by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kate Tarasenko
Once you’ve made the decision to move your home office into a commercial space (and have already secured a location – see our other article on Renting Versus Buying), you’ll need to make a to-do and to-buy list in order to make your new office functional, with little lost time for productivity. It will take two weeks to a month for packing and planning before you’re ready to move into your new space and open your doors for business. To help ease that transition, consider the following checklist:
- Utilities: Make sure the power is turned on before you move in. Commercial accounts may take more lead-time for service providers to get you up and running. These may include:
- Phones: Many small businesses are transitioning from landlines to exclusively cell phones for their obvious portability, but you may want to maintain a no-frills landline to make other local calls in order to keep your main business line free, and to make emergency calls. Don’t forget to add a professional-sounding outgoing message, and to check for messages regularly. List any appropriate new phone numbers on your company’s website and with directory assistance.
- Internet Access: If you’re opting for a landline, adding Internet access can lower your monthly costs by taking advantage of “bundled” service discounts. If going all-cellular, you’ll want to arrange for password-protected wireless service. Consider the fastest connection offered in your area so that you can make the most of your business day. Some service providers also offer VOIP (voice-over-Internet protocol), which allows you to listen to voicemail messages via email.
- Electrical Receptacles: A commercial space has less wiggle room on local electrical codes than a residence. Arrange your work area to accommodate the necessary electrical equipment and appliances such that you’re not stringing extension cords across high-traffic foot paths or stairs, or overloading individual receptacles. Make sure your receptacles and power strips provide the proper grounding for plugs. Commercial spaces are subject to municipal and county fire marshal inspections, and infractions can lead to serious fines and disruption of your work day.
- Heating and Cooling: If your space isn’t equipped with HVAC, make provisions to have these added. If renting, negotiate with your landlord about these upgrades. You want your work space to be as comfortable as possible year-round.
- Office Equipment: If your business has expanded to the point that you’re considering investing in capital equipment, such as a computer system and/or copier, investigate whether leasing is a better deal than an outright purchase. Be wary of purchasing these items second-hand. Manufacturers tend to upgrade their models every couple of years, and finding knowledgeable service technicians and replacement parts can make what appeared to be a good deal at the outset an expensive and obsolete heap of plastic and metal that you’ll have to pay to dump. Always negotiate on long-term service contracts. Demand an upgrade if the machine you’ve contracted for develops chronic problems, which can lead to aggravation and down-time. Conversely, if the machine you’re leasing is problem-free, negotiate for a less expensive service contract, since there are few or no service calls.
- Work Areas: While a cramped home office may have been sufficient for doing quick work online and then dashing off to an appointment, think long-term for making your offsite office functional. That means you may want to invest in a decent chair instead of grabbing a spare one out of your garage. Bookcases can house reference manuals, InterNACHI’s inspection publications, and code books. Filing cabinets dedicated to your business can store hard-copy inspection reports, photos and contracts. There’s no need to spend big bucks at office furniture and supply stores; try shopping for second-hand items online (Craigslist is a good local resource) and at thrift stores. If buying new, always negotiate with the salesperson for a corporate account that provides built-in discounts; today’s economic climate favors the buyer for retail items, especially if you’re in the market for more than a single desk or chair. Spread out in your new space as much as you can. Organization is key to productivity.
- Non-Work Areas: If you will be meeting clients and hosting the occasional business function at your office, you’ll want your new space to be comfortable but professional-looking. Again, there’s no need to go high-end to meet this goal. Look for simple but sturdy tables and chairs, and avoid styles, colors and patterns that look dated, especially if such items are priced to move. Second-hand items should be clean and devoid of major blemishes. Keep reception and meeting areas uncluttered.
