Think Your Office Space Affects Productivity? You're Exactly Right.

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You've heard all about the wildest office perks out there. Sleeping pods that let employees recharge with a quick nap. A place to jam when the musical spirit move you. An in-office Ferris wheel. But the fact is, not every company can afford such extravagance. The good news is that you don't have to go all out with massive spaces and elaborate perks to maximize your office space. Cutting-edge companies looking to ace their space in Chicago turn to the city's most savvy commercial real estate expert: Brad Serot, an Executive Vice President with CBRE.

Talking Office Space With Brad Serot

Q: How can a growing company use their space to the greatest effect?

A: You want to be thoughtful about how you design and plan your space, from choosing your furniture solutions to taking advantage of your existing layout. You don't want to pack people in, but you also don't want to pay for empty work stations. A growing company needs to reach a balance between collaboration, health and wellness, and the need to not break the bank. One strategy that we often use is to rent less space initially and negotiate rights to grow with the landlord, while staying flexible with a shorter lease. There are always cosmetic modifications you can implement within the space to make it feel more progressive or comfortable.

Q: What office success stories have you seen? What can a small business learn from those stories?

A: Groupon and Uber are two of the best success stories we have on our team. Each was at one point the fastest growing company in the world. When we started our relationship, landlords didn't know who they were and were reticent to sign leases with unknown and unproven entities. We put our reputations on the line and convinced building owners not of who they were at that moment, but rather of the successful technology companies they would become. We were able to get both landlords to sign short-term leases with minimal security deposit. This was a huge win and a reminder of how important it is for us to frame our clients' story around their future potential, and not necessarily the present reality.

For smaller businesses, my advice is to minimize your capital expenditure and focus on finding the space that allows you to be as nimble as possible. You may need to pay a little more in rent, or compromise on your neighborhood choice, in order to get the flexibility you need to pivot as your company and team evolve. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen fast-growing companies make is spending too much up-front on elaborate build-outs and signing too long of a lease. It really hurts to leave money on the table when you outgrow your space more quickly than anticipated.

Q: What does a company have to know about itself to choose the best space possible?

A: You have to know how your employees work best, what inspires them, and how they commute to work. Celebrating one's culture is critical for growing companies. Your space needs to reinforce your culture and be a reflection of your employees and the company's core values.

Q: What is one feature of a space that every company should prioritize?

A: A gathering/collaborative area. You want a welcoming space where your employees and clients can come together to share ideas, work effectively, and celebrate personal and corporate successes.

Q: What design trends will be the most important to office plans in the coming years?

A: Companies will be looking to design office space that looks and feels like home, with an emphasis on hospitality. Important amenities will include everything from technological capability to food service to childcare and fitness programs. Even law firms and financial firms are embracing more progressive trends, with light and air being major factors in design.

Rethinking Productivity From The Drop Ceiling Down

According to a 2013 report from architectural firm Gensler, spaces should be designed with four different modes of working in mind—focus, collaboration, learning, and socialization. Focus spaces are for working on specific, solo projects, and need to emphasize privacy and cut down on distractions. Collaboration spaces should be large and open enough for a bigger team, but may temper that openness so teams can buckle in for focused work. Learning and socializing spaces should similarly be more open and welcoming to conversation, but the degree to which a company needs such a space will vary widely.

Alternately, instead of focusing on the types of work your organization is doing, you can get a top-down view of the features of an office space. The Harvard Business Review highlights seven workplace attributes and places them on a judgement-free spectrum. So an office's location might be towards the core or on the periphery, and neither is necessarily better than the other. Its enclosure can range from open to closed—one might be good for digging into to a challenging solo project, while the other is best for group work where demanding a lot of outside perspectives. It might be a very private or a very public space, and it might be equipped with a lot of technology or very little. The key takeaway is that no office space is one-size-fits-all, and the best offices are the ones that offer lots of different types of spaces for lots of different types of working.

Putting The Pieces Together

Now that you've got the top-down view for overarching design principles and office space goals, the question is what specific changes can be made to bring those goals to fruition? Here's a good place to start. Over the past year, Inc. has tracked some exciting new developments in office design. Number one on the list: increased floor space thanks to an increased reliance on cloud-based computing. That cuts down on the need for filing cabinets and makes way for open areas (perfect for those collaborative spaces). Another tip that's showing up on other lists as well is an emphasis on biophilic design, which emphasizes lots of natural touches—natural light, indoor plants, and accessible gardens.

The specific design details that make an office unique will vary, but businesses should be sure to create the most effective space for their needs. One study by software consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister found the one factor that set the top quartile of programmers apart from the rest was not pay or experience level, but workplace environment. And as Brad Serot says, "Your space needs to reinforce your culture and be a reflection of your employees and the company's core values." It all goes to show how much of a priority office space needs to be.

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Written by Curiosity Staff June 30, 2017

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