In this exclusive Real Business guide, we look at how SME employers can find the best office space for them and their growing team.
The average British worker will spend over 90,000 hours of their life in an office, equating to flying from the UK to Bali 18,056 times.
If you are an SME employer tasked with managing staff and multitasking between many different roles, the time you spend in ‘the office’ goes up even more.
The cost(s) of office spaces in the UK
But working in an office is not only taxing on an employer’s free time, but it can also put a strain on your wallet – particularly if you’re the one paying for the office space.
The average office space costs business owners an average of £50,000, with prices fluctuating the closer you are to the major UK cities.
This is why many SMEs with smaller teams are opting for flexible office spaces with shared facilities as they can cost anywhere from as little as £200 per person.
Things to consider when looking for office space
Changing staff expectations
In an age where at least 70% of people work remotely at least one day a week, the expectations employees have of their offices are changing. – And it’s important that employers keep up with shifting employee tastes.
Employees place things like free coffee and comfortable ‘break out spaces’ above a fax machine, and flexible hours and a free parking space over a shiny office space for the sake of it. So, if you’re a business owner on the quest to find a new office space, we’ve compiled the perfect ‘go-to’ guide, to help you find the best office space for your SME.
Location and space
The location should be the most important factor you consider before you sign off on your next office space.
Can your clients visit easily?
Ideally, you should be sourcing a space that is in close proximity to the majority of your clients, “it may be a cliché, but where your business is based is of critical importance” says Paul Cummins MD of Clearly PR. “We were based in a fantastic office which worked well in many regards but because it was not where things are ‘happening’ we struggled to attract the talent we need to scale our business over the next 12 to 24 months and beyond.”
In the bid to impress clients and employees, it can be easy to get bogged down on more material amenities such as contemporary decor or bean bags. But client accessibility really is king, advises Ben Scoggins, Managing Director of brand agency Organic, “access and the desirability of our neighbours was an important factor in our most recent move.”
Scoggins also suggestings making space for ‘break-out’ spaces for staff and their clients when they visit, “it’s not all about table tennis tables, but the idea of having social space within the building is important hence our creation of a flexible use area away from desks. This area is used as a part-time studio, social space and breakout area”.
Get the team involved in finding the right office space
Sourcing your new office space should not be a solo job. Make it a team effort. However, there are certain steps you can take to streamline the process and make it a bit easier, “we began with the entire senior team creating a list of ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ for the office” says Heather Baker, founder and CEO of TopLine Comms and Film.
“Then we passed those to our office manager, and she priced found some options, priced them up, and identified which of our ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ they met. We only went to view offices that ticked every box, and we only went for viewing once we knew the price. This process worked very well for us, and it was a very smooth process overall. In the end, we found the right office for us. It ticks all of our boxes and it’s the right price”, she adds.
Get external advice and support
However, if you are feeling a little bogged down with finding an office space, you can always get external advice from estate agents who specialise in office relocation.
Sites such as Kontor can help minimise these efforts greatly. Similar to a traditional agent, you can outline your requirements and price range. This is when selecting an office based on a sensible budget is crucial.
Choose what you need (not what you want) for your office
If you are only a small team of 10 then there is probably no need to invest in a 2,000 square foot space.
“You probably don’t need the office you want” adds Steve Norris, of Incendium Corporate Real Estate Consultancy. – And while we can all understanding that finding your first, or a new office space is exciting, don’t get carried away by paying top dollar for an office site that you don’t really need.
Below Norris lists the crucial elements to think about when considering what office space to choose:
1. Outline the outcomes
Think about what the office needs to deliver and for who. Start with your external customers who will deliver the bulk of your revenue and build backwards.
2. Do your strategies align?
Make sure your office strategy is an enabler for your corporate strategy.
3. Document the location criteria
This will give you an audit trail and help you build consensus by being clear on what matters and why. E.g. proximity to customers, proximity to competitors, location of talent, infrastructure, sustainability measures, cost etc.
4. Ask an expert
They will help navigate you through the market to uncover the gems that meet your needs and accelerate your business growth.