- Lighting: Natural daylight isn’t always available in office spaces, but don’t underestimate the effect of lighting for reasons other than just to see what you’re doing. It can affect mood and productivity in direct and indirect ways. Some offices and warehouses provide basic overhead fluorescent-tube lighting, which can be adequate but garish, and even noisy, so consider augmenting those sources with low spot-lighting, desk lamps and wall sconces. Energy-efficient bulbs come in colors of the visible spectrum that are easier on the eyes and reflect a glow that “warms up” the area to appear more inviting. Of course, they’re better for the environment, as well as your budget, in the long run.
- Office Supplies: Copier paper, toner, printer ink cartridges, paper clips and pens can deplete your budget in a hurry, so buy only what you estimate you’ll need for the first three months. This will help you budget long-term more precisely. Remember, too, that if you have employees in your new space, you’re responsible for providing them with the tools they’ll need to perform their jobs properly, so don’t make them scrounge for the basics in order to get their daily work done. Failing to account for simple provisions like these can be morale-killers, along with a lack of secondary supplies.
- Secondary Supplies: If you’re sharing kitchen and/or restroom facilities with a neighboring business, find out who is responsible for supplies, and maintain an appropriate budget. If responsible only for your own, consider buying in bulk at shopping clubs, or work out a deal with a local vendor who supplies neighboring businesses. Remember to make scheduled stops for supplies such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, snacks, condiments and restroom supplies so that you can avoid last-minute impulse purchases, which tend to be more expensive.
- Kitchen: Even the most basic hotel room now provides a mini-fridge, coffee maker and microwave, so think of your own fundamental comforts and that of your clients (and your employees, if you have any), and outfit an area dedicated to these needs. Eating lunch in the office a few days a week and having a place to store some staples will also save you petty cash and productivity.
- Emergency Supplies: If you gave yourself a paper cut while working at home, you only needed to dash across the hall to the medicine cabinet to find a band aid. Whether you have other employees or not, the responsibility of using a commercial business space dictates that you have a fully-stocked first aid kit on hand. Additionally, local fire codes will probably also require you to have several of these, depending on the size of your commercial space and/or number of employees, along with a fire extinguisher and flashlight, as well as clearly marked exits. Depending on your comfort level, work schedule, and the climate of your geographic region, you may want to stock a personal emergency kit that contains extra batteries, canned goods, blankets and sleeping cot, bottled water, spare toiletries, and extra footwear and clothing.
- Privacy and Confidentiality: If you’ve been on a particularly dirty inspection and you need to change into clean clothes, make sure you have a private area. If you’re having a conversation over the phone or in person, the details of which should not be broadcast to employees, clients or neighboring tenants, make sure you have a separate area in which to conduct such confidential business. Partitions and noise barriers can help with this. Likewise, you may wish to have a locking file cabinet or safe in which to store expensive equipment, and irreplaceable and confidential hard-copy records and downloaded computer files.
- Security: Provisions for securing your business premises should be clearly spelled out in your lease. Make sure that all doors and windows can be properly closed and locked, and if you have shades or drapes, make sure they’re closed at the end of the day, too. A security system is a sound investment. Adequate lighting for the immediate exterior, as well as the parking area, is a safety as well as liability concern. Additionally, get acquainted with local law enforcement, and find out whether their regular patrols include the location of your new workplace.
- Décor: Carefully consider your clientele when choosing personal items and artwork to decorate your office. Your personal touches help establish the “corporate culture” of your business, even if it’s a corporation of just one. Additionally, live plants can add a homey touch, but only if you’re willing to keep them alive!
- Children and Pets: One of the benefits of owning your own business is that you can take your children and pets to work with you. Children require constant attention, so make sure your attention isn’t divided, leading to a potential accident, or creating an unprofessional atmosphere. Also, don’t expect your employees to double as your babysitter. In terms of pets, some of them don’t adjust well to strangers or unfamiliar surroundings, and some clients and employees may have allergies and even phobias. What’s okay around the house won’t necessarily work in the workplace, even if you’re the boss, so think like a business person and make decisions based on what’s best for your business.
In summary, moving into a commercial space is an exciting step forward for your business. Make your move stress-free with careful planning before you pack up the first box.