Space planning; why is it fundamentally important to space plan an office in advance of signing a lease?
29th June 2015
By Crispin Maby
Don’t take a chance. Signing up to a 5 year lease on an office suite and then finding that you can’t make the layout work the way you ideally want it to, or worse still, you simply can’t fit everyone in without making some serious compromises can have a major impact on your business for a number of years.
The landlord or letting agent is only interested in getting you to commit to a long term lease at the highest possible rental rate and service charge. It’s neither their responsibility nor is it in their interests to tell you about any negative aspects of their office building and certainly they cannot be expected to make sure the space is suitable for your needs. That’s your job, and if you get it wrong, they’re not going to be sympathetic and let you off the long term commitment you’ve just signed up to.
Your own commercial property (acquisition) agent, should you choose to appoint one to assist in your office search, should be more accommodating – after all they are working for you and you are paying them – however, they usually work on a ‘finders-fee’ which they only get if and when you’ve entered into a lease agreement. Furthermore their fee is usually based on a percentage of the annual rental, so we must question whether they really have your full interests at heart, or whether their concerns are more focussed on their own pockets. Perhaps I’m being very unfair on the commercial agents – there are a lot of very good ones out there and I know a few of them – but their job is to help you find a property of the size and specification that you decide you want. You need to tell them what you want and they will find it, but don’t expect them to spend time working out how you’re going to make best use of the space, or whether you can fit everything in. At best, they might throw a few rule-of-thumb figures at you – the most typical being 100 square feet per person – but every business is different and uses the office space in different ways, so one size (or rule) certainly doesn’t fit all. Also, the usable space of two offices of identical floor size (square footage) are likely to be completely different, so any general sizing rules should be used with caution. Take a guess and you may well find that you’re either committing to and paying for far too much space, or perhaps worse, not having enough space. Either one can have a serious financial impact on your business.
Space planning will confirm whether an office is too big, too small or just the right size and shape. But this needs to be done as soon as you find what you consider to be a potentially suitable office and most definitely not further down the line when it’s in the hands of the solicitors, or when the lease has been completed. If it comes to light that the office is unsuitable, then you will hopefully have time to find another one that is. There are plenty of companies and individuals who can offer you a space planning and measured building survey, some of whom might do it for free and others charge, but either way it is worth getting them in to assist you in making the right choice.
The high cost of office furniture deliveries in Central London
23rd June 2015
By Crispin Maby
We’re all used to paying department stores very little, or more often than not nothing at all, to deliver a piece of furniture to our homes. But an office furniture supplier will often charge upwards of £100 to deliver a single item of office furniture to a Central London office. So why?
If offering free deliveries, the department store will almost certainly have factored in some (or all) of the cost of delivery into their sale price, particularly on the bulkier items that are almost always delivered rather than collected by the customer. So you’re still paying for it, its just that its not obviously itemised as a separate cost. They will have a lorry with driver and helper who will do scheduled drops on set days within the local area of the store or local distribution centre and the home owner will be informed that their item will turn up at a non-specified time on a given day. This makes it cost effective because they will be making multiple drop-offs within a defined local area, and in a sequence or route that maximises the efficiency of their time. They might send out smaller items via a national parcel delivery service such as DHL, DPD, Tuffnells etc, but these carriers operate on exactly the same basis with no fixed delivery time to work to so that they can work to their own agenda and do as many deliveries as possible within a day. But these item(s) must be sufficiently small and light that they can be handled by one person (so no need for a second person on the van to help carry things). Also, the item is delivered only as far as your door, not inside and up the stairs, and generally speaking, within a residential area the driver can usually park-up relatively close to your residence.
Delivering office furniture to Central London is different. More often than not, the customer wants the items delivered to their floor, not just to the front entrance of the building. The reason for this is twofold; firstly their staff are busy and should not have to take time out humping large items up and down the stairs or in and out of lifts, and secondly, a health and safety consideration whereby they don’t want their office workers lifting heavy objects for the risk of injury. Moreover, most companies require and expect the furniture items, be they desks, chairs or cupboards, to be assembled by the delivery men and all the cardboard and plastic packaging taken away and disposed of. The net result is that the office furniture supplier most often has to send along a van with 2 strong men and a set of screwdrivers, spanners and anything else they require to do the job. If they’re lucky, they find a parking spot on a yellow line directly outside your office and they manage to get everything offloaded, into the office and assembled within the 20 minutes or so the traffic warden will allow them before issuing a parking ticket, but often they will not be permitted to even stop outside the building and will have to park many yards away, and even then, go and find a pay-by-phone parking bay to legally park in whilst they are doing the furniture assembly. This, coupled with the fact that there are 2 men plus parking, fuel, congestion charge and so on, drives up the cost.
But that’s not all. There’s the issue of timing, and it is often the case that it is simply not acceptable for the customer to have the furniture turn up at a non-specific time during the day. It might be that the room into which it is being installed is being used for client meetings, or that the building manager does not allow large items to be carried through the building in at certain times of the day, or simply that the area needs to be prepared before the furniture is installed. So a specific time has to be booked, which means that the supplier now has to send a van and 2 men into London solely for one timed delivery and installation, and quite often the date and the timing means that this is the only reason for the journey because they are unable to spread the costs between other deliveries that they might otherwise have also been making. As such, the costs rocket and it is not uncommon to pay around £300 or more just to have a couple of desks delivered and installed (quite possibly doubling the cost of the initial purchase). And that’s the problem. It often costs just as much to deliver and install a single small item as it might to do the same with a small suite of office furniture. And the reason is because this is roughly what it costs to send 2 men and a van into the centre of London because regardless of how much work they have to do, and if there isn’t anything else for them to go onto afterwards, we still have to pay them a days wages, and it still costs the same amount in fuel, congestion charge and, to a certain extent, parking.
