You would think that architects and engineers would pay better attention to the location of their own office space. For many firms, location analysis and site selection for office facilities is part of the work they do for clients. Yet, I see a lot of problems related to office location in my travels— in some cases, downright horrible office locations.I don’t know if the owners of these firms are just cheap or if they don’t know any better. Special situations certainly exist— some (or all) of the owners of the A/E/P or environmental consulting firm may also own the building, and what’s good for the building corporation isn’t always good for the professional services firm. But the fact remains that these poorly situated offices are hurting these firm owners in ways they may not even consider.Three aspects of office location deserve scrutiny for firms in this business. They are: 1) impact on staff productivity; 2) impact on the firm’s ability to get work; and 3) impact on the firm’s ability to recruit staff. Let’s look at these one at a time:Impact on staff productivity. Just last week, I visited a multidiscipline firm’s branch office located in an old, four-story Victorian-era townhouse in a downtown urban area. The neighborhood is so bad, employees are afraid to get there too early or stay too late. No one wants to work on weekends. In fact, on the morning of the day I arrived, two people were found murdered in alley alongside the building!Obviously, the location of this firm’s office is hurting them. Yet, when you ask the firm owners about getting some new space, they’ll tell you they would lose $50,000 in the sale of their building. My response is “So what? You can make up the $50,000 in the first six months in productivity alone. And what would the financial, emotional, and productivity implications be of an employee getting hurt or killed?” Location is only one of the problems with this office. Another is that the space is so chopped up, staff communications are damaged greatly (but that’s a subject for another article).Impact on ability to get work. While suburban space may be cheaper on a per square-foot basis, firms may be better off in a downtown area or within the limits of the largest city in their area. I see a lot of small firms doing work in disciplines or markets where selection is politically driven, yet the owners won’t face up to the fact that their suburban location hurts their ability to get the type and size of projects they want. For example, a civil engineering firm that does public works-type projects will probably not be able to get work from the City of Dallas from an office location in Duncanville, a Dallas area suburb.Impact on ability to recruit staff. Location of an office is critical to a firm’s ability to recruit, especially in some of the older (and larger) urban areas in this country. In a major city, access to public transportation can be critical, especially if housing costs are so high that very few people can afford to live close by. Firms with offices that people can reach by train will probably have an easier time getting staff than those people can reach by car.For firms located in areas where there is no decent public transportation, another important consideration is access to parking. We have one client that provides parking to all of its staff, but with one hitch. Employees have to walk a half-mile between their office and the parking lot. In the winter, this is a major cause of grumbling. In one case, a potential new employee actually turned the firm’s offer down over the parking situation.Then there’s the whole issue of where the talent is. I can tell you that here in Boston, firms that are either downtown or in Cambridge have more talent available to them than equivalent firms in the “hinterland suburbs.” This is simply because there are a lot of other firms to recruit from with offices nearby. Job seekers don’t face as much disruption in their personal routine when they change jobs, because they stay in the same neighborhood.I’m convinced that a change in office location could be good for many A/E/P or environmental firms or their satellites. Have you thought about it lately?Originally published 1/23/1995.
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