Options for Small Offices | Flexible Solutions for the New Normal

Options for Small Offices | Flexible Solutions for the New Normal

Given the events of 2020, particularly the need for physical distancing, the office space industry was heavily impacted. It suffered sweeping vacancies and a sheer drop in demand.

So it might seem odd that many small firms chose to keep their office space; some even signed up for new workspace and small office space, even though they couldn’t use it at full occupancy.

Why?

After all, 2020 taught us that many people are perfectly capable of working from home.

Why commit to costly office space if your team can work from anywhere?

It’s a valid question.

During the pandemic, managers and CEOs realised (some for the first time) that a flexible work approach can be incredibly positive for individual and team productivity (not to mention saving money).

In a survey of 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in May and June 2020, 75% of employees said that during the first few months of the pandemic they were able to maintain or improve productivity on their individual tasks.

Even tasks that required collaboration didn’t fare too badly, with 51% saying they were able to maintain or improve their productivity on collaborative tasks.

Yet despite countless research studies and surveys revealing that many workers are indeed happy and productive working from home, it’s not a complete solution.

Companies need office space.

They just don’t need it in the same way as they did pre-Covid.

For instance, even though interest in city center office locations dropped during the pandemic, IWG reported a 32% rise in demand for UK suburban office space in the first quarter of this year compared to 2020.

This demonstrates that office space is still important — and businesses are prepared to be flexible in order to get what they need.

In this article, we dive deeper into the new demand for workspace, why businesses need office space as opposed to working from home, and how flexible workspace solutions are enabling organisations of all sizes to adjust to the new normal.


Why Does a Small Business Need Office Space?

Why Does a Small Business Need Office Space?

Going forward, some businesses, ranging from small companies to large household brands like Facebook, intend to allow staff to continue working from home even after the pandemic subsides.

But that’s not the whole story.

As it turns out, the preferred workplace strategy is a hybrid approach — a few days in the office combined with a few days at home or in a satellite office.

In a study of over 4,000 workers, Microsoft found that almost 9 out of 10 employees say their businesses have adapted to hybrid working, with most business leaders evolving their work from home policies to support staff and their well-being.

A recent Aviva survey found that 95% of its staff would choose either full-time remote work or a flexible home-office split.

And PwC has informed its UK accountants and consultants that they will only spend an average of two to three days each week in the office after the pandemic ends.

A hybrid work strategy means workers can still enjoy an element of flexibility during the week, without missing out on important face-to-face collaboration time with coworkers and team leaders.

This approach works equally well for corporate firms with large head offices as it does for startups with small office space.

The question is, why not just work from home?

Why do businesses need office space?

Mainly, it’s because working from home has a ton of drawbacks.

First, it’s your home. It’s a place to leave the stress and deadlines of work behind, not have it woven into your personal life.

Second, it’s unfair to assume that employees have adequate space in which to work comfortably. During the pandemic, far too many people were forced to work on kitchen tables or from their beds.

According to a November 2020 study, 72% of 1,000 Americans surveyed said they had worked remotely from their bed during the pandemic, while 1 in 10 reported they spent “most or all of their workweek” — 24-to-40 hours or more — in bed.

This clearly flouts best practices for workplace wellness. Working from a mattress for a year can trigger a worryingly long list of physical and mental health problems.

Add to that, taking video calls from a bedroom or any other living area doesn’t exactly create a professional impression.

And then there’s the noise issue.

In an office, you have designated places for confidential calls, sensitive meetings, or just quiet spaces to concentrate and get work done.

At home, chances are you are confined to one space, possibly with children or pets in close proximity and the accompanying distracting background noise.

This doesn’t instil confidence in an organisation’s professionalism or legitimacy, particularly if that company is just starting out or seeking growth.

That’s where an office space proves beneficial.

Even if it’s not intended for traditional 9-5 work, an office provides appropriate space for different tasks and requirements — such as meetings with clients or team collaboration.

It can also be used as a hub to underpin company culture, which is something that many firms feel has been weakened while teams worked remotely and apart during the pandemic.

By bringing people into a central hub, however infrequently, an employer can reemphasise company values and work to strengthen brand and culture.

That’s why most businesses — even fully remote firms with a flexible workforce — continue to utilize office space.

Let’s take a closer look at the challenges and options.


Office Space Challenges

Office Space Challenges

One of the biggest prohibitors when considering workspace is cost.

In traditional real estate, even a small office space for lease can set a business back thousands of dollars per year.

