The location of the office

An office has to have a location and it is, therefore, appropriate to consider the various aspects concerning this before looking at the other factors concerning the environment. It is in the nature of things that it is not possible to find the ideal location but a satisfactory compromise must be achieved between the many features considered desirable and those actually attainable.

The following factors, therefore, are those that warrant very careful examination when a possible office location is being selected.

1. Labour Supply

An adequate supply of the right kind of office staff is essential if the office is to function efficiently, and satisfaction on this point must be assured when a site is being considered. In most cases the question of a new location will probably be bound up with a move and, therefore, there is always the possibility that existing staff, especially key staff, will move with the organisation. If this is so the choice of geographical location may be restricted by the wishes of the staff. It may even be necessary to offer financial help by meeting solicitors’ and estate agents’ fees for staff to move house, and also, perhaps, assist with actual removal expenses.

So far as existing work-people are concerned, they should be consulted well in advance of any move, and any new recruits should be informed of the impending move.

2. Transport

It must not be expected that, in a new venue, suitable new staff can be found round the corner, especially highly skilled and specialist staff, and the question of public transport facilities serving the new location is an important one. The most reliable form of public transport is the railway, and premises near railway stations are preferable to those relying on bus services, as the latter can be unreliable and erratic. Underground railway services, where they exist, are also quite dependable. Investigation should, therefore, be undertaken with a view to establishing what kind of services are available and their frequency.

At this point it is opportune to mention that the question of rush hour travel might be considered. Staff can have more comfortable and less fatiguing journeys if they can travel in the opposite direction to the rush hour commuter.

Finally, if a location has to be selected that does not offer a reasonably good public transport service then the possibility of the organisation providing its own bus every morning and evening to collect staff and return them home might be explored. Many organisations do, in fact, operate this service with some success, with the added benefit that staff punctuality is ensured.

3. Parking Facilities

Even in areas where public transport is at its best it must be assumed that some staff will prefer to travel into work by their own transport, mostly by car but sometimes by motorcycle or bicycle. It is important, therefore, to make provision for parking, or to find a site where parking facilities are available nearby, at no cost or at small cost.

In outer city areas this problem may not be acute, although even here pressure on parking space soon builds up, causing irritation to staff. Inside city areas parking space is usually at a premium and this matter must be very carefully considered when looking at otherwise suitable locations. In the past it has been possible to provide limited parking by having a ground floor area reserved for this under the building proper: examples of this may be seen in London. However, such is the pressure of traffic in city streets that most controlling authorities do not now look kindly on this solution.

Another remedy for the parking problem, found in the outskirts of cities where land is expensive, is to have vehicles parked on the flat roofs of low-rise office blocks. This is not, however, a panacea for all, and in addition local authorities’ building regulations may raise difficulties, as may local interpretations of the Town and Country Planning Act.

In virtually all cases, it will also be imperative to provide parking accommodation for vehicles other than those of staff. Most callers, such as customers, sales representatives and others will arrive by car and will need a place to park easily and preferably without charge – especially customers, the most important of visitors.

4. Outside Services

No office is self-contained: it relies on a number of outside services to function effectively. The universally required services are those of a bank and the post office which must, therefore, not be too far distant. Other requirements will depend very largely on the nature of the business being conducted and may include bureaux for such services as printing, typing and photocopying, duplicating and similar services (especially at peak times), stationery supplies and even, perhaps, an employment bureau for the provision* of temporary staff (or, indeed, the recruitment of perma­nent staff).

5. Local Facilities

Just as the organisation itself needs nearby services, so do members of staff. This applies particularly to female staff, many of whom will have families to care for. It is necessary, therefore, to ensure that there are shopping facilities fairly close by, or easily accessible within the period of the lunch break. Food and similar shops are a high priority, but it must be remembered that clothes and hobbies feature in the interests of all staff. Where such facilities are not of easy access a partial remedy is a lunch break long enough for staff to get to the nearest shops, or a finishing time that allows shopping to be done before the shops close. Experience shows that there is a high turnover of staff, particularly female staff, where shopping is difficult.

6. Outside Eating Facilities

Even where provision is made by the organisation for meals on the premises it will be found that nearby restaurants and public houses are important, even where its own canteen is subsidised. There are two main reasons for this: a members of staff often appreciate a break from the office atmosphere, which persists even in the canteen, and b visitors are better entertained in a restaurant than in the staff dining-room, especially if they are important customers. Public houses are also favoured by those who like a drink with their meals, and who appreciate the convivial atmosphere of public houses.

7. Access to Business Contacts

Though not a universal requirement, where it is necessary to be in close contact with the business market for any reason this must be considered when selecting a location. An estate agent must be in the area where he wishes to operate, whereas this is not necessary for a mail order business. Equally, some activities, such as the diamond business, have an acknow­ledged centre and participants are almost obliged to operate from given areas.

