How Flexible Are You, Really?


“Capable of being readily changed.” “Not bound by rigid standards.” “Able to bend easily without breaking.” “Able to revert to original size and shape after being stretched, squeezed or twisted.” While these definitions do a pretty good job of capturing what it means to be flexible, in the commercial real estate world deeper thought can be given to the term.

Flexibility, after all, can lead to immediate and long-term cost savings (if, say, you’re flexible enough to take a smaller, cheaper office) and a more pleasant working environment (if, you’re willing to stop whistling that damn Raffi tune).

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But there’s a really important reason to consider how adaptable your space is—and I know it all too well, as I’ve gotten plenty of phone calls about it recently. While I won’t name any names, let’s just say more than a few of them were grateful that we had designed their offices with flexibility in mind.

There’s the client who previously leased three floors of office space and swore up and down that they were going to need every square foot of it. That is, until one year later when a turn of events meant they would need to quickly sublease a full floor and a half of the other. And the hedge fund that needed to shut down and make a move…yesterday. Forethought saved the day!

Here are five ways to factor flexibility into your office plan:

1. Get a growth mindset. Early in lease negotiations is the best time to secure the proper options you’ll need. Make these questions part of your lease checklist. Are the floors you’re leasing contiguous? Will you have first dibs on the spaces above, below or to the side of yours if your neighbor vacates? Can you knock down that partition if the company expands? Though it seems elementary, it’s important that everyone, including your broker, architect and engineer make sure the details are spelled out.

2. Be ready to trim back. Take a moment to consider the flip side to the point above. Every expansion option needs a sublet option. If your company has a sudden change in plans—and per my anecdote above, it happens to even the most confident CEO—will you be able to pivot? Can you give back a full floor or sublet it with minimal financial impact? Are the architectural details in place to support sectioning off a portion of your space? Talk to your architect and your engineer about your design plans. Building in sublet options and approved structural changes into lease language can help take the pain out of change. If you have 20,000 square feet of space, plotting which 5,000 you place the mechanical systems in could make all the difference.

3. Make it an inside job. Flexibility starts from within and change often needs to turn on a dime. Natural partitions, or specially designed systems, can be easily manipulated to deal with growth or contraction. Flexible furniture can be repurposed according to your needs if purchased right from the start, rather than as an afterthought. How do you know you’ve gotten it right? Ask yourself if you can, over the course of a weekend, transform your space from five offices for 30 people to two conference rooms and an open office plan for 40.

4. Go multipurpose. Today’s offices call for spaces that can be used for many purposes. The best offices can be divided smaller if needed and then put back again. A training area can serve as seminar location one day, a large conference room the next. A simple swap-out of stored furniture can help a tenant make the most of their space.

5. Think tech. Investing in technology is a must for a flexible office space, whether it’s an iron-clad wireless network, the ability to work offsite in GoToMeeting or looking at IT redundancy with an eye on the specific requirements of each office. No matter what the level of needs, tech should be part of the overall leasing and planning of space.

With all this in place, you’ll be in a better position to do whatever it takes to keep your company moving forward faster, easier and with less expense—and what company wouldn’t want that?

Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group.