For example, the average annual cost for office space in Chicago (2019) was $33.90/sqft.

At this rate, a 1100sqft office in Chicago priced at $33.90/sqft equates to an estimated figure of $37,290 per year or $3,107.50 per month.

Consider that 100-150 square feet per person is the recommended average amount of space to allocate to each employee.

That means your 1100sqft office would potentially fit up to 10 people.

But your $3,107.50 monthly rent is just that… rent. Depending on your lease agreement, you may also have additional costs such as insurance and maintenance fees.

It’s a financial risk, particularly when office leases are typically fixed for several years.

In 2020, the average office lease lasted 7 years in the U.S., 6 years in the UK, and 3 years in Hong Kong.

Although these terms are shortening as a result of the pandemic, which is expected to work in favor of small businesses, it’s still a significant and risky commitment for small businesses.

Good news is, there are a number of favorable alternatives.

“Corporations want the ability to react to a host of unknowns brought on by the coronavirus and economic pressures, so they’ll continue to pursue office space options that provide them with enhanced flexibility for the foreseeable future. Whittling down lease terms is certainly part of that effort.” — Ben Munn, Global Flex Space Lead, JLL


Small Office Space: What are the Options?

Small Office Space: What are the Options?

Like most small businesses seeking a workplace, you’ve probably already tried online searches for ‘small office space for lease near me’. Perhaps you’ve been baffled by the options available, or couldn’t find anything to fit your needs.

Before you reach for your calculator and start working out the cost per square foot of local small office leases, there are other options to consider.

Flexible space is an alternative to traditional leased space, where costs are calculated per person per month, rather than square feet per year.

Flexible office space agreements are usually inclusive (ie. costs such as insurance, rates and building maintenance are included in the monthly bill) and rental lengths are often much shorter than traditional leases, sometimes starting from as little as 1 month.

Not only does this make the process of costing office space much easier for small business owners, it also reduces the financial risk due to shorter rental terms.


What is Flexible Space?

What is Flexible Space?

Flexible office space, or ‘flex space’ as it’s now commonly known, is a general term for any commercial workspace that provides flexible rental terms and onsite services.

Most flex spaces are ‘plug and play’, which means an office is fully kitted out and ready for the occupier to connect and get straight to work.

This usually includes:

  • Furniture
  • Cabling
  • IT and telecoms
  • Use of shared facilities such as kitchens, breakout areas and meeting rooms
  • Fully staffed reception desk
  • Cleaning and maintenance services 
  • Additional pay-as-you-go services on demand

Source: Instant Offices

Flex space is most commonly associated with startups and small businesses, as it’s cost-efficient and easy to manage.

There are different types of flexible space. Coworking is one of the most common; often payable on a monthly membership, it’s a dedicated desk in a shared, furnished workspace with WiFi, receptionist services, and access to lounge and meeting spaces.

For more privacy, the serviced office model provides a dedicated office suite in a shared business center, with access to business amenities such as meeting rooms.

Managed space or space-as-a-service is usually more customized, providing a space that’s designed according to the occupant’s requirements. These terms are often longer, sometimes 2-5 years or more, but still include onsite services such as receptionist support and meeting room access.

The big benefits combining all these types of flex spaces are:

  • Flexible terms
  • Easy all-inclusive billing
  • Onsite services and amenities
  • Plug-and-play environment
  • Business-grade technology

Companies that use a flexible office don’t need to think about building maintenance, cleaning, IT or WiFi connectivity, or any other responsibilities related to operating a workspace. It’s all included in the monthly bill.

If something breaks down, it’s simply reported to the workspace manager. Among other benefits, this negates the need for a facilities management role.

The design, furniture, and the size of the space can be customized, which allows occupants to create their own culture and have their office reflect their brand identity.

And it’s cost-effective, as there’s no need to invest upfront in furniture or to risk capital on a long-term lease.

That’s why it’s so common with small businesses.

However, due to its flexibility and customization, over recent years flex space has become increasingly adopted by larger firms.

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Mainly, large firms recognize the value in flexibility.

Coupled with the option for short rental terms, which is particularly important during the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, large firms are choosing to minimize risk by switching to shorter term, flexible office space.

Some firms utilize flexible space for other reasons.

For instance, it’s not uncommon for flex space to be used as a temporary workplace while another office is being built out.

Some firms use it during project work, or even as emergency space as part of business continuity plans.

Many companies now use flex space to test the water in new markets, with a view to setting up regional branch offices.

