Location, location, location. Every business owner and real estate guru knows this age-old mantra by heart. But cities have grown, consumer tastes have shifted, and the pandemic has disrupted the entire business world in ways no one ever dreamed possible. The internet is now a thriving marketplace for practically every industry. Commercial and residential real estate are no exception. In 2022, small businesses owners are making very different decisions about where to set up shop.
Today you can establish your business anywhere, from the bustling heart of a major city to the quiet edges of a forest (as long as you’re following zoning laws, of course). And although a few years ago the idea seemed absurd to most business owners, now you don’t even need a physical office for your business to thrive—especially if your employees are continuing to work at home.
If you’ve been reconsidering your business’s location, remember the square footage of a building or the availability of parking both hold far less stock than they used to. And if you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the city, the federal government even offers advantages to small businesses that settle in underutilized areas. You can check into the Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program to see if you qualify for preferential access to federal procurement contracts.
Small businesses are looking for more space, not less
According to a 2021 survey, only 35% of small business leaders owned their office space, while slightly fewer (33%) leased it. Twenty-one percent had no office at all. And 10% had contracts with co-working spaces (which they used only when needed).
Interestingly, the survey also showed many small businesses were in the process of upsizing their office space regardless of their current ownership status. The study found 40% of small businesses currently without an office have plans to lease or purchase their own space soon. Also, more small businesses revealed goals of upgrading their premises. In fact, almost a quarter of all business owners surveyed (23%) stated they plan on opting for more space and amenities when they sign their next lease.
And what kind of amenities are we talking about? Spaces with gyms, cafeterias, meditation rooms, even nap rooms, are increasingly popular today. Then there’s high-speed internet. Every business today, no matter how small, needs to be wired for it, preferably using fiber. Everything from in-store customer Wi-Fi to integral SaaS applications are dependent on speed. For a business to run smoothly, it needs enough bandwidth for data to flow in real time. Otherwise, systems won’t operate seamlessly or keep up with customer demand. You need a fiber strategy that is future-proof.
Like we said before, it’s all about location. If fiber isn’t available at your current office and the end of your lease is approaching, you should consider shopping around in a fiber-friendly area. Commercial office lease and sale rates are still competitive due to the pandemic, so there’s no time like the present to start the next chapter of your business.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when considering where–or if–you should acquire new office space.
1. What is your “return to office” strategy?y
Do you plan on asking everyone to come back to the office right away? Or will you allow them to transition back into their old roles slowly? Maybe you’re even one of those awesome bosses who plans on letting your team work remotely 100% of the time. But if neither of these arrangements work for you and your team, there’s also the increasingly popular option of a hybrid model. According to CBRE’s 2021 Occupier Survey, 87% of employers plan to adopt a hybrid model even after the pandemic and will ask workers to divide their time between their home and work offices.
Hybrid work offers employees all the perks of the office, such as collaborating and building relationships in person, while also enjoying the advantages of not commuting on some days. Additionally, by transitioning into a hybrid model, your employees won’t feel pressured to give up the independence they’ve grown to love in the last two years. A hybrid model can also dramatically reduce overhead costs by shrinking the size of your office.
2. Could BOPIS take your business to the next level?
Even if you own a conventional retail shop that requires a highly visible, well-trafficked storefront to thrive, all the changes of recent years may inspire you to re-evaluate the space you need for your business. Both your indoor and outdoor areas may need some rearranging due to a shift in consumer mindset during the pandemic. For example, during the coronavirus lockdowns, a new way of shopping called “buy online, pick up-in-store” (BOPIS) became popular. Some customers grew accustomed to this convenient new service and still prefer it long after in-store shopping has resumed.
If you plan on taking advantage of the new consumer demand for this service, you need to turn your store into a distribution point that can:
- Handle the logistics that come with BOPIS and efficiently fulfill site-to-store orders
- Act as a mini warehouse
- Offer quick service and convenient access for your customers
- Fiber internet to manage both in-store and online digital transactions
If your business is located on a busy street, traffic and parking can be a major roadblock to everything on our list. Therefore, if you plan on making BOPIS a cornerstone of your business, you may want to consider moving to a location with more flexible parking. This way, multiple people will be able to pick up their orders at once without causing traffic mayhem.
3. How can you provide a happy, safe shopping experience for your customers?
If you run a retail operation or restaurant in 2022, sufficient space to give your customers (and your employees) some distance from each other is still a must in some jurisdictions. And even without restrictions, many people, still don’t feel safe in crowded stores or restaurants. This gives you a unique opportunity to redesign your space and create some breathing room. One of the easiest ways you can do this is by rearranging your inventory, or even reducing the number of products you display in customer spaces.
For service-based small businesses who receive regular client visits, the same holds true. You may need more space than before the pandemic, even if you’ve maintained the same number of employees. If your business is growing, you should consider searching for larger properties with extra space when it’s time to relocate.
4. How can you support and retain your employees in a competitive job market?
Many companies have shown their gratitude by upgrading their spaces with trendy new gadgets. Managers want their workspaces to feel safe, pleasant, and welcoming. They strive to attract employees back into the nest with exciting new amenities and a fresh, reinvented office culture.
Cubicle farms are out, making way for welcoming, wide open spaces with comfy chairs, sofas, coffee stations, and even private getaways when the noise grows too loud. Bright and colorful collaborative spaces are growing in popularity as well. If your team is filled with social butterflies, you could consider moving from a faraway business park on the edge of town to the middle of the city. That way, your workers will always be in the center of the action.
5. Do you need a space that can support a “hot desk” strategy?
One hybrid strategy that many small businesses are adopting to encourage workers to come into the office whenever they want is to set up wired workstations (called “hot desks”). These hot desks are ready for any employee to log into and work from (respective to their network and application access rights, of course). Workers can drop in at the office to do their jobs, spending two to three days on site, while working from their home offices the rest of the time.
For this kind of distributed network to work, you need a fiber-ready location. Otherwise, if connectivity from the office is slow, your employees will be reluctant to come on site. Your goal of having regular face-to-face encounters with employees will not be easily attainable.
Enjoy more freedom and flexibility than ever
Because of COVID, many small businesses (excluding stores without well-established web shops) now have much more flexibility around where to locate their offices. Although your office needs to be accessible for employees and customers, it doesn’t have to be in the city center, or in the most upscale part of town—unless you want it to be.
Although downgrading might be advantageous, or even necessary, for some small businesses, others are in the lucky position of growing rapidly and requiring larger offices. Still others, competing fiercely for talent, require spaces with special amenities. And whatever your operating model or strategy, you need high-speed internet to support everything from remote workers to SaaS applications to online and offline operations that can process and integrate data in real time.