Small Business Strategies: Is it time to lease office space?

Glass officeMany entrepreneurs find that having a real office is key. There’s certainly a lot to be said for housing a startup at home, but in certain industries, or when your company hits critical mass, leasing office space can be important to your growth.

One key advantage of a real office is the conference room. That was my main motivator for moving my home-based company Tribe to a glass high-rise. Our clients often have us come to their offices for meetings, but it was getting embarrassing not to have anywhere we could host them. It didn’t seem right to ask someone from a Fortune 500 company to meet us down at Starbucks, or to try to crowd into my tiny home office.

The virtual office has its limitations. For several years Tribe had staff members and freelancers all working out of their own homes all over Atlanta, and eventually, that began to drive me crazy. Although communication by email and phone had worked well for years, I realized it would make the work process a million times easier to have us all in one place.

A real office also makes some clients more comfortable. Call them old fashioned, but a lot of clients prefer knowing you have an actual office and not a converted spare bedroom. Maybe it strikes them as more legitimate or more permanent, but I remember several clients expressing relief after we leased office space.

It creates a separation of work and home. Unlike the home office, which is notorious for leaking into family space and time, having office space in some other building somewhere creates a beneficial boundary. When I worked at home, I spent a lot of time deflecting my young son during the workday. Once we moved to office space, I was able to give myself more fully to both work and family. When I was at the office, I didn’t have to worry about a toddler interrupting a client phone call. And when I got home, I was really home. I was able to switch gears on the short drive home and could be immediately attentive to my son.

Office space offers a more professional environment. Working at home requires the entrepreneur to accommodate the disturbances and interruptions of residential life. Leaf blowers, barking dogs and car alarms come to mind, for starters. An office building is built for work, and that can help you and your staff get more done more easily.

Don’t underestimate the value of camaraderie. Having people around all day can be a really nice change, if you’re used to working alone at home. Standing around the coffee maker dishing about the morning’s lead news story can help keep you sharp.

A company office promotes a company culture. It’s more difficult to create a culture without having your tribe bump up against each other day to day. It’s much easier, as the leader of your company, to communicate the values and goals of your company in person and in action. The funny stories of the early days, the inside jokes and the good-natured teasing are all part of your company’s heritage and culture. The office gives that culture some geography – and some room to grow.

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