It may not be quite as important as what you’re working on, but where you work matters, too. For a startup, having the right workspace can mean the difference between trudging along in mediocrity and unleashing your team’s full potential.
The Importance of Your Physical Work Environment
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s just an office. After all, you have bigger fish to fry. There are accounting problems to solve, marketing issues to work through, and sales calls to make. But don’t discount the significance of the physical environment where you work. There’s ample research to suggest that it plays a monumental role in productivity, efficiency, performance, and optimism.
“We spend almost a third of our lives in the office, and in order to find and retain top talent, it’s essential for companies to foster an environment that empowers people with the right space to work, think and collaborate naturally,” leadership strategist Alan Kohll writes .
First and foremost, the type of office matters. In other words, are you working out of an open layout floor plan at the top of a downtown high-rise? Or does your office consist of a bunch of cubicles in the basement of an old building? Neither is right or wrong – they’re just different.
Then there are all of the secondary elements  that impact the overall feel of the space. This includes things like clutter, lighting, sound, and temperature. Even the color on the walls, the artwork, and the furniture can impact individual and collective performance.
This isn’t meant to stress you out. It should, however, make you think. Are you giving enough time and attention to the physical workspace your startup team is using? If not, it may be a good time to readjust and view this issue through a new lens.
Basic Types of Offices and Workspaces
There are dozens of types of offices and workspaces, but most can be broken down into one of the following basic categories:
- Leased office spaces. This is by far the most common type of office space. Businesses that lease office space do so for a number of reasons. For one, it’s cost-effective. It also provides a sense of stability with definitive time parameters. The upfront cost is minimal and there’s less responsibility than there is with owning the office.
- Owned office spaces. Sometimes businesses purchase office space. This is common for established companies who have a pretty good idea of what they need (and what their future needs will be). Depending on the size, it can also provide an additional stream of income (through leasing unused office space to corporate tenants).
- Coworking spaces. Over the past 10 years, coworking spaces  have gone from virtually non-existent to one of the more attractive options for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and startups. They’re flexible, scalable, cost-effective, and ideal for networking.
- Residential space. Some of the best businesses in the world have their origins in residential spaces like basements, garages, and spare bedrooms. While residential office space isn’t usually a long-term solution, it can work for a few months. (Cost is obviously the biggest benefit.)
As you search for the right office space for your startup, you’ll find options in each of these four categories. Selecting the right one requires some discipline and diligence.
5 Tips for Choosing the Right Startup Workspace
Now that you have the lay of the land, let’s dig a bit deeper. Here are some tips, considerations, and strategies for selecting the perfect workspace for your young team:
1. Determine Your Needs
The first step is to figure out what you need out of an office – not what you want. Successful business owners and entrepreneurs understand the difference  between these two ideas.
A need is something that’s integral to your business. Without it, you’ll struggle to survive. Needs include things like shelter, air conditioning/heat, a fast internet connection, parking, and adequate space for each team member. A want, on the other hand, is something you’d like to have. (But if you don’t have it, it’s not going to break you.) Examples of wants may include: close proximity to downtown, an exercise room, covered parking, private offices for everyone, open floor plan, etc.
Sit down and make a list of your needs. Then list out your wants. As you search for office space, only consider the needs. If you happen to find multiple options that meet all of your needs, you’re then free to pull out your list of wants and use them as determining factors.
2. Clarify Your Budget
How much do you have to spend on office space? One of the worst mistakes you can make is overspending on office space at the expense of your product/service. If you aren’t offering compelling value to your customers, it doesn’t matter where you work – you’ll be out of business before the end of the year.
If you’re a true startup with zero revenue and very little cash in the bank, you probably do need to work out of someone’s basement or garage. If you have a little bit of money but can’t lock into something long-term, a coworking space could be an affordable option. If you have a large infusion of capital from investors, you can probably afford a more permanent solution. The key is to let your budget make these decisions for you – not your emotions.
3. Think in Terms of 6 to 12 Months
Established businesses can sign long-term leases of two, three, or even five-plus years without much risk. Startups shouldn’t even consider looking this far out. It’s better to think in the short-term – i.e. the next 6 to 12 months.
This is why coworking spaces are so practical for startups. Companies like Novel Coworking  allow businesses to lease affordable office suites by the month. Not only does this free up cash flow on a month-to-month basis, but it also eliminates the risk that comes from locking into a long-term contract when your size and needs could fluctuate so dramatically.
4. Gather Opinions
Don’t make decisions in isolation. Any employee who will be working full-time in the office should have an opportunity to express their opinions. This is especially important when it comes to details like open floor plan vs. traditional layout. You want your team to be productive and efficient. Anything that limits their ability to perform will detract from your startup’s ability to connect with customers and grow.
At the same time, it’s ultimately your decision. Don’t get so caught up in what your team wants that you compromise on the needs you’ve outlined. There’s a delicate balance here, so take your time and make a wise choice.
5. Lay the Ground Work for the Future
You might only be in this workspace for a few months, but don’t use this as an excuse to compromise on your organization’s values. Company culture is built from day one. Think about what you want your identity to be in 10 or 20 years and lay the groundwork now.
The office environment is a tangible expression of the underlying culture. It’s what people talk about when friends and peers ask them what it’s like to work for your company. A positive and inviting culture will compel people to speak highly of your organization.
Set Your Business Up for Success
The office space may not make or break your startup’s success, but it will most definitely have an impact on it. Set your business up for greater success by choosing the right type of office – one that fits your style, maximizes talents, and enhances creativity. For some startups, this means signing up for a coworking space in your area. For others, it may mean purchasing office space that you can grow into. Ultimately, it’s your call.