Upgrading offices comes with a lot of questions: Exactly how much space do you need? How long of a lease should you choose? Do you splurge on a great location or pick somewhere less expensive but a little farther away?

Jonathan Wasserstrum has heard them all. As the co-founder and CEO of New York City-based commercial real estate company SquareFoot, he's helped fast-growing businesses including Casper, Instacart, Ollie, and Frank and Oak find new digs. He's also experienced firsthand just how daunting the process can be: His 55-person company, which features more than 300,000 office listings, has moved offices five times since it launched in 2012.​

SquareFoot's nomadic existence began in Houston, where Wasserstrum started the business in his parents' attic. After graduating from Columbia Business School, he found his first office, in New York. SquareFoot moved to ERA, an NYC-based accelerator, at the beginning of 2013, and later that year relocated again to "a walkup loft above a crappy diner." The company stayed there for a couple of years before moving to yet another NYC office. Eventually, it outgrew that space and in April moved to its current location. Wasserstrum is confident SquareFoot will stay for a long time, though he still doesn't have a personal office--he prefers a messy desk in the center of the action--and says he sometimes takes calls from a dingy supply closet.

All those moves are a byproduct of the company's steady success: SquareFoot, which has raised $13 million in funding, increased its revenue 100 percent from 2017 to 2018, and is on track to do the same this year. (The company declined to provide its annual revenue figures.) Here are Wasserstrum's tips for founders in search of the perfect new office space.

1. Pick an office you can grow into.

Moving is expensive and also a "major distraction" for employees, Wasserstrum says, so it's best to pick a place where the company will be able to stay for at least three years. He estimates that you need roughly 150 square feet per employee (regardless of the floor plan) for everyone to fit comfortably--125, if the team is willing to get close.

While it may be difficult to predict your company's future growth--especially when it's just getting started--it's always best to pick an office that's on the bigger side. If necessary, you can rent out the extra space to defray costs. "We brought in a company that we know to co-habitat with us for the first part of our lease," Wasserstrum says, noting that SquareFoot currently hosts roughly a dozen workers from outside his team. Platforms such as DeskNear.Me, LiquidSpace, and PivotDesk, a startup acquired by SquareFoot earlier this year, can help you find freelancers or other businesses to temporarily take over any available desks.

2. Open offices are OK, as long as there are designated private spaces. 

SquareFoot uses an open floor plan, which means that conversations can carry from one part of the office to another. But while the open communication is useful, Wasserstrum stresses that it's important to have some private spaces, too. Most of his client companies, he says, opt for a space that offers some flexibility in this regard. 

SquareFoot's own office features a small lounge near the entrance for client or small-team meetings. There's an open area with couches and chairs where employees can catch up on email, have casual meetings, or read a book during lunch, as well as more closed-off "capsule spaces" with high-backed bench seating that offer a little more privacy.

Wasserstrum recommends having one conference room per 1,000 square feet of office space. He's noticed that at SquareFoot, conference rooms frequently are booked by just one person for a phone call, so he says the company is going to install small phone booths---an inexpensive way to give employees some space to themselves.

3. Be cautious about getting employees involved in the decision.

When it comes to choosing a location, Wasserstrum advises taking time to map out everyone's commute and lay out the best available options (or hiring an expert to help with this). For example, SquareFoot's office is located in Midtown Manhattan because it's a convenient commute from other parts of the city, Connecticut, New York's Westchester County, Long Island, and parts of New Jersey, where a majority of the company's employees live.

And though it's useful to take into account the needs of as many of your employees as possible, don't try to crowdsource office location and design ideas, because you'll never be able to please everyone. Wasserstrum says that in his experience, nine out of 10 times final decisions ultimately are made by the leadership team regardless of employees' input, so you're better off limiting their role.

"People should be involved at different points in the process," he says. "But you don't want to do a survey asking, 'Where would you like to be?' Because there is no perfect office, there is no perfect location. You're just setting yourself up to have a whole lot of disappointed people who think, 'Do I really want to go on? Nobody ever listens to me around here.'"

Of course, there will always be water cooler chat before a move, and you shouldn't disregard it. Odds are that any concerns that make it up to company leaders are serious. "If I hear about it," Wasserstrum says, "it's just the tip of the iceberg."

Published on: Sep 10, 2019