8. Prestige

Some addresses have more prestige and publicity value than others, and this can be an important consideration in the choice of a location. However, it must be said that this is not such a significant factor as it used to be, particularly since there has been a very marked removal of organisations from traditional centres. In this connection a lot depends on what activity is carried on.

9. In or Out of the City?

The question of whether to have an office within a city, particularly one such as London, or outside it needs careful thought, and the advantages and disadvantages for each particular case must be weighed against each other.

The attractions of having a city office are many. First, it is in the centre of the business community and consequently business contacts are close and easy to make. Second, there is easy access to financial and professional services, which may be of enormous benefit from time to time. Third, a good city address does carry some prestige and fourth, such locations are usually popular with staff for many reasons such as easy access by public transport, the presence of shopping and restaurant facilities, not to mention the proximity in many cases of places of entertainment: these factors result in fewer problems being posed about recruitment and retention of workers than the conditions appertaining to out-of-town offices.

Against these advantages must be set the high cost of premises in city locations and the fact that in most cases they can only be leased. Environmentally, a city site may be less attractive because of excessive noise and air pollution, and staff may be faced with uncomfortable transport conditions through having to travel to and from work in the rush hour. Further, staff who wish to travel by car may find parking difficult and, perhaps, expensive, and this also applies to visitors. Finally, rates and insurances on premises in cities are usually higher than those out of town, and any necessary future expansion of the premises may be restricted.

The advantages of having an office out of town are just the reverse of the disadvantages of an in-city location, with lower costs, a more attractive environment, possibly room to expand the building if and when necessary, and more comfortable travel for staff as well as the probability of more parking facilities.

Against these advantages must be set the problems of distance from business and financial contacts, slower communications with more expensive telephone costs, less external facilities for staff and, indeed, greater difficulty in recruiting the right staff.

Perhaps a word should be said about locations in small towns within easy reach of large business conurbations. Here the office administrator faces particular difficulties in staff recruitment and retention, because the most able and best office workers tend to find employment in the city for reasons of higher pay, prestige and good shopping and other facilities, despite the costs of travel and the inconvenience of rush-hour commut­ing. The result is that organisations in the small town may be left with the less able workers which, more often than not, has a detrimental effect on office efficiency.

10. Accommodation

Whenever the question of providing office accommodation arises many important problems present themselves apart from the actual location.

The amount of space required and the type of space needed must be resolved. How are these two determined? Initially, of course, attention must be paid in Britain to the requirements of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, 1963. A clear minimum is laid down here of 400 cubic feet per worker, but in some instances more space than the legal minimum must be provided for efficient work: people such as managers and supervisors who have to interview others will need extra individual space, for example. It is a very great mistake, from the point of view of efficient work, to pack office staff too close together; noise, gossip and movement will interfere with work.

As a criterion, Geoffrey Salmon in his book Better Offices suggests an allowance of 75 to 125 square feet per clerical worker, based on the premise of 25 square feet net area occupied by desk and chair plus at least 25 square feet for the worker to move his or her chair, get in and out of the desk and to open drawers and cupboards, plus at least another 25 square feet for other equipment and circulation. Calculating a ceiling height of 8 feet this is, of course, about half as much again as required by the Act. He also suggests that the more concentrated the work to be done the fewer persons per unit that should be accommodated. On the other hand, it must be said that juniors and others doing purely routine work requiring no initiative and having few callers should be able to manage effectively with the minimum legal requirement.

As a start to estimating the space requirement, then, the room needed for each member of staff according to activity – not forgetting the space for machines, filing cabinets and other furniture and equipment – must be aggregated, to which must be added requirements for storage areas, passageways, halls, reception areas and other space-consuming needs. This will produce the floor area requirement for our present needs, but what about the future? Assuming the new accommodation is required because of expansion is it to be concluded that expansion will now stop? If not, then additional space must be allowed beyond this present estimated figure to cope with future demands: the question is ‘how much’?

Forecasting is notoriously inaccurate, but some help can be gained from past experience. Records of the rate of growth of staff are available and can be projected into the future bearing in mind management’s policies on the following:

  1. Is it intended that the present rate of growth should be sustained?
  2. Are there any plans for, say, diversification that will make necessary additional office space for one reason or another?
  3. Is it contemplated that additional equipment may be introduced that will affect space requirements – for example, microfilmed records instead of original documents?

The office administrator should be fully aware of the last considera­tion, but may have to seek information on the first two.

