Real estate brokers help you find office space, but there’s another professional that space-seekers should put on their advance team: an architect. This may sound like biased advice coming from someone who is an architect. But from personal experience, I’m here to tell you that I’ve been brought in early in the process when a client and broker are looking for space, and I’ve been brought in late in the process — after a lease has been signed. Earlier is better. Mistakes made during the process of leasing space are not easily undone, and more often than not, a business ends up paying the price for those mistakes for a long time.
So how does a business owner avoid making those mistakes and find and create an office that meets his current and future needs without breaking his budget? The process doesn’t start when you are staring at thousands of empty square feet you’ve just signed for. It’s best begun by taking a methodical and deliberate look at exactly what you require in your new space. Here are some of the questions you need to answer before ever playing with floor plans:
• How much space do we need and should we lease?
• What are your requirements for the work space? (Look, feel, amenities, access, etc.)
• What length and terms of the lease should we expect?
• What are the rental costs as well as the construction and relocation costs?
Do a Space Analysis
Figuring out how much space you need isn’t a matter of guessing, leasing space and then trying to figure out where everything should go. Every company should conduct an analysis to determine its space allocation requirements and develop workflow charts for the business. Today, every office needs telephones, computers, filing and supplies. Other office functions vary depending on the type of business. This initial groundwork is the foundation for what will be developed into a functioning floor plan once the right space is found. This analysis will help to determine not only the size of the space needed, but the layout and format necessary to create efficient information sharing and workflow within the office.
Good space utilization doesn’t necessarily mean allocating the smallest possible working space per person. On the contrary, too little working space may reduce efficiency and waste time, ultimately wiping out any savings in the square-foot costs. Determining the actual space required will save space and money in the long run and will help a business increase productivity.
One rule of thumb for space allocation often used as an initial standard is between 115 to 150 square feet per person. However, every office and building space is different and every person’s needs are different, which means the standard will often be misleading. An interior designer, for example, needs more desk space than a call center employee, who simply needs space for a desk, a phone and a computer. An architect will analyze the personnel and their function along with their equipment needs to define a square footage target for the new office. Doing this will give the realtor a clear idea of the target layout and square footage needed, and the business will save time and money when shopping for a new space.
Planning for a Build-Out
Every office consists of different areas and components, each of which will influence the size and character of the new space. Understanding these components allows an architect to help the business plan accordingly, and helps both business owner and architect plan for customizing the space. A few items any owner needs to consider are:
What first impression do you want your office to make? A business’s appearance can play a critical role with prospective clients and the general morale within the office. For starters, a reception area is where a business sells itself. For example, one university office we worked with opted for a dignified look, with plenty of wood and rich colors. To make sure the reception area was conducive to quiet conversation, acoustic “sound soak” panels were installed beneath fabric on the walls. In contrast, for a cutting-edge women’s fashion company, we designed glass walls, a brushed stainless steel reception desk and an open-space presentation.
Consider, too, how your office looks once a visitor is beyond the reception area. Are there workers you want to put on display (such as designers in a graphic design firm) or others that you’d rather keep in a back office (perhaps the employees who are making accounts receivable phone calls)?
How will the work flow between departments in your company? Each department within an organization has a relationship with the others, and developing the connections between functions will make information flow efficiently. Perhaps a publishing house wants to make sure its art department is located next to its editorial staff, to increase cooperation between the two groups. If there were a wall or corridor between them, the kind of casual interaction that can spark ideas would be at a minimum. Does the CEO want to be in the middle of the action, where he or she can interact easily with staff, or does she prefer more solitude?
Thomas Campiglia, AIA, is a principal with C+E Architects in Manhattan. He can be reached at email@example.com.