The office furniture suppliers are not being unreasonable. Quite the contrary, I believe that most of them pass on the cost of deliveries and installations at cost price to their customers. After all, they all need to be as competitive as possible in order to secure the business in the first place. These costs can be reduced or even eliminated, but to do so the business customer needs to agree to a similar service as offered by department stores to home owners for home deliveries, but in order to do so they need to be prepared to be very flexible on delivery dates and times, and they need to be prepared to do a bit of DIY furniture assembly!
Key points for negotiating reduced costs on office furniture deliveries:
- Be very flexible on delivery dates and fit in with the supplier’s scheduled runs to your area.
- Be very flexible on delivery time. If the supplier can fit your deliver in with others to your area, the costs can be shared between yourselves and others.
- Agree to taking the items from the van or lorry and carrying them into the office yourselves (this is often referred to kerbside or tailgate delivery).
- Agree to assemble the furniture yourselves
This is not to say that there won’t be charges if you follow all of the above, and it’s not to say that you would necessarily pay £300 or more if you didn’t, but you can be sure that the charges would normally be a lot less if you don’t mind being flexible and also taking some of the workload off the delivery driver.
Office Desks – Planning ahead for Expansion
5th June 2015
By Crispin Maby
It happens with surprising regularity – the desperate phone call from a company executive needing to fit a few more people into their office to accommodate their expanding business, and wanting us to work out how it can be done. Invariably, they want to keep the existing desks and furniture and somehow squeeze in a few more desks to accommodate their new staff, but they still want to retain the meeting room(s), executive and managerial cellular offices and breakout areas. And, more often than not, we tell them that it can’t be done (not, at least, in a way that would satisfy a health and safety inspection) unless they are prepared to re-equip with smaller desks and/or more economically shaped desks. And even then, we often have to break the bad news and tell them that the private offices have to go too to create a more open plan office environment.
It has to work because moving office is usually not an option. The company is usually committed to a 3 or 5 year lease and has already spent many thousands of £ on fitting out the office with partition walls, furniture, IT cabling and so on, so moving office yet again when the lease hasn’t run it’s full term is usually prohibitively expensive.
So what can be done? Unfortunately, sometimes nothing at all. But more often than not, prudent forward planning at the time of selecting the property and then again when planning the initial desk layout may facilitate future expansion. For any given size of office, some are always going to be more versatile and usable than others (see my articles How office shape can reduce usable space and How pillars can reduce available desk space) , so the number one priority is to find as near to the optimally shaped office as possible. Once you’ve committed to the office, you have to try to make the best use of what you have, and unless you’re absolutely certain that your business is not going to expand and that you’re not going to need to fit in more people, then purchase the smallest desks of the most regular shape that are appropriate for your business. Keep the office as open plan as possible and only introduce meeting rooms and other cellular offices where absolutely necessary, because open-plan generally allows much more flexibility and allows for a greater number of desks. Then populate the spare space you have gained from this economical layout with breakout furniture, informal meeting areas and maybe some hot-desking. Not only will this create a much nicer working environment but it means that when you do need to fit a few more people in, you can do so very quickly and simply by substituting part of these casual areas with extra desks. Get it right, and you don’t even have shuffle existing desks.
Of course it’s important to get the right mix between economy and practicality. Don’t be too stingy on desk size because they still have to be physically big enough that your staff can work efficiently and with reasonable comfort, and the layout needs to allow an appropriate level of interaction and efficiency between the working groups, but just because your staff might have been used to oversized desks in the past, it doesn’t mean they should continue with that privilege. If they are made aware of the fact that smaller desks means more open spaces for breakout and casual workspaces for them to use, then employee satisfaction and wellbeing can also be enhanced resulting in improved performance.
Get your planning wrong from the outset and attempt to utilise all available space with rooms and furniture that cater only for your current capacity with no room to spare, then expanding will mean extensive re-configurations and may mean purchasing an entire new set of desks and/or removing partition walls that were costly to put up in the first place.
- Buy the smallest rectangular shaped individual desks that would be acceptable given the type of work your staff do.
- Keep your office as open-plan as possible by keeping private enclosed offices to a minimum, and where you have to have them keep them reasonably small.
- Keep meeting rooms to a minimum, unless it’s absolutely essential that meetings have to be carried out in privacy.
- Create informal meeting areas within the extra space reclaimed by not having large desks. These can be formed with soft seating, or small meeting tables, or café style furniture (or a combination of all).
- Create hot desking or drop-in areas for staff who use the office on an ad-hoc basis and don’t really need their own desk. These desks can also be used by permanent office staff if they need more desk space for a particular task from time to time.
- Build lots of enclosed rooms (meeting rooms or offices). Usually, this makes the office suite as a whole less space efficient and results in a smaller (sometimes considerably) desk capacity.
- Avoid bench desks. These might fit your initial requirement, but can be very inflexible during office reconfigurations.
- Avoid corner (crescent shaped) desks. These can also be very inflexible when considering re-configurations, and can be far less space efficient than rectangular desks.