When deciding how to choose the perfect office, it would be easy to think I may come with a substantial bias. The reason for that is 3 years ago my friend and I launched a service to let people work from anywhere. However, this most certainly is not the case! My personal goal was and is to encourage better working practices, that works for everyone, and not everybody wants to work from anywhere. In fact, for many businesses, this could even be highly detrimental to their business activities. So how do you decide?
Think of the business
It may sound slightly obtuse but your office has to work for your business. As someone who started life as an automotive engineer, I often needed access to the vehicles to see what was going on firsthand. I am sure many of you also run businesses where being close to your physical customer, suppliers, test facilities and other physical parts of the business are required. Now there are many ways around this. One of Elon Musk’s most investable decisions was to run Tesla’s with a highly automated and robotised manufacturing line, acquiring firms who could support. Think Amazon warehouse meets car factory. This investment into Telsa’s future means engineers like myself can view a possible defect almost immediately, with high-resolution images, and even work with the robot to manipulate and inspect the part.
Now, this isn’t for everyone as it’s expensive to implement and is most beneficial only if you scale operations. Having one engineer be able to quickly inspect parts anywhere in the world is a lot more efficient than have one in each location. The engineer would need to walk down, take pictures, email the others around the world (who may or may not speak their language) and then find and implement the solution.
And don’t forget your customers
Interestingly personal experience has taught me that proximity to something you should do doesn’t always help. Know your customer, customer-centric design, and a million other best practices would have you believe we are all out and about speaking to our customers. However, we often sit behind laptops evaluating analytics. It’s a lot comfier and a lot less scary.
When was the last time your gym manager left the office to see why the cheaper treadmill they bought keeps breaking or ask you what you liked or didn’t about the gym? Never right! So why is their office there? Before we shout that they should work from home or a beach in Bali, here it is probably best to think about how to have them engage with customers.
Make sure you measure the benefits
Now any project manager will tell you when starting a project that outlining your business benefits is not enough. You need to be able to measure, and before you do that you should probably measure where you are now. Turns out it’s hard to measure improvements otherwise. Go figure!
The key evaluation point here then becomes do we need regular access to some physical part of the business. If so, will it be more cost-effective in the long run to have fewer people access this from anywhere? Or are you only going to ever have a hyper-local strategy and therefore a local base is essential? Hopefully, this can drive the ingenuity that sits inside many of us as you think is there a better way.
For all the companies that discuss putting the customer first, there is one talking about culture and how important it is to what they do. As someone who recently had some exposure to Palantir, one of the worlds most exciting growing businesses, I became hyper-aware of just how important they felt company culture was. Like many other companies seeking to recruit the best talent they even have a page dedicated to explaining what their company culture is all about. But what is company culture and how do you best bring it about?
A case study from Yahoo
Many people refer to Yahoo as a failed experiment in remote working. Onlookers cited maintaining company culture and productivity as the key reasons why they pulled every back to the office in 2013. However, as always this is just partially correct. Marissa Mayer, ex-CEO of Yahoo Inc, has stated many times that this decision was specific to Yahoo’s challenges at the time and productivity actually was higher when employees worked alone and remote. You have to remember they had just gone through severe reshuffles at the board level, had one CEO for only 130 days and were losing ground in the market to Google. The key reason behind this recall was collaboration due to poor internal processes, as a result of a rapidly scaled tech company. This was also at a time when stable video calls and collaboration tools was still a pipeline dream. Never was culture mentioned at all.
Learning from brand culture
Company culture is defined “as a set of shared values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterise an organisation”. Not dissimilar to what a business would like to achieve with its customers when building brand loyalty. If your company needs an office to create a brand culture then you may need to have a serious think about what shared value you are building.
What you may want to think about though is how your office or lack of becomes an extension of your brand and company values. The World Wildlife Fund for example focus on having a sustainable office and help others through their “Let’s Make Our Workspaces Sustainable” campaign. On the other hand, Zapier, a company for other tech companies and indie builders (often working remotely) prides itself on working remotely and produce high-quality content to help others make this change.
