints, so you can strike the right balance. Yes, a great location often comes at a premium. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There are four main areas to double down on:
Identifying your non-negotiables, identifying any niche requirements beyond the basics, knowing when it’s worth paying extra for location, and knowing when it makes more sense to focus on cost.
1. What are your non-negotiables?
These are your absolute-must-haves or must-not-haves, and they are the place to start.
What can’t your business live without? What are the dealbreakers?
You might foresee that budget and location will be your lord and master. And of course, alongside size, they are the two main factors that tend to set out the constraints of your search.
But while helping people with their office search, we regularly discover that a factor a client believed was a non-negotiable isn’t set in stone after all, or something that was a big red flag in hindsight hadn’t been considered upfront.
For example, one client’s non-negotiable turned out to be proximity to the central line. They thought they needed to stay in London’s West End for this reason, but in the end, they were swayed by a space we showed them opposite Liverpool Street tube. It was was equally accessible yet gave them 30% more space for the same budget.
Another fast-growing company we worked with - an interior design agency - had a client base that consisted mostly of the older-and-wiser generation. Face to face meetings were core to their business operations, and it was important that their clients had an easy time getting to the meeting room. Their non-negotiable? The new office had to either be on the ground floor or have a lift. This epiphany came along a good few weeks after they’d started their search, which ruled out about half of the options we’d earmarked for them as potentials.
A third company were convinced they needed to be near Old Street, but as there were no buildings with one floor that was big enough in the area at the time, they had to look elsewhere. Their happy ending? A 22,000 square foot Minster Building in the City, where they got more than their money. Top floor, terraces, fantastic views. New postcode, no big deal. Hooray!
Need we go on?
If you can identify your non-negotiables from the outset, you will save yourself a vast amount of time schlepping round offices that would never work for you. At the same time, you might realise some criteria are less important than they seem, which opens up amazing spaces that would otherwise pass you by.
2. Do you have any niche requirements beyond the basics?
Would access to a podcasting studio be a gamechanger for you? Or do you need regular access to a 500-person event space? Or 5 showers to share between 10 cycling fanatics?
Awesome! As you might expect, facilities like those don’t grow on trees. But on the upside, niche requirements are a secret weapon that can turn a difficult search into an easy one.
To uncover any less-than-obvious criteria that might make an impact, we recommend keeping a month-long diary of everything noteworthy that happens at your current workplace. Big meetings, socials, events, company news, initiatives and announcements.
If you don’t personally have full oversight and can spare the time (this pays off in spades in our experience): speak to several people spanning a cross-section of the company to find out which of these things happens in their corner of the world. And failing that, a survey. Most of the time, surveys are terrible at telling you what you really want to know, but they can be useful to find out about people’s habits and behaviours. How many cyclists face queues for the shower in the morning and so on.
3. When could it be worth paying more for a better office location?
If time was no object, we know you’d be able to figure out the list of questions below to ask yourself. They’re not rocket science. But you’ve got a lot on your plate, and we’re here to give you a hand, so we’ve put them together are a cheat sheet to help you weigh up whether an extra investment in location could pay off in your instance.
Do you have a lot of external visitors in general? Clients, meetups, investors? If so, where are they coming from?
Where are your key team members based?
Might people end up working from home more or less often if you move there? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
Is location a sticking point for your staff retention in general?
Does your team have to go elsewhere for meetings often? How easy would that journey be?
Would it benefit you to be closer or further away from other companies in your industry?
Does the area affect the image you want for your brand?
4. When might location matter less than cost?
Same as above, these questions might tell you when paying for location isn’t worth it.
Do you rarely need to host external visitors, or are you happy to travel to see people?
Are your key team members so spread out that there’s no way to meaningfully improve everyone’s commute?
Do you encourage people to work from home?
Are people definitely choosing working from home because they find this way of working to be efficient, effective and enjoyable?
Are you just looking for a “stopgap” office for the short term on the road to better things?
Is cutting office costs your one and only way to weather a tough patch financially?
You don’t need to have all the answers before you take the first step. Striking the right balance between office location, cost and other key criteria is a breeze (relatively speaking) once you’ve looked at a few places in person.