11 Costly Yet Common Mistakes Companies Make with New Office Space
Hello! My name is Dave and I build IT programs from scratch, which often includes constructing new offices and retail locations. I also conduct compliance and security assessments as an independent contractor for early stage companies. You can visit my website, theitplan.com or hit me up at email@example.com to chat more.
I’ve yet to join a startup that isn’t perpetually in the process of finding a new space. I’ve also yet to see one that doesn’t make at least a few of these costly mistakes.
This article is for any company looking for a new office, building a new office, or in any way dealing with a new location.
Quick Self Promotion As an independent consultant, I manage all technical components of new sites for 25–50% less than the quotes you’re receiving. Plus, I actually, truly care that you’re happy with the outcome and work to understand your goals and constraints in fine detail. Reach out here!
11 Costly Yet Common Mistakes Building New Offices
#1 Failing to engage a qualified technology expert
The ramifications of this are massive — every problem you can imagine stems from this mistake and it’s one many companies make!
Building a new location is a major investment, so it’s perfectly understandable and natural to cut corners. We like to think that office technology is the same as a trip to Best Buy to buy a WiFi router for your home. How difficult can it be?
Consider it from this angle — if you or the painter handled the plumbing, you wouldn’t have to pay a plumber. Think of a qualified technical expert like a broker — they’re acting on your behalf to handle unknown unknowns. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly complex and this is why so many people fall into this trap.
Here’s what you need: an independent IT consultant, group, or contractor to design and install the technical systems.
Here’s when you need them: Before a lease is signed and/or during the electrical design/MEP design phase.
The cost will vary by market and scope; making it difficult to predict the cost. But you can control the costs by opting for a flat fee with clear deliverables and expectations. At the time of this writing, a range would be $10,000 — $20,000 for a small (25 staff) to $20,000-$30,000 for a multi-floor, large (200 staff) office build in NYC.
Here’s what they’ll do:
- Alert you to the tech checks before you sign a lease,
- Work with you and the architect to design the low voltage pathways,
- Perform a site survey for wireless placement,
- Account for acoustics in your conference rooms,
- Place ethernet ports throughout the space based on your needs,
- Design conference room technology,
- Design entryway and guest technology,
- Design WiFi and network behind the WiFi,
- Design a security camera, badge access, and alarm system,
- Manage your internet service installation,
- Work with a low voltage subcontractor to perform the cabling,
- Where necessary, train you and staff to use administrative portals,
- Test, label, and document it all for handoff.
A great one will also configure and install the WiFi and network and support it for 3 months after move-in.
#2 The lease gets signed without evaluating the internet service providers
Here’s why this is a problem — internet service is not a utility, it does not have to be there for you and nobody has any obligation to tell you this. If it is there, it doesn’t have to be adequate for your business needs.
While this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, there’s no good reason to be in the dark on this when you sign for new space.
What you need: Just ask the management company or realtor which ISPs are already in the building. Then, call the ISPs to see if they’ll be able to set you up with adequate service.
What you want to avoid is paying for internet service to be extended to your location. This work has significant time and money cost associated with it.
Nice to Have: While you’re at it, consider if you need backup internet service and if so, does it need to be taking a different path out of the building? Mission critical locations such as an HQ or a customer support center often need redundant internet pathways.
Here’s a tip that I learned the hard way. If you can find an ISP broker in your city, they will contract internet service on your behalf and manage the installation at no cost to you. The ISPs pay them for new business.
#3 The architect peppers the space with low voltage drops
Consider this from their perspective.
- you can never be dissatisfied with the ability to find an ethernet jack,
- their buddy the electrician, gets to charge you per drop,
- they get to charge you for time on the low voltage designs.
Even if we pretend that none of that is true and it doesn’t matter whether they put one drop or 480 drops.
Here’s why this is still a costly mistake— consider what happens at the other end of those drops, if you want them to go anywhere, like the internet, you need to plug them into a switch. As of this writing, the cheapest 48 port PoE switch on Amazon costs $1,000 so you need 10 of them for 480 ports to go anywhere when you plug something in on the other side.
Furthermore, each switch carries a mutually exclusive risk of dying in the middle of a work day and you need a firewall, router, or distribution switching layer to accommodate the ten switches and each of these devices should have an extended warranty…
This one small detail has a lot of hidden costs behind it. I’ve been able to offset my entire fee for projects simply by reducing the number of ports.
#4 The edge use cases and small details slip through the cracks
Here’s real-world examples of what I see when this happens —
- The day after move-in, you’ll start getting reports that theres an echo in the conference room.
- An entire row of desks is unusable when the sun starts to set because the glare through the window is unbearable.
- The WiFi stops working during the all hands meeting because nobody accounted for the shift in density to a single area of the office.
- Deliveries are missed because the delivery person has no way of notifying you they’re at the door.
- The building won’t let any guests up to your 25th floor without a chaperone and they have no way of alerting you to guest arrival.
There’s many examples that only come from experience. A competent technology designer will account for these.
#5 Going big on a statement piece
This one is painful. Not only because of the cost but because you’ll be reminded everyday that it wasn’t a good idea. You’ll be able to spot this one when the response to “Why is that there?” is “The CEO wants it.”
Here’s some real-world examples.
- We’re a Fun Company = The marble ping pong table placed front and center in the office. You’ll spend company time navigating around it 20x a day and nobody can use it because its in the center of the office.