A conclusion on how much floor space is required having been reached, a decision must be made as to whether a horizontal layout or a vertical one is to be preferred. Unlike manufacturing processes, office procedures generally can be carried on equally efficiently whether the work flow is horizontal or vertical, and the decision on this is influenced primarily by building costs and land costs, reflected in the purchase price or rent. In a large conurbation land values may be such that building vertically may bring a total price reduction even taking into account the increased costs of building upwards and the extra expenditure involved in the provision of lifts, staircases and the like.

The type of space selected will also be influenced by the type of planning contemplated – open plan or a multiplicity of small office units. There is no doubt that the latter are more extravagant of floor space but may offer other advantages which are discussed in Chapter 5.

11. Methods of Acquisition

After the formulation of requirements such as location, floor area and layout, the next step is the choice of the actual building and by what means it is to be acquired; is it to be leased or purchased, is it to be an existing building or newly built to special requirements? To a large extent the answer to this problem will be determined by the amount of capital available for the purpose and to a lesser extent, particularly if a purpose-built property is being contemplated, by how much delay can be tolerated before a move is necessary.

To all but the largest and wealthiest of organisations buying a building, especially one specially constructed, is financially impossible. For the most part, also, both old and new buildings in such cities as London are for lease, and at substantial rents. On the outskirts of large towns the prospects for building or buying are better.

The alternatives to obtaining a property specially built are to acquire space in either a newly built office block (usually by lease) from one of the property developers, or an older building. An older office building will probably have one decided advantage; the rent (or price) is likely to be considerably lower than a newly erected office, but on the other hand methods of heating and ventilation are likely to be wanting in efficiency, the possibility of large areas of uninterrupted floor space if it is required to have open-plan offices are likely to be lacking, and amenities like passenger and goods lifts are likely to be non-existent or not up to modern standards. It is possible, however, that owing to the heavier construction methods used in the past noise transmission through external and internal load-bearing walls is likely to be much less of a problem than with a modern building.

To bring an older office block up to modern standards may involve considerable expense, but even with this additional cost the proposition may be cheaper than taking accommodation in a new property.

A modern speculative office building allows much more freedom for planning, however. For first tenants, in particular, it is general practice to offer them the shell of the premises, complete with amenities such as lifts, cloakrooms and heating, and to allow them to fit out the floor space as they require, often with demountable partition panels. A prospective occupier thus has a great deal of flexibility to adapt the space available to any special needs.

Buying or leasing

There are both advantages and disadvantages to buying or leasing office premises. The advantages of buying are:

  1. Alterations and extensions are unrestricted, subject only to legal requirements.
  2. Capital is conserved in a fixed asset which, in modern conditions, is most likely to appreciate.
  3. Property is accepted as excellent security for a loan or a debenture.

The disadvantages of buying are:

  1. There is an inhibition and a practical difficulty about moving if this becomes necessary, as the sale of a commercial property at an advantageous price can often take some considerable time.
  2. Capital is tied up which might be put to more profitable use in the operations of the organisation. If the property is used as the security for a loan to overcome this, the lender may put restrictions on the owner’s freedom to deal with the property as he likes.

The advantages of leasing are:

  1. A minimum initial outlay of capital is required to secure occupancy of the premises.
  2. Payments of rent are set against revenue for corporation tax purposes.
  3. There is less inhibition about moving to new premises when occasion demands. In addition, management is forced to plan ahead against the day when the lease expires.

The disadvantages of leasing are:

  1. Despite the tax saving, money is still being spent to no permanent benefit.
  2. There is less freedom to make significant alterations to the building than if it is owned, as all such alterations require the permission of the landlord, who may or may not be amenable to suggestions. The occupier is still, of course, subject to the same legal requirements regarding alterations as an owner.

12. Legal Aspects of Property Occupancy

Reference has been made to the fact that owners and occupiers are subject to certain legal requirements relating to the use and alteration of property, and this fact particularly concerns commercial property.

The first of these is governed by the Building Regulations, admin­istered by the immediate local authority. These were at one time known as the Local Building By-laws, and are concerned with the physical structure of a building. They come under the jurisdiction, on behalf of the local authority, of the authority’s surveyor or architect, and seek to ensure that a property is structurally sound according to the regulations and that it is fit for human habitation in regard to light, ventilation, sanitation and so on. Other matters such as adherence to the building line (most important in connection with extensions) and access for traffic are also covered under this heading. Experience shows, however, that most local authority surveyors and architects interpret these regulations with a certain amount of discretion, and compromises can often be reached where problems arise that the letter of the regulations makes difficult.