To combat overspending on your next office space, opting for shared offices may be the best option. Better yet is that many of these communal workspaces already come decorated to save you the trouble of figuring out new office feng shui.
As of 2018, there were 23,000 UK tenants in the most popular shared space option WeWork. However, this does not need to be your only option.
Customer Service Director, Kev McKay says “be flexible”
“Our company was growing rapidly and we began to research traditional offices leases, quickly realising that a long-term contract in a fixed space wasn’t going to suit our expanding team – we needed the flexibility to add in more desks, move the walls if necessary. We also needed a professional environment with premium service to impress visiting clients
“We came across Workplace, a centrally-located space of private offices, as well as dedicated hot desks, a business lounge which members can use by the day, as well as meeting rooms, event space and the tech-focused resources we need such as Skype rooms. We have moved into larger offices here as we’ve expanded. All of this is wrapped up with top quality hospitality, including a manned reception and great coffee… and because Workplace is independently run the directors care – the service is bespoke, nothing is too much trouble.”
One employee in Bath says co-working isn’t great for everyone
“I work at a co-working centre in Bath called the Guild. It is one of the original coworking spaces in the UK I’ve been a member here for over four years. Spaces opened up across the street a couple of years ago, and ever since there has been a steady stream of ‘refugees’ coming from there to here. Spaces seem especially ill-equipped for freelancers working on their own. The facilities are all geared to companies with groups of people who rent offices.
“Tom Lewis, who runs the Guild has built a really unique member-focused space here. There is a very loyal group of users here who would never leave for Spaces. The Guild is also hip and funky in a real way, not the Disney-version of hip and funky that Spaces tries to pull off.”
Real Business has compiled a list of shared office spaces alternative to Spaces or WeWork…
All that glitters?
It is important to decide whether finding a co-working space is right for your team and your business.
The most common shared office spaces tend to be directed towards people looking for a temporary place to work on a project. However, while a shared office space may seem like an answer to all your woes, recent studies have revealed that the average time spent by hot deskers looking for a desk is 18 minutes.
In a UK wide research conducted by HotDeskPlus, a workplace management app, 46% of respondents admitted that unstructured hot-desking is bad for their productivity, with an estimated average decrease in productivity levels of 31%.
So your employees may be too busy fighting off other candidates for a desk with the best window view as opposed to trying to compile their reports. A poorly structured “free-range” workspace can see a loss of up to two weeks of productivity a year, due to the small but time-consuming tasks such as a setting up a laptop or sorting out a hot drink.
“Some office sharers, have been overly loud on the phone – is there anything worse than a stressed-out recruiter with a Bluetooth headset?” – Olivia, a shared space inhabitant.
Tenant leases and licences
*Emma Long, Commercial Director of BizSpace, the UK’s largest provider of flexible workspace, explains tenant leases and licences and their pros and cons*
“Flexible workspace is generally rented with a licencing agreement, while businesses taking larger, traditional office space will normally need to sign a lease.
“Licences are more flexible, as businesses can generally increase or reduce space as required, while services such as utilities are included in a fixed monthly bill.
“Leases tend to be more suitable for companies that have stable and predictable requirements, or want to invest to create a strongly branded space, as they typically commit the tenant to three or more years. It might be possible to negotiate a break clause, where the tenant can relinquish the lease after a given period, such as six months, without a penalty, but this can be a complex legal process and there are also dilapidations to consider – an obligation by the tenant to return the property back to its original condition on vacating it. Under the terms of a lease, the hassles of building maintenance and utility bills normally fall to the tenant.
“For any agreement, be clear on costs such as utilities, ask who is billed and how these are apportioned. In the case of leases, which are often long and written in complex legal jargon, it’s important to get legal advice.
“It is worth noting that, as demand for flexibility increases, licences and leases are starting to converge: at BizSpace, for example, we work with our customers to create branded spaces within our business centres, and while most of our customers want the flexibility and simplicity of a one-page licence, we also offer simply written leases for clients who want the certainty of a longer-term arrangement”