Viewing an office is one of those tug-of-war situations where your brain pulls you in two directions at once.
On the one hand, it’s a mini adventure. A change from the norm. A chance to see new places and play around with different versions of the future.
And on the other hand, you feel slightly out of your depth. Unsure what to expect, who you’ll meet, who to trust, bracing yourself for a slew of industry jargon. Not to mention that “arghh 4 hours away from my desk with so much work to do!!” chant at the back of your mind.
So you’ve probably found yourself wondering….
...should you take anyone along with you? ...do you need to prepare anything in advance? ...who will be showing you round on the day? ...what questions should you ask them? ...what warning signs should you watch out for in the office itself?
Excellent questions. We salute you. Read on for some answers.
Should you take anyone along with you?
Yes. It helps to have an ally. There’s a lot to take in on the day, and you can’t expect yourself to notice every tiny detail. With two sets of eyes and ears, you double your chances of spotting the good and the bad.
On top of that, your ally might add an extra layer of knowledge about what will or won’t work for your company. Sure you’ll have specced out as much as you can in advance, but again, there’s a lot to conquer in the task of finding a new office. (Give yourself a break, basically...)
And there’s one situation where you absolutely definitely supercalifragilistically should take a colleague along with you. This is when said colleague is the main stakeholder who will sign off on the decision and just so happens to have very strong opinions. Yes, they will insist they don’t have the time. Yes, they will tell you they’re happy to delegate to you. But we’d be negligent if we claimed this always turns out to be the reality.
Team stretched to the limit? Have no choice but to go solo? You’re free to seek external support from a company like Kontor who can accompany you on viewings. We’d jump for joy if you chose us, of course, but the main thing is to get some help, whoever you get it from!
Do you need to prepare anything in advance?
Again, it helps. Square footage, business rates and other fiddly numbers have a habit of blurring into one… and whoever shows you round might hand you some papery blurbs, but you can’t count on it.
So to put yourself on the front foot, have the facts to hand about the office you’re viewing.
You might already have been sent some info by whoever you got in touch with when you first came across the office. (Hint hint, that’s one of the things we do for our clients at Kontor.)
Failing that, bookmarked links on your phone are better than nothing.
Who will be showing you round on the day?
You’ll meet at least one person. That person could vary, and you could meet more than one.
When we talk about “office provider”, this is a catchall term that includes landlords and operators. Most of the time it’s overkill to draw a distinction, but it’s useful to know the difference when you’re headed off to a viewing.
The landlord, or the landlord’s agent or representative
If you’re viewing a leased office, you’re likely to meet the landlord’s agent or representative. Sometimes it might be the landlord themselves, though this is unusual on the first viewing. The landlord owns the building.
The office operator’s salesperson, or the building manager
If you’re viewing a fully-managed flexible office, you’re likely to meet someone from the office operator’s team. Normally a salesperson. Sometimes the building manager. These people coordinate the daily running of the office(s), but they rarely ever own the building.
Your agent or broker
You’ll meet the agent or broker if you’ve decided to get help with your quest, rather than going directly to the office provider. Keep in mind, the broker won’t always attend the viewings with you. Some do, some don’t. (At Kontor, we always do, because it helps to have someone there who’s on your team if you’re not a real estate expert yourself.)
What questions should you ask them?
An office viewing is your opportunity to gather all the details that are make or break. Especially the kind of details that tend to get left off the official description you’ve seen on online or in a brochure.
You might already have some info prepped from your research, but it’s worth having these questions up your sleeve anyway…
At all viewings
When will the office be available?
What would they say is the ideal number of occupants (that’s “density” in jargonese) for the space?
What’s the absolute maximum capacity?
What’s the longest and shortest term available?
What can be changed in terms of the design, configuration and fit-out, and is the office provider will to share some or all of those costs?
If you need more space sooner than you expect, what are your options?
Who else is in the building?
Who is the landlord?
Which transport connections exist locally?
Are there any areas of interest locally? Landmarks, cultural hotspots, event venues?
When you’re viewing a leased office
Is there any flexibility in the lease length?
Can you have a break clause? (This enables you to hand in your notice at a specific point in the contract before your official end date.)
Will the landlord offer you a rent-free period while you’re getting the office ready to move into? (This means you don’t pay any rent while the fit-out is happening. Not all landlords offer this, but if they do, it’s usually at least 1-2 months for every year of the new lease in a blank canvas scenario or new building.)
What’s the energy efficiency of the building? (This could have a big impact on your utility bills.)
What’s included in the service charge? What costs extra (and how much control do you have over your choices)?
Is the landlord willing to help with the design and fit-out? (Rare but possible.)
What are the business rates? (In the UK, business rates are the tax you pay for using non-domestic property. The rates are calculated based on “rateable value”, i.e. the property’s estimated value on the open market. Rates vary according to a huge number of variables, from council to council, as well as being specific to each building. If you believe the “rateable value” is wrong, you can apply to have it changed.)
What’s the deposit you’d need to pay upfront? (Side note: remember that the number you’re told is probably negotiable!)
When you’re viewing a fully-managed flexible office
What’s included in the price per desk? (Always includes all the basics, but may also include nice things like free tea and coffee, printing, meeting rooms and networking events.)
What’s available at an extra cost?
What % capacity is the building currently occupied at? (Handy to to know for any communal areas and shared facilities and how the vibe might change in future.)
Do you need to pay a service retainer or some other kind of deposit upfront?
Can you grow within the building? Is it possible to move into a bigger office or add another room or floor?
Can you downsize?
Can you build additional meeting rooms into your space?
Can you access other buildings with the same provider? (Often the answer is yes, which opens up new possibilities for meeting locations and so on.)
Will any work be done to the space after the current company moves out?
How quickly can you sign? And then how quickly can you move in?
What’s the process for giving notice, on both sides?
What warning signs should you watch out for in the office or building itself?
As you probably know if you’ve ever moved home before, some problems don’t reveal themselves to you right away. Stains on the ceiling? Leaky plumbing. People wearing scarves and gloves inside? Dodgy heating.
The same rules apply for offices too.
What other specifics might you want to keep an eye out for when you’re at a viewing?
There are queues at the main reception
Maybe it’s an uncharacteristically busy day. Or maybe reception is chronically understaffed, and your visitors will have a Disneyland experience of waiting in line when they visit you, only without the Disney magic. Or maybe the building doesn’t have enough lifts, and your whole team will waste time on that front every morning.
People are doing work in communal areas of the building
It sounds like there are quite a lot of people packed in. This buzz might be exactly what you’re looking for… or you might find yourself frustrated that you can’t sit down and enjoy lunch or a cuppa without being hemmed in by laptops.
The building looks old
Not necessarily a problem or a dealbreaker. Who doesn’t like a bit of character? But definitely a reason to ask a few more questions, because old buildings can spell trouble for appliances, electricity, plumbing.
Cleanliness is an issue in the entrance, stairways, visitor toilets
Though you may have some say in the cleaning practices inside your own space, there’s no guarantee you’ll have any influence in the communal spaces. A delicate topic indeed. Clean freak? Ignore it at your peril!
The building next door is being knocked down
This might not seem like big deal on a one-off visit, but development work means ongoing disruption and noise that can start to set your teeth on edge. So you might want to seek some answers about the project specifics and timeline before you make any decisions.
TLDR, a little prep goes a long way when you view an office. Same goes for having someone with you, whether that’s a colleague or an expert ally.