Like many “growth” companies, finding the right office space was a challenge for us. A good office can add significant benefits for an organization and its employees. A bad office can become an obstacle to productivity and culture. In many respects, a company is a reflection of the space it occupies. Yet traditional commercial real estate options aren’t always suited for growth companies.
The good news is that flexible options are emerging. We recently signed an agreement to move into a nontraditional space here in Denver. Here’s a look behind the scenes at our thought process.
Our Challenge: Find Space Suited for a Growth Company
Last time we picked an office, we got it wrong. Our current space is open and loud, which inhibits productivity. As we’ve grown, small problems like temperature, restrooms, and parking have become painful. As a result, some employees work from home more than they would otherwise. Our office design also doesn’t reinforce our brand and core values.
Our current lease is up in December, but we started searching for a new office a full year ahead of time. Denver is a seller’s market, so we needed ample time to find space that could accommodate our needs. We wanted to stay downtown to attract young employees, but prices here are eye-popping. That left us with a limited number of traditional options that didn’t break the bank.
Traditional Spaces Don’t Fit Growth Companies
The commercial real estate market is not designed for companies like us. Projecting headcount at a growth company is difficult, but traditional leases are often five years or more. This forces a company to lock into a space that might end up being too small or too big.
Companies also must build-out and fit their space before they move-in. This means a large capital expenditure up front. Many buildings also require a sizable Letter of Credit as a guarantee.
Once a company signs a lease, the buildout is expensive, complicated, and time-consuming. In the months leading up to move-in, someone must spend most of their time managing the project. The more vendors involved, the harder this becomes. An office move is a huge project no matter how you carve it up.
Coworking Spaces Aren’t Just for Startups
Thankfully, growth companies like us now have options beyond traditional spaces. Coworking spaces like WeWork are evolving to meet the needs of larger businesses. The value proposition is compelling.
With WeWork, we get a branded, partially-customized space inside a larger WeWork complex. This includes signage on the wall outside our door. For the buildout, we choose from one of three different design styles. WeWork manages the project and provides desks, chairs, and other furniture.
“As-a-Service” Isn’t Just for Software
FullContact is a platform, so we favor other platforms and “as-a-Service” businesses. We rely on other companies to help us in areas that aren’t our speciality. For example, at this stage, we’re not big enough to hire a facilities expert or manage office construction. We’re focused on growing our business and helping our customers and employees.
WeWork offers us “Space-as-a-Service.” WeWork manages the entire built-out process for our new office. After move-in, WeWork handles most office management duties like reception, mail-handling, and security. They provide snacks, beverages, and cleaning services. We deal with one vendor instead of many, and we can save money by not hiring a full-time office manager. WeWork, at their size, can secure discounts we wouldn’t get on our own.
Flexibility is King
With WeWork, we signed a shorter, more flexible agreement. We can leave after a few years if our needs change or there’s a material change in our trajectory. For our Executive Team, this flexibility is a key strategic advantage. We can add more space if our growth exceeds projections. As we grow our global workforce, we can also spin up satellite offices in cities where WeWork has a presence.
On a day to day basis, our teams can book meeting space in other cities when they’re traveling to meet people. If we run out of meeting space in Denver, we can use credits to book meeting rooms elsewhere in the complex. We’re not boxed into the exact size and configuration of our office.
Location, Location, Location
WeWork builds their complexes in Class A buildings in desirable neighborhoods. Ours will be in the heart of downtown Denver and close to public transportation. Our building includes an athletic club, and we’ll be surrounded by restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, and our space has a view of the Rocky Mountains.
We’re Joining a Community
FullContact also helps make relationships better, so we wanted our space to be a part of a community. Our office should strengthen our external relationships instead of keeping outsiders at bay. Good fences don’t make good neighbors.
As we toured traditional spaces, we often asked who our neighbors would be. Were they other progressive companies? Or were they law firms, banks, and other traditional industries? Would fit in with other tenants? Or would we stand out like a sore thumb?
In WeWork, we’ll be joining a community of both large and small organizations. We share our kitchen and break area with neighbors. We can build relationships and ask for product feedback. WeWork throws regular community events like beer tastings and watch parties. Music plays in the common areas, and the interior design creates a warm atmosphere.
Coworking Spaces Have Downsides
Anytime you outsource parts of your business, you can’t tailor solutions to your unique needs. For example, visitors to our office will have to check-in at the WeWork front desk. We can’t control that part of the visitor experience.
But WeWork handles office management issues at scale. They’re probably better at them than we are. For every new pain point, several others will get solved. So the net is positive.
We also lose some of the customization we’d get at a traditional space. We can’t paint all the walls with our brand colors, choose our own furniture, or design the layout to meet our exact needs. We thought about this tradeoff in detail and decided that our need for flexibility outweighed or the need for a highly customized space outweighed personalization. The one constant in a growing tech company is change. Our unique needs may be different at the next stage.
We’re excited to move into our new office, and we hope this inside look helps you in your office search. You have a choice, so don’t limit yourself to traditional options.