So even though some companies are drawn to flex space for its short-term contracts, now more than ever, many firms actually see flex space as a viable long-term option.


Changing Mindset

Changing Mindset

Following the global financial crisis of 2007-08 and now faced with the current health crisis, business leaders recognize that there is no certainty in the future.

With that in mind, flex space offers easy get-out clauses should companies face unexpected challenges. For instance, flex offices can be easily resized, which enables firms to reduce their workspace quickly and adjust their monthly expenditure.

And since more offices are going digital with remote workers, occupants can respond to these changes by time-sharing their office space, or limiting their usage to part-time or even pay-as-you-go options.

As a result, the office real estate world is changing.

Once, long-term office leases of 10-20+ years were perfectly normal. Now, businesses of all sizes are much more likely to seek flexible and shorter terms.

Recognizing that companies of all sizes want more flexibility in their office leases, landlords of traditional office space are responding.

In recent years, and particularly given the impact of Covid-19, many landlords are now partnering with flexible office operators to deliver their own flexible workspace offering.

This means the breadth of flex office options is constantly expanding, both in terms of location and service provision.

While some flex space operators offer a very high grade of flexibility, with monthly membership-style access or even pay-as-you-go workspace, others aim for longer-term occupation by providing a custom office setup with the occupier’s branding woven into the design.

And since flexibility is at the heart of flex space, most occupiers offer a mix of products under the same roof in order to give occupiers the utmost choice.

In the end, the promise is still the same: users can expect a workspace that’s fitted out, connected and ready for instant occupation, with onsite business amenities and a flexible service agreement.


How to Get a Flex Office

How to Get a Flex Office

Looking for a local small office space? If you’ve already exhausted online searches for ‘small office space for rent near me’, try one of these options instead:

  • Head to Allwork.Space and hit ‘Find Space’ to search for flex space and small office space for rent in your area.
  • Enter search terms into your local area on Google Maps, such as ‘flexible space’, ‘coworking’ or ‘serviced office’.
  • Use these same search terms along with your location on a general Google search; you’ll come across numerous flex space operators as well as brokers who can advise on more complex office requirements.
  • Ask your local business community. Post a question on trusted social media groups — something like “I’m looking for small office space near me, any suggestions?” — and ask for recommended flex space operators in your area.

In addition to listing flexible office locations, Allwork.Space offers plenty of information about flexible space and small office ideas for work, as well as emerging trends that are impacting the future of work.

Utilize these resources and learn everything you can about flexible workspace so that when you’re ready to move into a small office for your business, you can find what you need quickly and easily.


Tips for Creating Your Small Office Space

Tips for Creating Your Small Office Space

Looking for small office space ideas? Here are some of the main questions companies have about setting up a small office space.

How do I set up an office in a small space?

The advantage of a flex space is that everything from the desk layout to the storage pedestals have been chosen and arranged to maximize the space. If you’re fitting out a small space yourself, here are some guidelines for small office design layout:

  • Create a budget. Your budget should include the cost of office rental and any add-ons you might need, such as premium IT or telephony plans. Or if you’re leasing your own space, utilities such as building maintenance, cleaning and insurance. This is your starting point; once you have the essentials covered, think about nice-to-haves such as branded decor, soft furnishings, wall art, and so on.
  • Plan out your needs. How will you utilize the space? Is it just for quiet work or for team collaboration? This will influence your choice of furniture and layout. A team hub will need a ‘huddle’ space with easily mobile furniture, while desk-based work requires fixed desks (choose adjustable height desks if your budget allows) and ergonomic seating.
  • Choose furniture that maximizes space. The most important thing in your space is people, who each require a desk, chair and possibly storage. These items take up the most space, so look at different styles of furniture — and the shape of your office — to understand how each item fits into the space. Vertical or wall-based storage can help maximize floor space.

What is the size of a small office?

A small office can be as little as 100 square feet. A standard cubicle can be as small as 48 square feet or in some cases, a tight-fitting 25 square feet. Thankfully however, modern best practice now recommends between 100-150 square feet of office space per person.

How do I make office space without space?

If you don’t have your own space at home and you don’t want to lease an office, try a flex space or a coworking membership. You’ll have access to a desk in a shared office, or your own private suite with shared services and amenities. Search online at allwork.space/flex-space.

What is the minimum office space per person?

By current standards, 100 square feet per employee is considered the minimum, although 100-150 sq ft is ideal.

How narrow can a desk be?

Generally, the minimum width for a desk should be around 61cm (24 inches). Any smaller than this and you’ll struggle to use it for much of anything.

