Is it time to move beyond the home office?

Some of the most legendary success stories began in small home offices or garages. The Silicon Valley garage where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple has now been named as a historic site. But just like their eventual move to an office, the time may come when you need to upgrade your workspace too. So how do you know when that moment has truly arrived, and what should you consider when it does?

With typically lean teams and tight budgets, it's a big move for a small business to consider growing into an external space. However, if you need to shift from home to a workspace, chances are your business is succeeding and you're ready for the next step.

Do you need to move, or do you want to move?

When it comes to working with a team, space is generally a top priority. The more people you add, the more room you need… or do you? A recent report by Officeworks (‘Your Work Your Way’) found that employees believed that working outside of the office led to them being more productive, facing less distractions and finding it easier to focus.

Before you look at spaces, consider changing the status quo. With technology supporting mobile work environments and people seeking more flexible work situations, maybe the solution isn’t moving out to a bigger place, but moving back in to your own personal space, and coming together weekly for some face time.

If it's just you and life seems to be getting in the way (like your barking dog or playful kids), be ruthless in your assessment about whether you need to shift spaces. Even if you can justify the extra expense of a hot desk or shared space, can your business really absorb the cost? Other alternatives, like working from a library when you need quiet time or a café when you need coffee, may meet your needs - and the money you save can be reinvested in the business.

Apple's success story began in the garage of Steve Jobs's family home

When it’s definitely time to move

Mike Watts-Seale is the CEO and founder of paleo bar company Blue Dinosaur. For he and wife Tina, the need to move out of their home kitchen was driven by the company’s rapid growth, the desire to create a more productive work environment – and to preserve their furniture.

“Tina and I knew from the beginning that running an industrial kitchen out of the bedroom at the front of our house was fraught with danger and a situation that would need rectifying at some point, but we made do,” he explains. “As time wandered on [things became more challenging]. Our ovens ventilated straight into the general atmosphere of the room which brought the temperature upwards of 50 degrees, the humidity of a Danish sauna, and created clouds of walnut oil that would settle on every surface, turning the room into an exceptionally well lubricated ice rink. After yet another tandem 'slip and fall', Tina and I were looking at one another while lying on our backs and she said, 'Nope, time to move this kitchen outta here.'”

Although the practical reasons were obvious, the next step brought up a wave of nerves for Mike and Tina. “All of a sudden we found ourselves looking very critically at our ambitions, wondering if they were indeed realistic or if we'd been deluding ourselves,” Mike reveals, adding that the natural next step was shrouded with questions. “Can we generate enough business to justify the massive increase in costs? Baking bars in your home was essentially a no-cost commitment, contracting the production to a different company was a whole new kettle of fish.”


Small steps can lead to big results

Rather than move straight into a bigger external industrial kitchen, the Blue Dinosaur team worked with a contract manufacturer. The compromise worked. “We found a bakery where all their products were handmade, brought in some of our equipment, and taught the guys and girls how to make our bars,” says Mike. “The first box we received to our house of perfectly made bars was a defining moment in our lives. We could stop the day-in day-out baking cycle, stop the weekends spent packaging product with my entire extended family, sit down and focus.”

Before you sign on any dotted lines, it's worth considering some out-of-the-box options. Adelaide bar owners Paul and Kay Crozier told the Sydney Morning Herald they negotiated an astonishing rent-free lease in exchange for them installing a commercial fit-out in the previously derelict space. They estimate the deal saved them $50,000 in their first year of business. The deal was done via Renew Adelaide, an initiative set up by a not-for-profit organisation to develop creative enterprise in vacant spaces. It’s worth researching areas you’re in for similar schemes or loopholes, or simply coming up with an enticing plan of your own if you spy an opportunity.

Tina and Mike, owners and makers of paleo bars business Blue Dinosaur

Creating room to grow elsewhere

The team at Blue Dinosaur found that physically changing their workplace meant they ended up growing strategically too.

“Rather than being tied up in, and completely exhausted by, the day-to-day of baking from 7am until 11pm, [the move] has allowed us to pay attention to our brand, our strategy and really define who Blue Dinosaur is, not just what we make,” explains Mike. “I had always felt, quite arrogantly, that no one on this planet could make our bars as well as I could because no one was as passionate about them as I was. I have found, though, that giving production responsibilities to other people has allowed them to also fall in love with our product, understand it and use their expertise as bakers to refine our paleo bars, improve upon them and create, what I believe, is a better final product than I could have ever created on my own.”

Likewise, creating a co-op space with people in complementary businesses to yours could open up profitable networking solutions and increase your work opportunities.

Be ruthless in your needs: how often do you really need to see your co-workers? Can you hire a room once a month, instead of committing to a full-time lease? Is storage the issue, and if so, what alternative solutions could be created – whether it’s finding a space at a storage company or re-configuring your home? Even the cost of building a small office in your yard or renovating your home could work out substantially cheaper in the long term (and be an additional asset) than paying rent to someone else.

Expanding your small business requires strategic thinking about your new office or workspace

Bouncing around town

If none of the above options sound like a fit then perhaps test the waters in a temporary fashion. Online company Popupshopup  allows people to use a space for a short time – even a day – to test a market or product, or simply spread their wings. Its non-permanence is perfect for people who might work in seasonal related trade (e.g fashion or floristry) or for those who aren’t sure their idea will take off.

“Popupshopup’s short term leasing allows you to minimise your risk and make new short term feasibility evaluations,” James Quinn from Sunglass Society affirmed. “It allows you to identify possible downfalls of your original ideas and business models, some of which are almost completely hidden until real-time scenarios are applied.”

It's all about the space

If you do need to move into a fixed place, then space planning is absolutely essential. Consider not just how the space looks when you inspect it, but also how much room will be required to accommodate cupboards, storage, desks and chairs.

Make sure the space has the ability to scale and grow as your business does too, as you don't want to have to relocate every time you hire. Make sure it can support your business most effectively - if you need a stable, fast internet connection, check the area is best placed to deliver. Do you need a private toilet (which will involve cleaning), or can you use a common or shared one? Do you require parking or easy access to the building? This could be imperative if you regularly load products in and out or receive parcels often. The last consideration is sound in your environment. If it's important you have a quiet, peaceful space then visit the area at different times and assess how noise impacts the office. A loud school bell or busy traffic can all impact and interfere with your work.

Consider what you will use the space for and customise it around that. There's no point in making a meeting table a big feature of the space if you rarely use it, or setting it up with clients in mind if you usually visit them on location instead.

Make the fitout a priority. Mismatched second-hand chairs and desks might save you money, but you also want to create an environment that shows you value your team and are focused on morale.