A few of my startup founder friends are deliberately choosing NOT to have a physical office.
Their logic is simple:
- Smaller utility costs (electricity, water, rent)
- No travel costs (gas AND cost of time lost to traffic)
- No furniture costs
- Mobile technology now allows for free video conference calls across the internet
Last weekend, we moved to our new office along Escriva Drive in Ortigas. It is the fifth office we are moving into. Our original office was in the living room of my condominium, where we used a friend’s second-hand restaurant furniture.
When I think about it, we could save a small fortune NOT having an office and going purely mobile. Here are reasons why we would probably never do this:
1) Actual Interaction Beats Mobile
I’m not talking about production here. There are actually some studies which say that production actually increases when people work from home. What I’m pertaining to is teamwork and a shared purpose.
There’s a reason why training companies (paid billions by companies around the world) do a lot of teambuilding through actual shared experiences. Have you seen any team building activity done online?
The best way camaraderie and teamwork are built? When you are working in the trenches together. When it’s the deadline in a few hours and the guy to your left and the girl on your right are downing Cobras with you and its crunch-time. It’s the pizza and drinks you share as you celebrate beating the deadline the next day. This reasons alone justifies the costs of running an actual office for me.
Hmmm. I can picture a company wiring you money to buy pizza, then you celebrating together with you on Skype – but you know what, I just think it wouldn’t be the same.
I was with a startup company before who chose to do it the mobile route. And I don’t know, there was just less energy and excitement with that route. That company has since closed down – there were a lot of other reasons why it did, but working on a purely mobile environment certainly did not help.
2) Working at Home is Tough
It’s funny. I know a ton of employees who want to work from home. But you know what, I know freelancers and founders who work from home who “want to take the next step” by working in an outside office. It’s not so surprising.
Have you ever tried working at home? Not only is your gaming console there, but there’s also your bed, your very comfortable couch, plus dozens of other distractions. There’s also perhaps your mom who would suddenly want you to buy eggs in the grocery, or maybe your 4-year old kid who needs your help in finishing a stage in Bad Piggies.
3) There’s Something Gratifying About Having a Home
I remember when Pao and I moved STORM from my condo to our first 20-square office space. We had just bought furniture and we were carrying it in. When we were placing the last table in its proper place, we looked at each other and couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t verbalized, but it was clear – STORM had a home at last, and this was a moment to be remembered.
4) Having an Office Enables Recruitment
Or, more accurately, not having an office cripples recruitment.
After a few months on the job, our new hotshot programmer, Angela told me that she was thisclose to not doing the interview with our company at all. She said that she was standing in front of our door for a good 15 minutes, thinking whether she should ring the bell or not. After all, it was a RESIDENTIAL room.
Angela went on to design and build our first flexible benefits systems – the lifeblood of our firm. Had she not rung, things might have been very different for us.
I remember last year when Applabs (mobile development startup) CEO Ian Atienza was working feverishly on the details of their new office in Eastwood – where every brick went, what piece of furniture went where, how the conference room looked like, how the colors went together. After a few weeks I saw the office and it was amazing. In the next few months, I saw the rewards of what Ian was sweating over: some people were saying yes to his job offer just on the basis of what the office looked like.
Of course, ultimately, what matters would be the type of work and the fit. But you know, having a nice-looking home helps plenty. Unfairly or not, an office adds legitimacy.
Ultimately, of course it will boil down to whether your startup can safely afford the costs of having a home. But as soon as you can financially afford it, don’t hesitate – it’s easier to build with a foundation in place.