The word "office" may conjure images of dreary cubicles and fluorescent lighting, or, if you're lucky, a very funny TV show starring Steve Carell. But these days, an "office" usually means any environment to which people dedicate most of their business hours.
Of course, there's been a surge in the debate recently over whether or not startups need office space at all -- thanks to free wi-fi in most cafes, an uptick in remote work arrangements and the increase in other alternatives to working at a desk 9-to-5. And, naturally, the arrangement that works best for your business depends on a number of variables deserving careful consideration.
But for entrepreneurs fortunate enough to run a business that is growing and adding individuals to its team, the idea of an organized work space with dependable infrastructure and room to fit a budding workforce shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.
Here are nine reasons entrepreneurs should think carefully about providing an environment where their team -- and their business -- can thrive.
1. Attracting talent
A company’s office space can be a clue to its stature; everything from its financial health to its work philosophy can find expression in the walls of its physical space. There’s a reason the most celebrated companies in the world are recognized for living in celebrated homes, too: Office space is one of the endemic ways a brand communicates its essence.
Among the audiences for that communication, perhaps the most important is the top talent these brands -- especially those of growing startups -- are trying to attract. The best and brightest want to know they’ll be working for a company that’s going to be around for a while.
They want to know that the physical space they’ll be working in is appealing and comfortable. After all, they’ll be spending a majority of their time there. And, clearly, they won't get that impression if your company is one without any space at all.
Team-building is more than a lofty exercise; it can result in a supportive work environment, which is crucial to your team's success. If you're trying to build a top-notch sales organization or make sure your product and marketing are better integrated, what better way to foster that dynamic than with an environment where employees can socialize and support one other?
3. Social life
Socializing segues naturally from team-building. For some people, co-workers end up being close friends, even outside of the office. Any time you can help employees improve their social lives, you’re providing a holistic benefit that makes them happier -- and by extension more productive -- at work.
If you're fond of meetings that start on time and run smoothly, you should seriously consider an organized work space for your startup. One of the biggest myths about startups and office space is that, thanks to video-conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangout and Vidyo, you don't really need to meet in person at all.
But varying degrees of network connectivity and the resulting latency issues, among other technical problems that can arise, often mean that 10 to 15 minutes elapses before everyone can simply hear and see each other. That won't be a problem if everyone is in the same space.
Accountability issues happen all the time. Think about the yellow-orange "idle" or red "busy" icon next to a employee's name on Google Chat. You open a chat with him or her anyway. No reply.
Is that person even there? Or sunbathing in the park? If everyone is at the office, the no-show problem lessens (somewhat). At the end of the day, though, your company is facing productivity and accountability issues. Your team is made up of people who have diverse interests and hobbies, and their ability to pursue them is a big part of what keeps them happy and productive.
You just want to make sure they pursue them on their time, not yours. And, an office helps.
Another great reason to consider office space is if your investors advise you to. More comments from hands-on investors will help you account for all the factors you need to consider before deciding whether or not to move operations to an office.
7. Professional development
Whether it’s for hosting a guest speaker series, running workshops or starting a mentorship program, a space you can call home allows you to facilitate and effectively market more professional-development opportunities.
When you show employees you’re willing to invest in their growth as people and professionals, that gesture goes a long way in keeping those employees satisfied and motivated to build their careers with you.
Research shows that a healthy team makes a productive team. As an employer, with an office, you can play a significant role in your team’s performance by making sure the pantry is stocked with healthy foods throughout the day.
In many cases, the food you provide employees may be healthier than what they stock at home. And, commuting to an office usually involves more physical exercise than pulling on a pair of sweatpants in the morning to work from home. Whether it's climbing the stairs out of the train station, walking to and from the office or taking frequent breaks to re-up on water and walk around the work space, office life isn't without its health benefits.
9. Exposure to diversity
In every industry, exposure to different viewpoints, skill sets, levels of experience and personal histories (including race and gender) in the course of business is healthy. An office ensures that your team members are getting this exposure (assuming, of course, that you're building a diverse team) in a collegial atmosphere.
Securing office space for your startup is by no means a light decision. It will represent one of your most significant expenses, and it typically requires a 3-to-5 year commitment. That can be a scary thought when you’re not entirely sure where your business is going to be in five years.
But you can always consult resources to help you determine your readiness for office space and determine what you need to know, to start looking.
- Justin Lee, COO and Co-founder of TheSquareFoot