Lean Business: Office Space – A Meditation

Our lease is up at the end of the year and Ross and I have been discussing our options. We love our office: it has all of the features we need, plus a great location, fantastic light, a dramatic view of the downtown skyline, and plenty of space. Problem is, truth be told, it probably has too much space. When we signed the lease back in 2008 we didn’t really know which of many directions our little company would take. Would we grow into a larger organization with with dozens of even hundreds of workers? We chose a space that would allow us, albeit a bit uncomfortably, grow to as many as 40 or 50 people. Well as it turns out, the strategy we have pursued and the team we have built comes to a total of 15 so far, about a third of whom are scattered around the world, and the balance of whom often as not choose to work from home (take that, Marissa Mayer). The upshot is that we rarely have more then 5 or 6 people in the office at any one time, and our beautiful office is probably just to big for us, even as we scale over the next few years.

Choosing how you manage your workforce is dependent on your business, your industry, and your customers but every business has to ask these questions: What kind of office do we need? How large a space is appropriate? What features are important to us? and, Where do we want to be located? The answers to these questions will be unique for each business and the potential permutations are far from finite, but answer these you must whether you are a micro-sized company, a stay at home entrepreneur, an established service provider, or a rapidly expanding startup expecting to grow from 2 to 200 in the next 6 months.

Here are 5 things you should mull as you do your own meditation on workspace for your company.

1. What are you? So much of your choice of office space will be driven by this question. Not only should you take into account the type of products you produce or the services you provide, but you need to very carefully consider your company’s culture. What are some adjectives that describe who you are as a company? Are you technical, collaborative, or individualistic? Are face-to-face meetings an important part of how you do business or manage your team? The answers to this will help you to determine everything from how much space you need for desks to what kind of conference or meeting rooms are needed, to whether a kitchen and dining area are required. The need for ping-pong tables, televisions, cushy sofas, and other toys and creature comforts also need to be thought through as you define your new space or take a fresh look at your current HQ.

2. Do a headcountProbably the biggest driver in your office calculation is the size of your workforce and how many of them will actually be in this office, either on a daily basis or on occasion. With a Yahoo-style edict that everyone needs to be in the office everyday, more space will be needed. But with a more flexible work-from-home policy you might be able to set up the sharing of desks, computers, and other physical resources. Take time to figure out your routine and determine the maximum number of people who will be in the office together at any one time and back into it from there; so if the team works mostly remote, but you require that everyone be in at the same time for the weekly product development meeting use that number to figure out the physical requirements for that number of people.

3. Determine your needs. OK, let’s say that your workflow requires your team to spend a great deal of their time in the office on the phone. All of those conversations can be incredibly distracting to those forced to listen in, s this might mean you need more private office space, or at least cubicles or dividers that can absorb the yak-yak. Or, you might have the need for a series of small meetings in the course of any one day, so several meeting rooms might be needed. Or, you might have a team of 20 who are in every thursday for the weekly team meeting, so a large conference room might be a needed feature. Take the time to make a list of the features and physical spaces that your workflow (and your team) requires and make certain that your office fulfills those.

4. Define your priorities. What are your priorities as a company and a team? Is it most important that people have flexibility to work where they want or that they interact face-to-face? Is eating lunch together a priority? Or maybe the bonding and team spirit created by the weekly ping-pong or rock band tournament? On the other hand an important priority might be avoiding the rush-hour commute and the increased productivity that your workers may find by staying home to work in their pajamas.

5. Take care of your customers. Finally, please remember the customer and contemplate their needs, too. How they need to interact with your company, your workers, and with you will often be the defining factor in your choices about your office. If meetings with them at a Starbucks suffice, then you may be able to forego having an office at all. But if your clients or customers will benefit from visits to your office then make sure you are set up to accomodate this with anything from reception areas, to private meeting rooms, to a full living room setup for their comfort. And, please remember to offer them something to drink when they arrive – courtesy counts as much as the comfy furniture!

Photo: An event at the crowdSPRING office