The second legal requirement, however, is usually much more nar­rowly construed. This is the Town and Country Planning Act. This Act is administered by the local planning authority, which may, or may not, be the immediate local authority which deals with the area within which a property is situated. The purpose of the Act is to control and safeguard the environment, and in this connection is concerned with the appear­ance of the property and its effect on local amenities, and particularly it is concerned with the use to which the property is put. When, therefore, premises are being considered for use as offices, or when a site is under similar consideration for building, then it is absolutely essential that the property or area is zoned for commercial use before final negotiations are entered into for its occupation as offices. If the planning authority takes exception to such use it has powers to require the occupier to cease engaging in such activities. Similarly, it has powers to regulate every sort of alteration and even decoration externally, and these powers are often rigorously applied. Even the flying of a house flag comes under the jurisdiction of the planning authority and can be forbidden.

Accordingly, planning requirements appertaining to any particular property or site must be very thoroughly investigated, as failure to comply can be very costly.

13. Site Considerations

In addition to the factors already discussed, there are three further points that should be considered when selecting an actual location. These are:

  1. The site should be of easy access and easy to find. It is very frustrating for visitors, especially customers, when they have difficulty in locating the office.
  2. Sites on hills, particularly when the location is adjacent to or near traffic lights, should be avoided if at all possible. The noise of motor vehicles travelling in low gear can be very distracting to the office workers, and this is made much worse if cars and lorries have to stop at traffic lights and then start up again. This may seem to be a small point, but can lead to the lowering of staff efficiency and eventually, perhaps, to considerable expense in installing double glazing to reduce the ingress of noise.
  3. Equally, sites near existing or possible future airports should be avoided unless there are specific reasons for such a choice. Aircraft noise can be very distracting to staff and is less easy to dampen than even motor vehicle noise. In addition, of course, the proximity of an airport of any size adds to staff travel problems.

14. Building Layout

The location of offices and departments within the office building is very important both from the point of view of convenience and also from the point of view of security. (The security aspects are dealt with in Chapter 26.) Each undertaking will have different priorities concerning the detail of where departments and individual offices should be situated, but there are some general rules that can be observed with advantage, which can be enumerated as follows:

  1. The reception area should be on the ground floor (it is surprising how many cases exist where this is not so) and as short a distance from the car park or other site entrance as possible. It should not be possible to gain access to the service offices and departments without going through the reception area, which should be staffed at all times.
  2. Departments doing similar or complementary work should be close to each other; for example, the sales office should be adjacent to the sales order office.
  3. Departments which can be expected to receive many callers should be close to reception; for example, the sales office (where customers are expected) or the buying office (where sales representatives can be expected).
  4. Service offices, such as typing and duplicating, should be located as centrally as possible for easy access by user departments.
  5. Offices where cash is handled – for example, the wages depart­ment – should be positioned so that access from outside is not direct.
  6. If any departments are concerned with activities needing particularly good lighting, such as drawing, then these offices are best located on the top floor, and preferably equipped with north lights.
  7. Rooms reserved for meetings and discussions should be in the least noisy parts of the building, though it may be convenient to have a waiting/interview room adjacent to the reception area.

15. Removing Office

There can be no hard and fast rules about the actual removal of the office to a new address, though general guidelines can be suggested.

First, from the moment when a decision has been made to move to a new location, a specific member of staff should be appointed as the responsible officer to look after or oversee all aspects of the removal, including, where necessary, effecting liaison with the architect or consul­tant if one is being employed. This responsible officer should ideally be the office administrator, in which case some of his day-to-day responsibi­lities should be taken over by a deputy.

Well in advance of the move all outside contacts including customers, suppliers and others with whom close relations must be maintained should be notified of the new address. It must be appreciated that loss of continuity of contact in these cases might be detrimental to the future well-being of the organisation.

Again, some time in advance of the removal, consideration must be given to the recruitment of staff for the new location, to replace those currently employed who have decided not to move with the organisation and also to fill the additonal vacancies created by the expansion giving rise to the move. Where the new address is close to the existing one interviews can take place at the present location, but where the new office premises are some distance away then arrangements must be made for interviews in that area, perhaps by having an interviewing room made ready well in advance of the major move.

A carefully organised plan must be worked out for the actual removal of the various departments so as to cause the minimum of dislocation of work. Some departments, such as accounts, can be moved piecemeal: this is particularly the case where there is little external contact. Where there is considerable communication externally, however, particularly in relation to sales, the whole department should be moved at once. Continuity of communication is extremely important in these cases. It is important, therefore, to ensure that telephones are connected at the new offices promptly and in good time for the arrival of the departments concerned. Arrangements should also be made for the automatic redirec­tion of telephone callers who ring the old number.

Similarly, arrangements must be made with the Post Office for the redirection of mail.

Finally, the opportunity should be taken at this time to clear from files and cupboards material that has become out of date and redundant, and which has been hoarded over the years. The same remarks, of course, also apply to furniture and equipment that is no longer of use.

Source: Eyre E. C. (1989), Office Administration, Palgrave Macmillan.

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