Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

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Making the call on whether to move your offices or stay where you are and redesign your space instead isn't science, and it isn't art ... but it's somewhere in between.

Working out the pressure points can be tricky.

Has your staff grown out of its current space? Does the space no longer work for you?

 Is your lease coming to an end (and is it worth renegotiating or using the opportunity to try something new?) Or do you just feel it's time to shake up your office culture—try something that you haven't done before, energise your staff with more agile workspaces, or build the team with more collaborative spaces or focus hubs?

If the solution was one size fits all, then the questions would be relatively easy to answer.

Every workspace is different though. Every business has different needs. And every team responds differently and requires more bespoke solutions. That's where a great designer and a good team that understands the dynamic between office solutions and the requirements of the business or department, and the team, really comes to the fore.

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As Lorne Somerville, of Barfoot and Thompson's Commercial Leasing division, says, there is no one size fits all when it comes to advising clients on the right time to move offices, or staying put and redesigning. There isn't even a single standard measure to calculate the sq/m floor space an employee needs.

But getting a company like SmartSpace in to help a business make these big decisions is essential.

‘It’s really important to challenge the company on what they think they need,’ Lorne says. ‘Trends and methodologies and ways of working are changing so quickly, partly because of technology. So companies need to look at what they’re trying to do and look at what other companies are doing. Getting a company like SmartSpace in to facilitate that discussion and show what best practice is and what other companies are doing is important because otherwise they’ll think they just need to replicate what they’ve done before.’

As Lorne says, so much depends on the type of business that’s considering the move. A legal firm, for example, will have different requirements because of their need for private spaces, compared to a firm of chartered accountants.

‘But even with lawyers, many aren’t having offices any more. They’re totally changing the way they’re working within their organisation.’

There are fairly standard triggers for making a move, however. Lorne says these include lease expiry, the need for expansion, flexibility and agility, better client experience, and staff development (including more collaboration spaces).

‘Everyone has a lease expiry date. Generally, they’re in their premises from three to five years. The end of the lease is a really good time to reevaluate the premises and see whether it’s still meeting the business’s needs, or if they’re using the space efficiently. Often through that time they will have grown or maybe shrunk and their needs will be different. ‘It’s often good to evaluate whether what they’re in is serving their purposes going forward. It’s a natural point in time to evaluate the whole thing.’

Things every business needing to move should consider

Regardless of the precise reason to move, there are guidelines that apply in any situation. The conclusions may differ depending on the client, but the methodology to reach those conclusions is fairly standardised.

One key factor shared by any business deciding the right time to move is planning. The lesson here is, the further out from D-Day the better. Starting the process a year out is ideal. Less than six months is going to make the process really tight. Designers need at least three-four months for a design and fit-out of new offices, and there is much that needs to be worked out before they come in, such as the suitability of the new premises, costs, ethos … you name it. Bringing a designer or office space expert early on in the process will help you decide whether the offices you occupy can meet your current and future needs by being redesigned. In terms of cost and time, that is always the best solution, if it is possible. Sometimes it isn't. If the lease is coming to an end and there is no opportunity for renegotiation, a move is your only option.

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So, how much space does a business actually need?

This is where the perfect blend of science and art can make all the difference.

Up until recent years, the industry standard was 15.5sq/m per person. That included the following considerations:

  • Individual work area - 7.5 sq/m

  • Immediate circulation area - .75sq/m

  • Meeting rooms - 2.5 sq/m

  • Shared circulation area - 15% of the above

  • Storage/utility areas - 1.5 sq/m

  • Staff room facility - 1.5 sq/m

 However, those figures are changing rapidly. Lorne says that traditionally government departments worked on a ratio of one person every 12 sq/m. Now they’re down to just one to 8-10sq/m.

Different businesses will have different requirements

Legal offices that need extra private spaces might require 18-25 sq/m per person. Call centres, which usually require more open space and fixed desks might require much less, around 12 sq/m. Businesses that mix some open space with fixed offices would require something in between, around 14 sq/m per person.

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When it’s time to bring in the experts…

This is where a designer and office space expert can make a huge difference. They can help you reimagine office space around what your team actually requires, not what you assume they require. It's clear that the more open space you are able to use, the lower the per person sq/m overall, and therefore potentially lower the cost of the lease. It will also influence the cost of your office fit-out. A top quality hard fit-out (including fixed meeting rooms and offices) might cost between $550-650/sqm, while a soft fit-out (which includes more agile workspace options such as workstations, booths, collaboration hubs) would cost some $100-150 less/sqm. Lorne says the final cost of the fit-out might end up the same, but it will be an office that is custom designed to your specific needs.

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‘We’ve constantly got fads coming in or different thoughts on ways of working. At the moment there’s a lot of stuff around co-working and changing the way people work. The companies have to figure out who they are and how they fit into that.’

That’s where SmartSpace come in. As Lorne says, SmartSpace are pragmatic in their approach. They listen to their clients and are innovative in finding cost-effective solutions to give clients what they need.

James Dodunski, managing director of SmartSpace, says the key is to know what the client needs and not what the design company wants.

‘It’s up to the design firm to tap into what the client really wants,’ he says. ‘Don’t harp on about what your recipe is, listen to the client. The clients talk about the fluffy stuff, all the feelings. We know how to break that down into practicalities, such as whether a desktop needs to move. We listen to everything first, then talk about how we translate all of that fluffy stuff into a physical environment.’

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So how do you get the mix right for your office?

Lorne points out that a handy guide to the changing needs of NZ workspaces is the government's own procurement guidelines for internal departments.

These guidelines list several priorities departments must consider when deciding to redesign current workspaces or move to new premises.

  • The first is the open-plan environment. It's a preferred option because it provides communal activity, team neighbourhoods, collaboration hubs that encourage group communication and unplanned interaction, as well as options for high concentration or focus work. Such spaces also counter the problem of siloed or isolated employees.

  • The second is an emphasis on shared collaborative and quiet spaces. These are facilities that are not 'owned' by a particular group. But they incorporate specific areas for high concentration work, when needed, as well as making collaborative hubs prominent.

  • There's a high emphasis on the utilisation of available technology, as well as the budget and time for staff to be adequately trained to get the most out of it. There's also an emphasis on mobility and adaptability. The desk is no longer considered the only viable work setting. Dynamic work environments are preferred, because they encourage discussion and collaboration. Moving to a more agile workspace builds an organisational culture that is focused on deliverables and not simply being present at a desk and calling that 'productivity'.

  • This last point should be a key element in any design. An agile workspace means that staff move while the office furniture stays in place. Teams form around the requirements of the business's projects and not around office furniture.

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The term 'spaceless growth' sums this up well. Spaceless growth refers to the maximising of current workspaces before the leap to new offices is taken. The goal is to allow for staff growth and development without the need to lock yourself into a new, costly lease agreement. 

So, the question of whether to move or whether to stay is a complex one with many moving parts. A workspace expert makes the task easier by helping you build a strategic plan that takes account of precisely what your team actually requires, from the floor space each individual employee needs, to the type of workspace that will allow your team to grow, and that will foster collaboration and a company ethos that is about the task at hand, and not the office desk.

If your considering a move in the next year for your office and not sure where to begin, speak to an to the team at SmartSpace to help you with your office space planning.