Others view of the perfect office
This is where life can start to get tricky. The distribution of people’s requirements is where life often gets us stuck. For every person that wants to work from their second home in the shires or south of France, someone is craving the social opportunities granted by joining a company with other like-minded individuals and a desire to socialise. One of my favourite statistics on this is the fact that around 1 in 4 couples in the US meets at work, even in a one-swipe world. So how do you accommodate for this?
Well, this is where for me the idea of flexibility is key. I said I’m not biased on working from anywhere but I am biased on providing flexibility. The old adage of one size fits all, definitely is not appropriate when it comes to where we work from. The only way I see you can avoid either having to provide flexible solutions or having some disgruntled employees is to recruit people who only want to work one way. Clearly, this has an associated risk that people’s lives and requirements change. If this is the policy you want and it’s isn’t remote-first you may need to get prepared for a revolving door of employees.
So how do you provide something flexible enough for everyone? A bit like knowing your customers knowing your team is critical. Checking in with them to see what they want and building a strategy accordingly is probably the best way. Almost instantly you may find a small group who want an office every day, many who want it occasionally and a decent proportion of those who never want it all.
How to only pay for what you need
Now no one wants to pay for an office for 100 people and have 3 people there 5 days a week followed by half the team in on a Thursday for a drink after work and the rest living a personal life quite separate from work. You may have started searching for a solution only to find you a lack of options to service your requirement of flexing from 3 to 100 and back down again. You may have then gone back to Google and ended up here. The bad news is that magic office doesn’t exist yet and office providers have little incentive to do this.
The good news is flexible solutions such as Othership and WeWork All Access does exist. These services allow your team to self-serve and providing quick access to workspaces, meeting rooms or private offices if you want to get a few people together on a regular or infrequent basis. You can even find providers who list your own office to manage underused space and reclaim back some of the cost.
The other bit of good news is that your team’s pain points can be easier to address than the requests. Rather than ask where they want to work ask how and why. People who want an office every day often need it as they don’t have a suitable workspace at home, have distractions from other members of the household or just prefer having a place dedicated to work to keep a better separation. As you probably know from design theory that doesn’t always mean you need to rent or buy them a whole building.
Know your neighbours
The penultimate thing we should cover.is who are your neighbours. Moving to the same street as someone you want to get to know or be affiliated with, especially if it’s for romantic interest is strongly recommended against – but when it comes to business partnerships your going to be ok.
A classic example from the tech sector for this was Google and Mozilla. Based across the road from one another, Mozilla and Google enjoyed a long and happy relationship supporting each others development and strategy. Just be aware that longer-term one built its own browser, so just because you enjoy some neighbourly love doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed forever.
A second and lesser-known example of this was Vice media who used to let other business cowork from their office. This reduced the early rent costs and led to them acquiring one of the businesses that now make up a substantial part of Vice Media’s revenue.
For those who go down the fully remote option, you will find virtual neighbours like Automatic (behind WordPress), Buffer, Zapier and Othership. Just like physical neighbours, we work together to promote each other’s cause and find friendship in our commonality.
The boring stuff
While we have tried to put a different view on choosing your perfect office, here are some of the more boring considerations.
- Is your option commutable for the team?
- What talent can you attract and retain with this policy?
- What’s the cost per employee?
- What’s the overall cost to the business and financial risk?
- What are the tax implications?
- Can you make a multi-purpose space that pays for itself?
Choosing a perfect office is so much more than just thinking about tables and chairs. When making these decisions, especially in a world with constant change, an approach to make sure your office works for you and isn’t just a place to work will better stand the test of time. We hope you enjoy your office search!
Extra help to choose the perfect office?
If you are looking for a flexible, hybrid, or hub and spoke model the team here at Othership have 3 years specialising in meetings these needs. We can even make the seemingly impossible happen, just let us know what your business requirements are. If you only want a fixed office, we won’t be for you, but we are happy to introduce you to someone we trust who can.