By Christina Clark
Do you have a client looking to relocate? An office move can be an exciting and challenging time for a company—change is never easy for leadership. Transparent communication, fact-driven analysis and including the employees in the decision-making process will lead to the most positive outcome for the company overall.
As managing principal of Cresa's Global Portfolio Solutions group, clients often seek my advice on how to make a move without jeopardizing culture or morale, but while also staying mindful of financial obligations, employee commutes, revised seating styles and amenities provided within the new location. Whether you're representing a well-established company hoping to make a fresh statement in a new space or a startup growing faster than expected, there are some key principles to keep in mind.
As with any decision, a company's leadership must communicate openly with employees before making any major shifts. Be sure to encourage your clients to be transparent with their employees in order to avoid miscommunications and rumors about leaderships intentions. I've found that even if downsizing, an inclusive process with the employees' participation results in a better work environment and higher morale.
Sometimes Less Is More
When configuring an office space, sometimes less is more. There's a common misconception that additional square footage will facilitate growth and enhance corporate culture; however, studies show that today's millennial workforce values amenities–such as coffee bars, lounges and quiet rooms–over additional personal space. Most importantly, a thoughtfully-designed office space will not only prove to be more effective in enhancing your client's culture; it can also be more cost-effective.
To help your client determine the appropriate amount of space, you must first examine the work styles of their employees. How are employees working? How much space do employees need to complete their work most effectively? How often are employees at their desks? While your client may presume to know the answers to these questions, it's critical to seek data that supports or disproves their assumptions.
One way of doing this is to track space utilization, with the employees' full knowledge and participation. It's essential that employees understand the value of the data being collected and the benefit it provides in making a sound decision. Utilization can be measured through badge data, sensors or a visual survey of desks, conference rooms and on-site amenities, such as a cafe.
Recently, Cresa tracked utilization in an office for a client. Assuming a 1:1 ratio of desks to employees, 96 of their 99 work stations were occupied, suggesting the office would soon be at capacity. Before pursuing additional space, our client—with the support of its employees—tracked badge data and was able to determine how often the existing space was being utilized. To our client's surprise, the data showed that many employees worked remotely or at client sites throughout the week, which left desk utilization at only a 33 percent. Without a data-driven approach to their decision-making, they may have opted to expand—thereby increasing their spend—rather than remaining in the same space or finding a smaller, more highly-utilized space.
Keep the End Users in Mind
While real estate itself doesn’t create a company's culture or its success, it certainly has a significant influence. I often advise my clients to make a company move a team effort. If staff are the ones to benefit most from an office space, why not let them have a say in its design? Naturally, not everything can be accommodated, but a staff survey about office space desires can uncover some important information that can help you and your client avoid missteps during the office transition.
For example, if your staff values access to private spaces for 1:1 meetings or heads-down quiet work or calls, you can make accommodations for small conference rooms or phone booths dedicated to just that. Additionally, ask what amenities employees actually use or want. You might think it's a beer keg when, in fact, your employees could opt for flavored water.
From the seating arrangements to the walls, how can your client's company make a connection Incorporating community art in the main reception, or hiring a local nonprofit to provide art, is a great option. Unlike expensive and space-consuming items that are rarely-used novelties—such as a ping-pong table—an artwork program can be a positive, cost-effective way to showcase company culture, your employees and the local community to potential clients.
Make Data-Driven Decisions
While aggregating data requires an investment, its returns are all but guaranteed. Actionable data removes personal bias and presumption from the real estate process, ensuring you and your client make thoughtful choices about the move. For example, when selecting a new office, the location lead executive will often favor spaces close to their own residences; however, utilizing data to map the commutability of the new office from employee or client zip codes will provide indisputable data to inform a relocation decision. Being close to the companies you serve means more opportunities for face-to-face meetings and impromptu collaboration.
These are only a few of the many factors to consider when advising a client on an office move. While each of these is important, finances must remain a priority. So often, I see clients spend too much on trendy perks intended to enhance their company culture. While their intentions are good, this approach can backfire, resulting in unused spaces and misallocated funds. Trust that open communication, making data-driven decisions, and collaboration with all parties will generate the most cost-effective and culturally-appropriate decision for your clients.
Christina Clark is a managing principal of Cresa's Global Portfolio Solutions group. With over 15 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry, she started her career in the architecture and design field. Clark exclusively represents companies on their headquarter and satellite office locations. For more information, please visit www.cresa.com.