While technology has had a tremendous impact on the way people do business in the twenty-first century, an office still serves as the beating heart of almost every company. This space itself—the way it is constructed and designed—is integral to the work your employees do each day. Whether you are building-out a newly leased office space, or considering redesigning your current office, getting the details right is a tricky process.
Be Careful What You Wish For
The first step in any office build-out project is to sit down with an experienced project manager to compile a wish list for your office. You’ll need to address quantitative factors, many of which will be dictated by your business plan. These include questions like how many work spaces you’ll need, and what sort of technical infrastructure is required to support them. If you’re planning to grow quickly, can the space accommodate new employees?
You’ll also want to discuss qualitative concerns: What sort of office configuration will optimize productivity and meet the needs and expectations of your employees? How do you want the space to look and feel?
“While it’s true that the sky is the limit in terms of what construction and design can achieve in a space, budgets are not limitless, and commercial spaces are not truly blank canvases.”
As you zero in on your requirements, take the time to think about why you want what you want. A space functions well when its design grows organically from the way work needs to get done. For example, ask yourself—do I want this open-plan design because it looks cool, or because my employees truly need to collaborate on a constant basis? In the world of tech and finance, such interaction is essential, but in, say, a law firm, where lawyers do work that requires intense concentration and space for private calls and meetings, an open plan runs counter to the needs of the business and could actually impede productivity.
Find a Property You Can Work With, Not Against
Once you’ve compiled your list of requirements, the search for the right property begins. Maybe you have a current location that can be reimagined to meet your needs, or perhaps it is time for a move. A real estate advisor and project manager will guide you through the process of reviewing available properties and identifying some strong contenders.
While it’s true that the sky is the limit in terms of what construction and design can achieve in a space, budgets are not limitless, and commercial spaces are not truly blank canvases. Spaces have some fixed attributes—the view, the amount of natural light, the ventilation system—that will impact the end product. You want to find a space you can work with, not against, in the most cost-effective way possible.
Along with the features you can see on a visit to the property, be sure to consider invisible but very important factors, of particular concern in older buildings, such as electrical and mechanical infrastructure, number and spacing of columns, ceiling and deck heights, cabling for internet access, and even whether the floors are level. If your company will require a server room, will the building’s electrical grid be able to handle the load for cooling that room and still maintain a comfortable temperature in the work space? That hundred-year-old loft space might look a lot less attractive when you see how much it will cost to retrofit it to your company’s needs. And remember that the only way to know for sure what hides behind the walls of a commercial space is to have your project manager perform a formal building evaluation. You wouldn’t buy a house without an inspection, and your company should not commit to leasing a space without investigating exactly what you are getting, and heading off any problems that might emerge down the road.
Devote Time to the Test-Fit Process
Once you have identified a few properties you believe will fit your needs, it’s time to test-fit the spaces. This means you, along with your advisor and project manager, compare the detailed proposals from landlords side by side and consider how your construction and design plan will work with each. What are the pros and cons, and are there any lingering questions that need to be resolved before you can make an informed decision? You’ll have to weigh your current needs alongside your forecast for the future, and decide what unknowns you’re comfortable living with. Insist on getting all the information you need before making a commitment.
Budget Time and Money Carefully for Hard and Soft Costs
Before you’ve committed to the property, a project manager will help you find all necessary vendors and identify the costs to complete the work: the “hard” costs of construction and the “soft” costs like an architect, designers, engineers, mover, project management, and information technology implementation. Some part of these may be covered by the tenant improvement allowance negotiated in your lease. But your budget for getting your office up and running needs to include additional expenses—furniture, finishes, signage, vacating costs, audio-visual equipment, and more—that are not covered by the allowance and can, of course, balloon. That’s not to say these latter factors are less important.
In addition to helping you consider the finances, a good project manager will also assess what the project will cost you in time. Planning a realistic schedule that takes the construction, design, and finishing steps into account is important to managing your employees’ expectations, and getting everybody to work in the new space as soon as possible. Surprises are not your friend here, so your project manager will budget time for each phase, understanding that delays are inevitable but can be kept to a minimum with careful planning.
Like all complex projects with many moving parts, planning and communication, as well as a team of professionals who can support your company throughout the process, are the keys to success. The time and energy invested in your build-out will pay off down the road, and your employees will be moved in to the new space and working at the top of their game in no time.