Beginner Tips for your First Shared Office

Sharing an office is a personal experience. Make sure it’s a good one.

Sharing an office space is like having a roommate. It’s a more personal relationship than you might expect, and there’s no end to the unexpected pitfalls. Office sharing is an easy way to save money and make new connections, but only if you’re sharing with the right company. Play your cards wrong and it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth.

For a newbie considering their first shared office, these are a few tips that I’d urge you to consider.

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1) Get it in writing
I’ll start with the obvious: as with all of your business operations, you want to finalize your lease in writing. Even if you’re informally staying with a friend’s company, make sure the landlord knows you’re there and everyone is clear on who owes what.

It’s especially important to clarify how much you’re paying and what your responsibilities are. The last thing you want is to get caught up with late rent, favors, and other things that have nothing to do with running your business.

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2) Is there a culture fit?
You know how important it is to build a strong culture with your team. Like it or not, sharing an office means adding a new team to your physical space. Even if you’re not actively working together, you’re going to interact, and that means you still want a culture fit.

On a practical level, it helps if both companies have similar working hours and off hours. It’s hard to stay focused when the next room over is having their happy hour.

More broadly, it’s nice if the two companies are at roughly the same stage of funding, or if the industries are similar. It gives┬áthe feeling that you’re all in the same boat. That feeling in itself is invaluable for building culture.

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3) What’s their target market?
There’s a delicate balance between working in the same industry as your officemates and being direct competitors with them. Needless to say, you don’t want to accidentally sign a lease with your competition. Social awkwardness and tension notwithstanding, you’d have to stay quiet when talking strategy even with your own team. If you’re not free to chat openly, you’re not going to feel comfortable in your office.

At the same time, it’s easier to chat with your officemates if they’re serving a similar market or if they’re in a different part of the same industry. The more similarities, the better, so long as you’re not direct competitors.

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4) Clarify the details
Surprises are rarely welcome in business. This is doubly true in lease fine print.

Don’t assume that you’ll have access to a given benefit just because the master tenant does. Perhaps there isn’t enough parking to accommodate two offices, or maybe you’ll have to split the utilities equally even though your company is smaller. Whatever the case may be, make sure you ask as many questions as you would if you were the primary tenant signing onto a multi-year commitment.

When you look at it this way, it isn’t much harder to share an office than it was to share your college dorm. Anyone can do it, and the same precautions that you used back in your teens still apply to the working world. Give a bit of special attention to the lease’s fine print, and you’re good to go.