THE BLOG
09/04/2014 04:57 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

The Top 5 Questions to Ask When Leasing Office Space

Whether you're moving from a shared office, home office or local coffee shop, finding the ideal space for your growing business can be a daunting task, even if you've been through the office search process before. While owning an office space carries certain benefits, many businesses enjoy the flexibility afforded by a lease, which makes it easier to scale up or down in square footage if your company's needs ever change. In order to make your office search as efficient as possible and ensure you get the most out of your space, it's important to ask these five questions before getting started:

1. How much space do I need?

The first step to any office search should be determining how much space your business actually needs. During the recession, companies of all sizes cut costs by reducing their overall footprint, a move that led many employers to discover just how much unused and underutilized space they were paying for. As economic conditions improved, businesses began adding employees but many were slow to add square footage, instead opting to fit more people into less space.

While there's no exact science to determining how much space your company should lease, a good rule of thumb is 140 to 150 square feet per employee, a number that has decreased in recent years. You can also use the following averages to estimate how much square footage your business will require:

  • President's office: 250+ square feet
  • Vice president's office: 175-200 square feet
  • Staff office: 140-150 square feet
  • Staff workstation/cubicle: 85 square feet
  • Conference room: 25-30 square feet (per person)

You'll also want to account for common spaces like a receptionist desk and waiting area; a kitchen; file and mail rooms; hallways; closets; and any other spaces your company will need for day-to-day operations. If you're planning to bring on new employees in the coming months, make sure you factor that into your square footage calculation.

2. Where should I look?

Once you have a better sense of how much space you'll need, it's time to figure out the best location for your business. If you're an established company and are simply looking to upgrade your space, it may be beneficial to stay in the same general area to avoid inconveniencing your clients and employees. If you're a new business or are unhappy with your existing location, there are several factors to consider:

  • Demographics: Who are your target customers and employees and where do they live? If the answer is downtown and you're looking at space in the suburbs, you may want to expand your search to the city to avoid inconveniencing customers and employees. Cheap rent in the suburbs won't help your bottom line if it's at the expense of losing good staff and clients.
  • Accessibility: How easy - or difficult - is it for people to reach you? Access to public transportation and major thoroughfares can make or break a business, so it's important to choose an office that has one or the other (or, ideally, both).
  • Visibility: How will people know you exist? If you want your business to be seen, look for a location with plenty of foot traffic as well as interior and exterior signage.
  • Competition: Who are your competitors and where are they located? Some businesses, including many retailers, benefit from being in proximity to each other, even if they offer similar products and services. While this doesn't carry over to every industry, consider whether moving near your biggest rivals would help or hurt your business. If they've been successful in a particular location, chances are there's a reason they've selected it.

3. How should I find it?

Even after determining which neighborhood or street is best for your business and estimating how much space you need, it can be difficult to narrow down your shortlist. One solution is working with a commercial broker familiar with your business and the existing options in the local real estate market. Because tenant reps are paid by the landlord, not the tenant, their services are free to the companies that use them to find and secure a new office. If you're a small law firm, for example, you should work with a broker who specializes in law offices under 10,000 square feet. Those brokers know exactly what exists in your space, unlike tenant reps who work with larger companies. Other benefits include:

  • Saved time: Researching the market and negotiating with a landlord can be a full-time job in and of itself. Working with a broker allows you to get better results without being pulled away from the day-to-day operations of your business.
  • Saved money: In addition to the value of your time, a tenant rep can save you thousands of dollars at the negotiating table, allowing you to minimize cost and maximize flexibility.
  • Saved headaches: Because they can assist with lease renewals and future moves, tenant reps have an incentive to make sure you're satisfied with your space. If issues arise with your landlord, your broker can act as your first line of defense.

4. How do I set up my office?

The way you set up and outfit your office space can have a big impact on the success of your company. The layout and décor help set the tone of your company culture and have a direct impact on your employees' productivity. Two important questions to consider when setting up your office are:

  • What image do I want to portray to employees, customers and competitors? The look and feel of your office helps shape people's perceptions of your company, so be sure their first impression is a good one. Your office space should be an extension of your brand and reflect your company culture. Simple things like where to put your business name or logo and what color of paint to use may seem trivial, but they can have a powerful psychological impact on customers and employees. Also, consider the type of furniture and equipment you purchase for your office. For example, if your computers are out of date, it will make it harder for your employees to be productive. Likewise, if you have old furniture with nicks and scratches or not enough storage space to keep your office organized and looking neat, your clients may wonder if you will give them the proper care and attention.
  • How can I incorporate the needs of my workers into the design? Setting up your office space does not just entail buying or renting furniture. Because employees spend a significant amount of time in the office, it's important to provide a layout and design that makes them feel comfortable and encourages collaboration and good working habits.

5. How do I manage it?

Now that you have your office set up, how do you keep it running smoothly on a daily basis? You might want to consider outsourcing tasks that are essential to running the office but are not the focus of your business. Doing so will give you more time to focus on your core business without getting bogged down with the day-to-day activities that come with running an office. Types of tasks to consider outsourcing include:

  • Jobs that can be done more efficiently and cost effectively by another company/business: Some of the most common tasks that businesses tend to outsource are payroll, data entry, accounts payable and phone answering services. Outsourcing these types of commoditized activities can help save you and your company time and money.
  • Jobs that require executive-level expertise not fundamental to your business: As with most small businesses, you and a number of your employees may wear many different hats. Even though you may not have a budget for a full-time marketing executive or CFO you still might want to consider using expert freelancers who could devote a few hours a month to ensure your company is on the right track.
  • Jobs that require specialized knowledge: With how quickly technology is changing, it can be hard for anyone who isn't dedicated to IT to keep up-to-date on the technology your business needs to grow. By outsourcing IT, you can gain an army of knowledgeable IT professionals who can ensure your technology is meeting the needs of your business and will provide the support you need to keep your business up and running in today's digital world.

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Frank Chalupa is president and co-founder of Amata Office Centers, Chicago's largest privately owned office suites provider. Founded in 2002, Amata offers an array of full- and part-time office solutions to businesses of all sizes. For more information, visit www.amataoffices.com.