An SME guide to finding office space in London, the South, the North, the North East, Wales and Scotland.
Bricks and mortar
In this day and age, with near instantaneous connection with individuals and organisations all around the world, physical business operations are no longer a requirement for every company. While it isn’t essential to run a bricks-and-mortar site, it certainly still makes sense for a great many businesses, even those of small-to-medium size.
For instance, it’s far easier to foster a good business culture when the workforce is situated within one location. It’s also pretty useful in terms of face-to-face encounters, both with employees and visiting clients.
You can download the full guide as a pdf from here.
Location, location, location
The first thing to ask yourself: where should your business be situated?
There are a number of things that should be taken into account before answering this question. Accessibility and convenience, for example. The impression your potential new base of operations will make shouldn’t be underestimated, either.
If you have the flexibility, moving to a different part of the UK could save you quite a bit of money in the long term, on both a personal and professional level. Of course, familiarity with an area is beneficial but, with sufficient research, relocation to somewhere completely new is always a viable option.
Getting to work
An office space with all the mod cons is all well and good but if you and your staff can’t make it to work with relative ease, it’s probably not the best solution. And how accessible would it be for visitors coming from different parts of the country? Think in terms of local transport links: is there a nearby train station or bus stop? Are services frequent?
Does the building come with parking spaces? If so, are they free for staff to use? If not, how much will it cost to park all day? If spaces aren’t available onsite, are there parking places nearby? Guaranteed, and preferably free, parking spaces are a useful recruitment tool and advantageous when it comes to maintaining team morale.
Are there places nearby where it’s possible to pick up supplies, such as A4 paper, pens, tea, milk, toilet paper, etc? Will you or your staff be able to nip out and buy something for lunch? Is there somewhere you can dine with clients? Your office’s position in relation to other businesses is definitely something to think about.
Okay, so you’ve honed in on your ideal location. Now you’ll need to find out what kind of office space is available in the area.
Consider the size of your current workforce and take into account any plans you might have to expand the business. If, for example, you currently employ just a handful of people, you will still need enough space to comfortably fit everyone. And then you’ll need to accommodate furnishings such as desks, chairs and filing cabinets – and items such as a printer, a water cooler, a floor-standing Yucca plant, etc.
Too big or too small?
Having just enough space to contain everyone and everything might not be good enough, however. If the office environment is a little too cramped, it could impact negatively on morale and, therefore, productivity. Conversely, an office with too much space won’t necessarily make for a stimulating working environment. Striking the right balance can be tricky but it’s absolutely worth getting right.
You will also need to factor in adjacent spaces, such as a kitchen and toilets – and an anteroom or two that can be used for appraisals, meetings and interviews. You will probably require somewhere suitable to welcome clients and local representatives, too. Of course, a single room can serve more than one purpose but you need to ensure that day-to-day business operations remain unaffected.
As mentioned earlier, if you have plans to expand the business, you will need to have enough office space to do so.
Look and feel
If you find an office that fulfils the necessary criteria, there’s still something else to think about: what’s it like? This might seem like a vague sort of question but if you expect people to spend several hours a day in a single place, it’s an important consideration.
An office environment should help employees work at their best. Heating, air-conditioning, ventilation, lighting (including natural light) are all things that need to be considered.
An office’s appearance have a big effect on team morale, too. A bright, airy, colourful and modern office is much more likely to appeal than a bland, careworn room that features a colour scheme right out of the 1940s.
The way in which the office is run can have a major bearing on productivity. For instance, allocating specific desks to team members can promote a sense of ownership that makes an individual feel valued. On the other hand, it can also allow employees to become jaded as they become accustomed to the same old routine.
One thing that can keep things fresh is hot desking. Rather than assign desks to specific team members, hot desking works on an allocated-when-needed basis.
Of course, the kind of culture that you promote can play a big part in shaping employees’ attitudes and expectations. Hot desking is certainly a good option for offices in which space is a premium, and particularly if you run a flexible working-from-home policy.
Ready to go get that office space? If so, it might be worth securing the services of a tenant rep first. A tenant rep is someone who will work in your best interests to smoothly manage the leasing process from beginning to end. Tenant reps have a great deal of expertise and are there to take on most of the strain.
If you don’t intend to use a tenant rep, establishing a good relationship with your landlord is important. If he or she comes across as friendly, helpful and trustworthy, you’re almost certainly on to a good thing. Your landlord is definitely someone that you’ll want to have on your side because they can be of great assistance, particularly during the moving-in stage.
Before you proceed, establish the length of the lease. There’s no point getting your feet under the desk if the lease expires in just six months.
Can you and your staff get in and out of the office with ease? This might be of particular importance if at least one member of your team has a disability. Even if this isn’t currently the case, you’ll need to take into account that future employees may have to deal with restricted mobility. And, you can’t assume that every visitor to the premises will be able to get about easily. A building without an elevator and/or disability ramp could be a deal-breaker.
Make sure that you check the building at different times of the day. It might be nice and quiet the first time you see it but that doesn’t mean it’ll be like that all day long. How does the rush hour impact on it, for instance? Is the office situated beneath a noisy flight path? Depending on the kind of business you run, none of these things may significantly affect day-to-day operations but they are certainly worth bearing in mind.
