Find the Perfect Office Site, or Convert Your Own

Published on Friday, 13 December 2013 07:03:41    Written by Marc
In a previous article, “10 Things to Remember When Moving an Office Space,” I talked about items to look for before starting to search for a new office site. One of the items was budget, or more precisely, budget available. I mentioned that at times, it could be possible to find a site, convert it, and end up with a great office at a good price. I wanted to provide more information on how companies can convert sites, and with some luck, save money in the process.

Convert your own officeAs mentioned before, one of the most important elements (after the cost) when looking for a new office site is the location. If you are going to move groups of staff into a new office site, better make sure that people will be able to commute to the site. Twenty years ago, we took this aspect a little less into consideration. Companies would find an office site, and employees went to work there.

Today most companies are more in touch with their employees and take location as a primary concern. Employees need to be able to access the office as easily as possible. If the majority of employees travel by public transportation, then the office needs to be somewhat close to a public transportation hub, such as a bus station, metro rail station, etc. Same thing if people tend to take their car to the office, better to have parking as a criteria in your site search because if not you are going to make many people unhappy if they have to drive around the neighborhood 30 minutes each morning to find a parking space.

What if that perfect office site that you are looking for cannot be found? Would you consider creating it?

This is probably not something that comes to mind. Most of us handling the real estate leasing and management for companies that use real estate for their needs will try to uncover every single stone in the market to find that office space that meets our search criteria. I did that myself for years (with the great exasperation that it often brought) until I understood that sometimes it makes more sense not to look for that perfect office, but instead to try and find what could become a perfect office, with some little work. I took a step back at things and looked at the fundamentals of what we were looking for. In the end, it often boiled down to having a great office site in the area where we were looking. Moreover, when you come to think of it, what does a great site mean? Having good natural lighting, good ceiling height, dimensions that make it easy for designers to fit everyone. These are probably the basic; all other items can normally be added on afterwards.

“Therefore, I changed my perspective on sites. Instead of looking for an office that already had everything for our needs, I also kept my eyes open for other sites that could be turned into something great. If I were lucky enough to find the right office at the right price, I would take it. Nevertheless, in many cases the alternative strategy paid off well.”
- Marc Lacombe

For example, a few years ago we were looking to merge two offices into one. The main goal was to gain some synergies by moving the two offices into a single entity, which would allow us to grow our business. We were actually getting too crowded in both sites and although we could have simply shopped around for an office site to replace one of the two existing ones, the company had deemed that merging the groups together would bring a new dynamic to the business unit. Therefore, with this I started my search with the goal of trying to find a new office site that would suit both groups. My ideal location was somewhere between the two sites. We had looked at where the employees were living and at the local public transportation and found that our best location would be within a 2miles radius (about 3Km) of a center point we located on a map.

Therefore, I could find a site up to 2 miles from that center point in any direction and the employees would be ok with the commute. I then started to look at the area we had selected and quickly had to remove about one third of the circle we had drawn. I realized almost our entire circle we had drawn was in an industrial zone and a good portion of it was in a tough area with large heavy industries. That left us with about two-thirds of our initial area. After months of scouting the site, it was clear that we were not going to find anything. We needed an office site with a small open portion for warehousing and studio and we could not find anything remotely close to this.

Then I started to look at buildings from a different angle. What if we looked at sites for their overall dimensions and parking spaces to see what is in our area? I eliminated the number of offices we needed, the cafeteria seating, the lobby requirements. I went to look for a site that had the overall size we needed, with parking to go along.

I found one site that had been a warehouse and that had some offices in the front, on two floors. The offices were less than half of what we needed and the back section was all open, as any warehouse normally is.

What we needed was to convert about 70% of the back section into offices and do a major renovation of the existing offices at the front and the site would meet all our needs. Of course, converting the warehouse section into offices meant adding external windows to the site and getting approval from the landlord for this. However, in the end, we ended up paying rent on a warehouse site, not on an office site. Even with the cost of construction and renovation factored into the site and amortized over our ten year term, our rent ended up much lower than if we had found and lease an office site. It did take longer to plan, bring in fiber optic cable, install HVAC systems, get both landlord and city to approve the work but we ended up with a site that employees liked because got to participate in the design of their offices.

In summary, when looking for a new office site, keep an open mind for alternatives. Sometimes the perfect site-to-be is in plain view; you simply need to see what it could become with some little work.