The Flexible Office Guide for Startups

by Instaprop on 04 November 2019

This guide started as a collection of advice I have given to Startups and SMEs in the past regarding optimal office space selection. The goal of this guide is to pull together these bits and pieces to hopefully help out other early-stage and scaling companies in the same position. I will highlight the key questions you should be asking, some realities of the commercial real estate world and some useful heuristics to help with decision making. Some decisions will be irreversible and so require more thought while others can be rolled back if they turn out to be less than optimal.

Remotely interested?

A number of high profile startups and mid-size companies have adopted formal policies of remote-first or remote-only workplaces. We believe this is a positive mindset shift by companies, who are willing to ask the question "Why do we need to have all of our employees in a single place every day?". In a future article we will dig into this trend in more detail, but even for those remote-focused companies, taking up Flexible workspaces for their remote employees will still make a lot of sense. For now, check out Zapier's Remote Work Report.

"26 percent of knowledge workers have quit a job because the company did not offer the option to work remotely/flexible work schedule"

An office is a significant financial commitment...

Management has a fiduciary duty over company spending. Startups and high-growth companies may also have limited capital to deploy on new office fitouts and deposits. Regardless of whether you are pre-seed or flush with cash from your latest investment round, you must treat the capital you have as precious, and hence decide if its better spent invested in the business and employees or on office space fitout which you may soon outgrow (or, unfortunately, in which you may need to downsize). It is important to have a detailed understanding of the financials of providing workplace to your employees, whether a traditional office or Flexible space or a combination of both.

...but also an investment in your culture and workplace

While you need to be responsible about the investment, it's also important to remember that office space (or indeed any workspace you provide for your employees) is an investment in your culture. The workplace options you provide to your employees will impact the culture you have or are trying to build. A cool workplace will not, in isolation, create an amazing culture, but the "right" space can act as a force-multiplier — enhancing your positive culture and workplace habits or, conversely, reinforce a toxic workplace culture. Many startups and growth companies proudly spend on dev tools, hardware, snacks, medical and benefits because they see it as an investment in their employees. The workplace can also be an investment that pays back many times the cost.

Ruthless objectivity for your requirements

Kicking off the process should be a team sport from upper management. This is the stage where you gather the cold, hard details on what you need from your workspace.

  1. How many people will use the space?
  2. If you project forward 6-12 months, what are reasonable estimates for your best-case and worst-case headcounts?
  3. From where will the employees be travelling each day? It helps to understand how long people's commute will be.
  4. What kind of work will be performed in this workspace? This generally flows from the teams and functions - is it predominantly salespeople, developers, administration, customer service or something else?

It is important at this stage to challenge assumptions about how your team uses office space — what is important and what is purely preference or convention?

What styles of work do you need to support?

People do not do only one style of work across a typical day or week. With very few exceptions, employees doing cognitively complex work will need quiet space with minimal or no disruptions. Disruptions do not only refer to interruptions from colleagues but also audible and visual distractions (particularly important in shared-working environments). For certain teams and gatherings, a more collaborative or open space where people can interact and freely exchange ideas will be useful, and this may form part of your dedicated office area, or in the case of a coworking/shared workspace it could be the common area or meeting rooms. Despite the move to paperless offices and cloud-based administrative systems, a certain amount of privacy and security is needed for personnel and financial documents.

Build a robust financial case

At the risk of leaning lazily on an easy metaphor, it is helpful to consider the decision of a Flexible office environment vs a traditional leased space as the decision between Cloud infrastructure such as Amazon AWS vs running your own bare-metal servers in a dedicated colo facility. One is not categorically better than the other, but each has its own set of strengths both in terms of management/provisioning and operating costs.

Building on the metaphor of cloud infrastructure, consider Flexible office as a Workplace-as-a-service offering. It is generally easy and efficient to get started in a Flexible space, contracts are generally short membership agreements (legally speaking, a license agreement rather than a more distinct Lease or Tenancy Agreement) and the "switching costs" or lock-in is minimal since you are not investing capital into the fitout, office furniture and improvements.

The more variability in your headcount and future company growth, the better fit a flexible office space will be as you gain the ability to scale up and down without writing off capital investment in fitouts and breaking leases (a potentially expensive legal process).

tl;dr (Summary)

Generally speaking, Flexible office space serves a valuable role for companies in many situations, including fast growth or early-stage. While Flexible office space is not always the right choice for every situation, a detailed financial analysis will help you understand the best path for your specific case.

Here is our summary list, or you can get in touch with us and we can help you get started. We are most happy to have a discussion and help you frame your requirements in the most relevant way. Also browse our Flexible workspaces.

  1. Decide on remote or on-site teams or some hybrid of the two - all options can benefit from Flexible Office space
  2. Understand your current costs of providing workspaces for your teams, and be realistic about your budgetary and operational constraints
  3. What are your absolute, bottom-line must-haves that you cannot live without? This should be a short list, as the less of these you have, the more flexible you can be with considering options and prices
  4. Knowing how your teams work, how they will grow in future, and what kind of culture you want or already have and want to preserve, what are the major working styles of your teams? It can be helpful to create typical users or personas for each team or working unit
  5. Work with your analyst or a Flexible Office Advisor (such as us!) to analyse the collected information, prepare a budget forecast, search the market for options that roughly fit your criteria and budget and arrange for your team to view the options and start the process of identifying your future Flexible Office Space