How much space do you need for an office chair?

In terms of chair footprint, you’ll need about 107 cm square (42 inches) for a standard desk chair (excluding knee space).

How do I maximize my desk space?

When it comes to small office design, storage pedestals and filing cabinets take up a lot of space in an office, so try to digitize your paperwork as much as possible. Look for clever storage solutions that maximize floor space — such as vertical or under-desk storage that make the most of ‘dead’ space.

How much office space do I need for 15 employees?

100 square feet is considered the minimum amount of space per person, so for 15 people you would need at least 1,500 square feet.

How do I keep my office organized?

Paperwork is one of the main culprits of a messy office. Try to digitize as much as possible, and if you do keep files in your office, keep them tidy and organized in a filing cabinet. Label everything (this goes for digital files too) so you can find things when you need them without having to waste time sifting through endless documents.

How do you organize a messy office?

The key to fixing a messy office is to eliminate clutter as soon as it appears. Don’t let it pile up, otherwise it will quickly get out of hand. Another essential is a good filing system. Set up a clean work area and categorize loose paperwork; use a filing cabinet or storage with labels to keep documents safe and organized.


Conclusion

Simply put, the way we work is changing.

The pandemic brought about many of these changes with sudden urgency. But in truth, many of the trends we are seeing now — such as digital collaboration and flexible, hybrid work models — have been gaining traction for some time.

The pandemic accelerated these changes in a way that nobody could have predicted.

We are now in a world where remote and hybrid work is becoming the new norm, which brings many benefits. But it’s not without its challenges.

Agile businesses move faster and are better positioned to operate within this fast-changing world.

A workplace that is flexible and cost-effective is lighter on the balance sheet than one that’s fixed for many years; recognizing this need, flexible space is now widely recognized as a legitimate option for organizations of all sizes, particularly small businesses.

As more firms embrace digitization and remote or hybrid work, flexibility is moving to the heart of modern business, and the flexible workspace is naturally evolving as the workplace of choice as companies navigate the future of work.


FAQ

Is getting a small office space expensive?

Cost of small office space depends on your location, the type and size of office, and your agreement. A city center location is normally more expensive than office space in suburban areas, and a long-term lease can be more costly due to additional costs such as building maintenance, insurance, and other rates. A flexible office space is usually more cost-effective for small businesses, particularly if you choose a local coworking membership or a flex office in an out-of-town location.

Is flex space expensive?

The cost of flex space varies depending on your location, the type and size of office, and your agreement. A city center location is normally more expensive than suburban areas, and some upmarket flex space operators will charge more for a premium workspace experience. If cost is a determining factor, look for mid-range operators providing coworking or small serviced offices in out-of-town locations.

What are some of the benefits of flex space for a small office?

Flex space is cost-efficient and easy to manage. Most flex spaces are ‘plug and play’, which means an office is fully kitted out and ready for the occupier to connect and get straight to work. It’s normally offered on a straightforward all-inclusive basis with monthly billing, which makes it easy to manage, and since there is now a wide (and growing) range of flex spaces on the market, it offers a good choice of location and cost, too.

Do I need a small office space for my business?

While working from home works for some businesses, others need a business-focused and professional environment. The home is a place to switch off from work-related pressures, not have it woven into your personal and family life. It can also be noisy and distracting. The benefit of an office is that it’s designed for whatever you need it to be: a quiet concentration space, a hub for team collaboration, or a place for private meetings. It helps to instil confidence that your business is established and legitimate, which is especially important for startups and growth-oriented companies.

How do I make my small office space better for my employees?

Ensure each employee has a comfortable workstation with ergonomic furniture, and adequate space — 100-150 sq ft is considered the ideal space for each person. If possible, provide relaxed lounge and kitchen areas for staff; these come as standard in most flexible workspaces, which provides valuable break-out space for breaks and informal meetings.

How much maintenance is required for a small office?

It’s important to make regular checks and report issues or breakages as soon as possible. Your checklist should include air ventilation, heating and cooling systems, HVAC units, and all electrical items. Daily cleaning is important too, as this helps to prevent build-up of dirt and bacteria in the workplace. Pay particular attention to high-touch surfaces and handles, and individual items such as computers and keyboards.

What are the utility costs associated with a small office space?

Utility costs are services that are considered standard. This usually includes electricity, water, phone and Internet service, cleaning, and sometimes services such as trash removal. Depending on your agreement, these costs may be included in your monthly bill (common with a flexible office) or they may be add-ons.

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