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When it comes to finding your new business home, work backwards

Searching for office space will do one of three things.

For some, it’s incredibly exciting: moving into first or larger business premises signals success, your company is moving in the right direction. For others, it’s daunting: too many options, too many potential pitfalls, too many people to know who to trust. And for others? Well, it’s just a boring necessity: who wants to be spending time considering desk layouts when there are five new product innovations in your mind, desperate to get out?

Here at Southampton Science Park, we know how it feels because, as seasoned business leaders ourselves, we’ve been there. It’s also one of the reasons why we’re uniquely able to help, wherever you are on your commercial journey or whatever your motivation for an office move.

Our advice? Work backwards.

Start with a clear idea of your office in the long, medium and then - only then - the short term. (That is not to say, invest in offices that are double the size you need right now. Far from it, in fact.) Instead, visualise your team of the future. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What’s important to them? And don’t forget the small stuff.

Is your future team likely to be largely young people, graduates or apprentices perhaps? If so, there’s clear evidence that they will be attracted to companies that can offer a physical base where they can experience a sense of belonging, find mentors and develop their skills. They need a home from home, a place where they can be nurtured and get a foothold.  When they have this, they feel safe, thrive and remain loyal.

In contrast, if your workforce is likely to be more experienced, the likelihood is that they are looking for more flexibility in their working days. They may be more inclined to work for companies that offer ‘team hub’ environments that enable them to balance their work/leisure  time more effectively. They may also appreciate being somewhere close to childcare provision and easy transport links because these people are usually time-poor.

What does your future team care about? Employees of all ages and at all levels want to work in environments that consider their personal wellbeing and take it seriously. They do not relish long commutes. They do relish the opportunity to go for a lunchtime walk, run or cycle.

A greater focus on nearby amenities, which staff often cite as important to them in feeling supported, is also to be expected. In its 2019 article on how to futureproof workplaces, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggested that staff increasingly choose to work where gym membership, for instance, is offered. It also highlighted that humans need to interact with nature and fresh air and called on companies to consider how they could incorporate more outdoor space into their working environments. This is something we understand at Southampton Science Park, where we’re surrounded by a beautiful green landscape.

Fresh air is highly valued. A 2020 survey by Savills found that whilst the highest proportion of respondents (62%) currently work in towns or cities, it’s likely that this figure will drop by 23% in the future with people expressing a clear preference for working in rural locations. Our own 2020 resident survey cemented the view that outdoor spaces here are highly valued. ‘Good for my company and for personal wellbeing’, ‘a pleasant, beautiful, calm, quiet and safe working environment’ scored highly.

Our survey also reminded us just how important the small stuff is. People do not want to work somewhere where the toaster isn’t working, where they can’t get a decent sandwich at lunchtime, where they can’t receive deliveries or where they can’t get a decent shower after cycling to work. When we asked what people would like to see more of in the future, it was all about personal wellbeing.

Moving a business or extracting yourself from a restrictive contract can be expensive affairs, and not the outcome that you would wish for when contemplating a new business home hub.  

Any good landlord will help you with all the physical elements of providing physical office space that’s not just fit for purpose now, but one that will adapt to your future needs and support you in your decision making as you grow.

All you need to do is remember that, what matters to your future team must matter to you today. So, while its tempting to get bogged down in the detail of assessing how many desks per square meterage you can squeeze into a space, or how fast the broadband provision is, think ahead to your employees of the future. Find a solution that works for them, and you’ll have found a solution that works for your business.

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