Assuming the aforementioned points raise no issues, is there anything else you should take into account? This is where a very careful inspection will come in very handy. Your first look might not identify underlying issues, such as damp or mould. If a thorough examination of the site yields no red flags, you will still need to ensure that it meets current health and safety legislation.
To share or not to share?
Is your heart set on an office space that can only be used by you and your team – or are you prepared to share with at least one other business?
It’s certainly cheaper to share an office environment with another organisation. After all, you’ll not only be sharing the space, you’ll be sharing the cost.
Commercial property sharing usually comes in the form of a serviced office, which is designed to host a number of businesses. This kind of set-up can be very advantageous since it will already possess everything the typical office requires – kitchen areas, restrooms, meeting rooms, conference spaces, decent Wi-Fi, projector equipment and so on.
None of these things come free, of course, and will normally be offered on a pay-as-you-use basis. However, if you are likely to hold team sessions and client meetings infrequently, sharing could represent a better use of your capital.
Sharing a space with a similar kind of business might be advantageous in other ways. For instance, it could provide the opportunity to exchange ideas and initiatives, particularly if sharing with a complementary business. Understandably, you’ll be keen not to compromise client confidentiality or lose your competitive edge so sharing isn’t necessarily always the answer.
If you feel that sharing an office environment, or adjacent space, could work, you still need to be certain that your workforce and that of another’s can co-exist harmoniously. If you and your team require sufficient levels of quiet in order to concentrate, and the other enterprise is a hive of noisy activity, then clearly things aren’t going to work out.
You are unlikely to have an unlimited budget. Cost, therefore, is crucial.
There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, location being the main one. An office located in the heart of a metropolitan city is almost certainly going to cost more. London, for instance, is one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to set up office. In general, the southern half of England tends to be more expensive than other parts of the UK but that doesn’t mean that it offers a lot of variance in terms of price.
Prices around the UK
Further down, you’ll find examples of average office rental costs per square foot – based on grade – throughout the UK. Grade A buildings tend are sought-after properties that are generally located in the most desirable part of a town or city. Grade B buildings tend to be a little older and/or feature fewer modern facilities – they may even have been Grade A buildings 10 or 20 years previously.
It’s worth noting that, even within a single city, office prices can vary quite markedly. London is the most obvious example of this considering its size. However, this kind of variance can be seen in other parts of the UK. Sheffield, for instance, features Grade A commercial properties that typically range between £14.00 (city fringes) and £24.00 (city centre).
[Please note: these prices are a guide only and are based on 2018 statistics provided by real estate advisers Colliers.]
South of England
Brighton – Grade A: £30.00 / Grade B: £24.00
Bristol – Grade A: £32.50 / Grade B: £28.50
Norwich – Grade A: £16.50 / Grade B: £10.00
Oxford – Grade A: £25.00 / Grade B: £20.00
Plymouth – Grade A: £17.00 / £12.00
Portsmouth – Grade A: £16.00 / Grade B: £12.00
Croydon – Grade A: £34.00 / Grade B: £24.00
Southbank – Grade A: £67.50 / Grade B: £45.00
Uxbridge – Grade A: £35.00 / Grade B: £27.00
Birmingham – Grade A: £33.00 / £22.50
Northampton – Grade A: £14.50 / Grade B: £9.00
Nottingham – Grade A: £19.50 / £12.50
Telford – Grade A: £13.50 / £8.00
North of England
Bradford – Grade A: £14.00 / Grade B: £7.50
Hull – Grade A: £16.00 / Grade B: £10.00
Leeds – Grade A: £27.00 / Grade B: £19.50
Liverpool – Grade A: £18.00 / Grade B: £11.00
Manchester – Grade A: £25.00 / Grade B: £19.00
Preston – Grade A: £11.00 / Grade B: £7.50
Sheffield – Grade A: £19.00 / Grade B: £13.00
York – Grade A: £16.50 / Grade B: £12.00
North East England
Darlington – Grade A: £13.50 / Grade B: £8.50
Newcastle – Grade A: £20.00 / Grade B: £13.00
Sunderland – Grade A: £12.50 / Grade B: £8.00
Aberdeen – Grade A: £28.00 / Grade B: £16.00
Edinburgh – Grade A: £25.50 / Grade B: £17.00
Glasgow – Grade A: £22.00 / Grade B: £17.50
Cardiff – Grade A: £21.00 / Grade B: £16.00
Swansea – Grade A: 14.50 / Grade B: £10.00
Bear in mind that while a quoted ‘above the line’ figure might seem like a good deal, you will need to be aware of any potential hidden costs.
And while you may have enough money to make monthly payments, will you have sufficient funds to cover a deposit – say, three months’ rent in advance? And then there are things like insurance, business rates and utility bills to consider. You’ll also need to weigh up the cost of a normal office lease vs. a serviced office set-up.
Property search engines
Online resources make it quick and easy to search for commercial properties to let. Realla lets you to filter your search results, narrowing down the field in terms of location, price and size. It’s a great way to compare and contrast office spaces, making it easier to create a workable shortlist.
You can typically adjust the filters and search according to the type of property you require (a conventional or serviced office, for example). You can also set a filter cap on the rent amount you’re willing to pay – and establish a minimum to maximum square footage range.