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  The Home Office From Hell™  

     Finding The Perfect Office Mate

The Eight Key Things to Make Sharing Office Space Work for You

By Jeff Landers

In my previous column, we discussed how sharing office space with another business can be a great opportunity for entrepreneurs looking for low-cost, flexible space and a more casual environment for their business. Shared Office Space is a great opportunity for some businesses to really create their own unique culture and send a message about who they are and why they are different from the competition.

But sharing space means you are a close neighbor to your office mates without the benefit of a fence. So, you are not only looking for a great office space, but also a great partner, a business that compliments your work habits and style. Choose the right one and you have a match made in heaven. Choose wrong and well, you've moved out of your home office from hell into yet another fiery pit.

Take Eileen K., a graphic designer from Phoenix, Arizona. She thought she was making great choice by sharing a cool space with a young Internet advertising start-up. “I thought I might get some work out of the relationship and meet new contacts,” she told me. Turns out, the company was poorly managed by an absentee boss and the employees were not nearly as serious about their work as Eileen.

Their disruptive work habits started to interfere with Eileen's business. “The guys had a late night strategy session the night before I had a big presentation for a new client. The meeting must have gone long and they ordered pizza and beer. Problem is, they left the conference room and kitchen a complete mess and the meeting room smelled like stale beer,” Eileen explained. “Instead of going over my client presentation, I spent the morning scouring the office. I got the client, but I realized I had moved in with the wrong team. We just didn't share the same values.”

And that says it all. If you are going to share space, it's crucial that you get in bed with the right people. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are looking at you. Ask the right questions. Don't be intimidated. And listen to your gut, if it feels wrong - even if you can't figure out why - run! Here are my eight tips to help you find the perfect office mate.

  1. Think Clean!
    Take a good, thorough look at the office. Are the bathrooms scrubbed? Are the waste baskets emptied and the carpets vacuumed? Has the refrigerator been cleaned out in the last week or does it look more like a science experiment? This office is going to speak for you. Make sure it sends the right message to your clients.

  2. Check Out the Culture
    Who are the people with whom you will spend 40 to 60 hours a week in this office? Ask them about their business, their hours, their clients and how they run their business? -- You might raise an eyebrow or two if one of their clients is the Hells Angels! Find out if you will have complete access to the conference room or if you will be put on a schedule. Look at what they are wearing, how they interact with each other. Be curious. Take an interest in them. Then, imagine your business in the space. If you can't see yourself there, it's not the right place for you.

  3. Make A Special Note of the Things that Could Drive You Crazy
    Thinking ahead will help you stave off potential problems. What is important to you? What about your new roomie might prove annoying or challenging for your business? If the office is loud and raucous, but you need quiet to get your business done, this may not be the space for you. Make a list of everything you need and make sure this situation will enable you to get it.

  4. Details! Details!
    Make yourself look at the little things. Are there flowers in the bathrooms? Does the receptionist have tattoos and tongue piercings and is that in line with your company's image? Are your office mates friendly and professional to strangers? The little things say a lot about your business, so you need to be looking at the minutiae now before you move in. Make small talk. Assistants and receptionists are good sources on the real deal of a company. Start up a conversation and see what you learn!

  5. Catch the Vibe
    How does the office feel? Do you feel tense as soon as you walk in? Are people smiling and working together in groups? Is the boss screaming at the employees? Do the employees seem serious about their work or are they more intent on goofing off? Their vibe needs to jive with your vibe. Take a second to step back and see how you feel when you are in the office. If you want to flee, then do it!

  6. Does the Company Seem Stable and Legal?
    You want stability for your business, so if a company is fragile, in danger of losing their lease or hemorrhaging money, you want to go somewhere else. You can't be a mind reader, so do some research. Ask people in their industry about them or do a simple Internet search. Know how long they have been in the space and whether they have moved around a lot. Ask questions. Transparency is the key here and your gut reaction will almost always be right. If they give you rational and specific answers that is a good sign. Too much hype without substance or shadowy information is a sign to turn tail. Trust yourself and think about what is good for your business first.

  7. Imagine Your Dream Client in the Space
    You know who your clients are and what is important to them. More importantly, you know who you want your next clients to be. Picture your dream client coming in to your office to meet you. Is this the kind of office that underscores who you are? Can you make a great impression here? Will your corporate clients think your office is too “downtown” or will they see you as more “creative” than your corporate counterparts? Is there anything about this office that might make it hard to bring in new clients? If you can picture making a great impression with clients and accomplishing some excellent work, you may very well have a match made in heaven!

  8. Legal Stuff - The Devil's in the Details
    I've saved the boring but essential legal stuff for last. Since sharing office space is technically a subletting, the most important question is, does the tenant, your potential office mate, have the right to sublease? Many times they do not and even if they do, in 99% of the cases, the landlord's written permission is required.

    Okay, so what should you do to protect your business? Get yourself a lawyer who specializes in office and sub-leases to do a thorough read-through of the lease. A few hundred dollars spent upfront can save you thousands down the road - not to mention the lost time and aggravation.

Jeff Landers is a serial entrepreneur who has worked in commercial real estate since 1974. His company,, helps small businesses nationwide make the leap from home office to “real” office with simple and cost-efficient alternatives. His advice has helped thousands of small businesses reach the next level of their development. You can reach him at

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