This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
There comes a time in every start-up's life when you've outgrown your space. It could be because you're hiring to explore new markets, ramp up sales or conquer technical challenges. Whatever the reason, you need to hire people. And, people need space to work from.
But when is the right time to move? Having moved our company four times over the last decade, I speak from experience.
Like getting married or having kids, there is no perfect time. There are, however, telltale signs that reveal an office move is in the best interests of the long-term sustainability of your company.
As much as it's been said that timing is everything, I've discovered that you can bend time to your will. Sometimes, you simply have to find ways to make it work.
We still had four years left on our lease at our old office, but found ourselves in a tough situation when the demand for high-quality, easy-to-source voice-over talent through our business grew substantially. Over the course of one year, the company jumped 31 spots on the annual PROFIT 500 ranking of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies (we cracked the top 100). Given our five year growth rate of 798 per cent, keeping up meant expansion into new space.
Through planning and seizing the opportunity when it presents itself, you too can capitalize on making an office move that will propel your company forward.
Let's explore the signs that a move may be in the future.
Your company culture needs a reboot
Culture consists of shared values, a common language, stated expectations and tangible artifacts.
As team members have come and gone, perhaps new values have emerged. Certainly the language has matured and you've become clear about your market, your product and the real-world problems you solve.
It's possible, too, that other behaviours have emerged; many positive, such as increased collaborative time and idea generation, recognizing that unwanted behaviours such as overbooked meeting rooms, unkempt kitchens and visible signs of degradation may have crept in.
We found it helpful to include all employees in a number of workshops, surveys and company-wide meetings to dream big about what our new office could be.
We took care to identify the best attributes of our culture and how we could amplify those characteristics through space planning, office design and supporting tools and technologies. Likewise, we named the elephants in the room, all those unwanted patterns of behaviour.
For instance, there was only a single meeting room with a TV where presentations could be given – for an office of 100 employees. Sure, there were other meeting rooms, but they lacked the required technology to enable effective meetings. This caused unnecessary rescheduling of meetings and lost productivity.
A fresh start shouldn't be wasted. Be purposeful about beginning anew by articulating expectations for booking meeting rooms, eating lunches, inviting guests into the office, handling on-premise security and more.
Examine your organization to see if it's time to reboot the culture and use an office move as the catalyst for living out the best of what your company has to offer.
There is no greater reset than an office move. With such change, new habits can be formed and with a little guidance from management, the team will be working harmoniously once again.
Your lease is about to expire
Many entrepreneurs use the expiry and possible renewal of a lease as a prompt to consider other options. Do you know when your lease expires? Check now, as it may be sooner than you think.
If your lease expires in the next 18 months, that's great. Finding the right spot, space planning, renovating, and moving is a huge undertaking that will require no less than a year.
You've been made an offer you can't refuse
If, on the other hand, you have more than a year or so, don't let that deter you. It's possible to successfully negotiate your way out of an old lease and into a generous new situation.
A favourable deal, and items you should add to your wish list include:
- Limited Term: Avoid getting locked in for longer than necessary. Negotiate for a short term, recognizing you’re unlikely to find landlords offering commercial leases for less than five years in most metropolitan areas. Ten years is reasonable and if possible, include an early termination clause.
- Leasehold improvements: Inevitably, you’ll want to renovate the space. It could be refreshing the bathrooms, modernizing meeting rooms or knocking down a few walls to open up the space. Whatever your vision, these types of renovations are costly. Insist that your lease includes an allowance for improvements.
- Parking: For rural or suburban offices, parking is less of an issue. However, downtown office space comes with high costs for parking. While many companies pass these costs onto employees, some firms subsidize monthly parking or even cover the costs entirely. If there’s parking in the building, ask for 3-4 spots per 1,000 square feet. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Signage: There’s a proverb that states that a good name is better than great riches. How true. And, how much more if the residents of your city can see your company’s name on signage at street level or in the city’s skyline. Building signage is an opportunity for the landlord to earn passive income, so anticipate paying for naming rights. At a minimum, ensure that you get some exterior signage that’s easily visible from the street. Should your finances permit, invest in an illuminated sign so it can be seen day or night, advertising your business for you.
With your wish list in hand, you may just find a progressive landlord who is willing and able to meet all your needs – and then some.
You've used up every nook and cranny
I recently met with an entrepreneur who gave up his private office to house a team of web developers. That's not uncommon. In the past, we've seen boardrooms and meeting rooms taken over by desks, but there's a limit.
When you've doubled up private offices so each 10-by-10 space is home to two employees, when there are no more meetings rooms left for meetings, and when all the desk space is occupied, it's time.
For some, this level of proximity is stimulating and can improve communication among team members. There will, however, be a tipping point, a point where people are crammed in too tightly and personal space is non-existent.
What does this look like? Pushing back your chair and bumping into the employee behind you could reveal that workstations are too close. Walkways should be 4-feet wide. As you've grown, I bet some creative space planner pitched the idea of moving all the rows closer together by a few inches. Next thing you know, you're walking down aisles or sitting at a desk that is uncomfortably tight.
Not sure if it's too tight? Ask around, or conduct a formal poll using Google Surveys or Survey Monkey. Get the right insight needed to make an important decision straight from your employees.
You're spread across multiple floors, or multiple buildings
Years ago, you found what the ideal situation. Perhaps a few thousand square feet to start and, over time, your company began to grow.
"We can meet the product launch deadline, but we will need more developers," said your head of engineering. You complied. Your vice-president of sales said "we can hit those sales targets with the support of a business development team," and new roles were created.
Soon, you had sales and marketing on one floor, and the development team elsewhere in the same building. Now, you're considering relocating the finance and operations personnel to a third floor.
Doesn't seem so bad, does it? The Harvard Business Review recently published an article highlighting research by Gina Venolia , a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, which validated a common belief that employees located on different floors felt as if they were in different cities. Employees who were more than 1,000 feet away, might as well be 1,000 miles away.
It's reasonable to see how this could happen. You take the elevator up to your floor, get off and don't interact with people on other floors. Days turn into weeks and then you realize at your quarterly town hall that it's been three months since you've connected with staff from other departments.
Aim to consolidate your square footage into a single floorplate. We recently moved from 20,000 square feet across two floors (inconveniently with a floor between the two) to a new office where the entire company is housed on a single 45,000-square-foot floor plate. Now that everyone is on the same floor, face-to-face communication, informal chats and impromptu greetings have increased by 400 per cent.
When done right, moving out can be your way to move up
As an entreprepreneur, you exhibit persistence and should use this quality. You may be pleasantly surprised that doors of opportunity open right in front of you.
David Ciccarelli is CEO and founder of Voices.com.