- We’re a Trendy Company = The $30,000 entryway logo design made out of handcrafted yarn by a custom designer that slowly becomes just as noticeable as the nicks on the wall from when the ping pong table was moved out.
- We’re a Sophisticated Company = The beautiful custom etching on every glass front that makes it impossible to see if anyone is occupying the room. You’ll see a lot of people on the floor checking.
This touches on a really important theme — how to make decisions about your space. Gather your project team in a room and ask everyone to rate the importance of each of these factors when making any decision.
- Cost (incl. resale value),
- Usability (how easy is it),
- Functionality (what can it do),
- Function (what purpose does it serve?,
- Scalability/extensibility (can it grow/evolve with you?),
- Portability (can you move it if you want/need to?).
#6 Punting on planning the guest/visitor experience
The post-move use cases tend to be overlooked because designing a new office is an exhausting experience. From the technical iPad check-in to the college mini fridge in the entryway, walking through this is pretty important.
Why does this happen? On top of simply not knowing, it’s usually not assigned to anyone specifically as their responsibility — nobody is accountable for it. It tends to happen when the project team is understaffed and people are stretched too thin to worry about all the details (demand has exceeded resources).
Here’s some things to consider when planning this part of the space:
- Placement of TVs and what their content will be,
- Outlets for charging,
- WiFi accommodations (what’s the wifi password?),
- Check-in tablets,
- Security concerns (what can they see from the entryway?)
- Bathroom accessibility (do they have to walk through the entire space?)
Speaking of lists…
#7 Agreeing to substantial completion without a punch list
If you’re not making a punch list, this is probably the first or second time you’re on a construction site. All good — everyone is on a construction site for a first or second time.
But the general contractor is going to quietly test you by indicating they’re meeting substantial delivery and if you sign off on it, then you’re waiving the work that you’re due to fix all the small little things. The unpainted millwork, the chipped bathroom counter, the glass door that’s going to shatter on the 20th opening because it’s installed at an angle.
Why does this happen? Inexperience. Unless you’ve constructed a new site, it is unlikely that you’ve been exposed to the lingo and warning signs the architect and GC is sending you. They can’t be responsible for your decisions, but they will try to nudge you.
Here’s how to prevent this. Learning construction lingo is like learning a new language. What would you do if you traveled to a country that doesn’t speak your language? Learn it yourself, ask questions, and hire an interpreter (ie. a qualified technical guide).
#8 Approaching security as an afterthought
Security is, at a minimum, cameras, alarms, access control (fancy word for locking doors, turnstiles, etc). But it’s also acoustics (can people hear through the walls of the CFO’s office?), viewing angles (can visitors see what staff have on their screens?), and preventing theft or safety threats by designing areas and processes for visitors and deliveries.
Imagine an elevator that opens directly into a pod of staff working at their desks — yes, this happens.
Are any windows accessible from the fire escape? Do you need to consider and make provisions for an active shooter situation? Who is going to arm and disarm the alarm? Does cleaning come at night or during the day? Do they need badges? Can you install cameras on the building facade without approval?
These are the tip of the iceberg that you should be considering with a new office space. Great news — a qualified technical consultant will automatically be doing this for you. We got you!
#9 Failing to account for moving or disposal costs at the old site
Just reading all of these is probably exhausting — imagine going through the whole process! Any sort of consideration for the old site is out of the question.
Consider that your lease states that you need to return it in a condition similar to how you received it. If you fail to account for it, you may be hiring someone to go do it for you or worse, face a significant fee from your former building management.
When it comes to moving, we rarely consider that a weekday that’s not near a holiday and not near the 1st, 15th, or last day of the month is the best time to move. Why? Well, that’s when movers are sitting around. You can move on the first, sure, but then you’re competing with everyone else whose lease is ending, too.
I’ve seen companies ask staff to take their monitors home and bring them back to the new office. I’ve seen companies move with people from TaskRabbit, but when they show up there’s no way to actually move anything to the new office (ie: moving truck). Or, how easily it is to hire a group of movers who do not have insurance and break expensive equipment.
Here’s how to fix this one. Much like the guest/visitor process, set aside time to review the moving process and get quotes from multiple moving companies. Review your lease or speak with your current building management to understand the expectations for space return.
#10 Failing to account for union labor and insurance costs
If you’ve moved into a non-labor union building and a labor union building, you will know that the cost of moving into the latter is 2x the former. There’s no problem with this but the reaction tends to tell all when the finance team finds out.
11. Banking on changing anything later
Once you’ve approved something, it’s done. Changing it later is the equivalent of starting over. Change requests are priced to reflect this.
What is a change? Anything. If you need to move a security camera 10 ft from where you initially placed it, that’s a change. And it will cost you $2,500 each time.
Why does this happen? Startups iterate, it’s why you hear the term agile all the time and not waterfall. Construction is a waterfall process and it doesn’t conform to a startup’s way of doing things.
How can you minimize changes? Hire a qualified technical expert to design the technology in the space.
Wow, that’s a LOT! Construction is a big deal and there’s a lot to account for. I’ve worked with too many startups to advise learning it on your own. Besides, at a typical startup growth rate, you’ll be moving again in 6 months. Take this opportunity to shadow someone with experience and use that to do the next one on your own!