From the February 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

You don't need a freestanding building, and you don't want the hassles of maintaining a property, but you'd still prefer to own -- rather than rent -- your business location. The solution? An office condominium.

Office condos are not for everyone, but many entrepreneurs have discovered that buying office space rather than renting it saves money and adds to their asset base, says Neil Barone, president of Barone Commercial Resources Inc., a commercial real estate brokerage company in Brielle, New Jersey.

On the plus side, an office condo lets you build equity and enjoy a number of tax advantages. Drawbacks include little or no room for expansion, the possibility of difficulties when you want to sell the property, and the risk that the property could depreciate significantly in value in a depressed real estate market.

Barone says office condos were a great investment back in the mid-1980s, when properties were appreciating significantly every year. Although the market crashed in the late '80s, it now appears reasonably stable again. "Office condominiums are not appreciating as much as they once did," Barone says. "So if you buy a condo, it should be because you want to save on rent and build equity, not because you see it as an investment that you can sell for a quick profit."

Just about any type of established business that can predict its space needs with reasonable certainty is a candidate for an office condo. Barone advises consulting your accountant first to determine whether you will benefit financially from owning rather than leasing.

Finding a business condo can take a bit of work. New projects are generally well-marked, but most established business complexes don't let owners post signs for resales. Check commercial real estate classified ads or contact a real estate broker to start your search.

Bad Apple

Are bad bosses behind your employee turnover?

If you're having trouble keeping good people, you may have a "people churner" in your organization, says John A. Challenger, executive vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an international outplacement firm based in Chicago. Challenger says a people-churner is basically a bad boss who can't be dislodged because of a strong political connection or because he or she is considered a star performer.

If turnover is a problem in your company, Challenger recommends doing an honest review of the circumstances under which people have left, whether it was a voluntary departure or not. Is turnover especially prevalent in a particular department? Are there certain people, or maybe just one person, people just don't want to work for or with?

If you can identify a people-churner, Challenger says, "Think through what your organization is losing." At the same time, consider the value the offending manager brings to the table. If the manager is too valuable to let go, develop a plan to help him or her recognize and correct the problem. "Nobody really wants to be a bad boss," Challenger says. He suggests providing counseling or executive coaching. If that doesn't work, consider putting someone with strong interpersonal skills between the people-churner and the people he or she manages. As an absolute last resort, recognize that sometimes you may have to terminate the manager if the damage he or she is doing outweighs the positive contributions he or she makes.

If your review of turnover patterns reveals that you're a people-churner, Challenger recommends finding someone to manage the people side of your business. It may be an ego-bruising process, but it's the only way your company will grow.

Higher Power

Should your office get religion?

They've been a discrete presence in the workplace since the early part of this century, providing counseling, offering referrals and sometimes just listening. And as companies become increasingly committed to creating quality working environments, workplace chaplains are growing in number and visibility. Diana Dale, founder of the Institute of Worklife Ministry, the mentoring and training arm of the Worklife Institute in Houston, says that more and more businesses are utilizing chaplains.

"Many of today's employee-assistance programs started as in-house corporate chaplaincies or pastoral counseling departments," Dale says. Diversity in the workplace and concerns about providing services on a nonsectarian basis prompted companies to adopt the term "employee-assistance program," but many of those departments are still being run by ordained clergy who have been trained as business or industrial chaplains.

Workplace chaplains don't promote any particular faith, but when a need is expressed, they can incorporate spiritual issues into a counseling situation. Dale says that workplace chaplains assist companies with ethics issues, including establishing and communicating ethics policies, conflict resolution, violence mitigation, crisis management and critical-incident debriefing.

"When there's been a serious industrial accident, a suicide or violence in the workplace, everybody can be traumatized and it can take the whole company down," Dale says. "Whether it does depends on [whether it's] dealt with immediately." Bringing in a chaplain to help employees work through their emotions after a crisis can be crucial to the healing process.

Chaplains are also often a resource for employees with personal problems. "Our spiritual or theological foundation is that each person is of infinite worth and value, and the workplace is a major area where people live out their sense of who they are, their worth and their vocation," says Dale.

What about the theory that personal issues should be left at home? That's simply not realistic, Dale says, especially when so many people link their personal self-image with who they are in the professional world.

Smaller companies without an in-house employee-assistance program can utilize workplace chaplains on a fee-for-service basis, says Dale, who also serves as president of the National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains (NIBIC), a professional organization of clinically trained chaplains. For a referral to a trained and credentialed workplace chaplain in your area, contact the NIBIC at (713)266-2456.

This Is Only A Test . . .

What you should do in the event of a real emergency.

You'd like to think it won't happen to you, but the reality is that disasters can happen to any company, and often strike without warning. Disasters come in all sizes and shapes--from hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and utility failures--and your business' survival depends on how well-prepared you are.

"The responsible thing to do for your company is to plan for disaster," says Sally Ramey of Carolina Power & Light in Raleigh, North Carolina. Your local utility companies can help you develop a plan for dealing with power, water and telephone outages. The Red Cross and emergency-management agencies can help with other aspects of disaster preparedness.

Always put your plan in writing. Copies should be maintained in your office and in the possession of key people in your organization.

Ramey says the general areas your plan should cover include:

  • Communications. Include current contact information of all key company personnel and critical outside resources. Include how you'll keep employees and customers informed.
  • Staff responsibilities. Establish a chain of command and clarify who is responsible for what to avoid duplication of efforts or the possibility that a critical task won't be done.
  • Supplier issues. Ask what emergency plans your vendors have and whether they're equipped to handle special needs during a disaster.
  • Data protection. Develop a data-backup program to assure that critical information won't be lost in the event of a power outage, fire or flood. (See "Bytes," September 1998.)
  • Operations. Protect your company with emergency lighting, sprinkler systems, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, clearly marked utility shut-offs and backup generators. Train employees to use emergency systems, as well as evacuation procedures.
  • Security. How will you preserve the safety and security of your employees and your facility if something happens? Know who has keys to the building, and keep duplicate sets in a secure place both on- and off-site.
  • Relocation. If your facility is inaccessible or unusable, what are your options for relocating--both temporarily and permanently?

Once your plan is written, practice it. "Disaster drills are critical to an effective response to an actual situation," says Ramey. "Drills make sure everyone not only knows what to do, but that they've also done it already."

Finally, evaluate your plan periodically to make sure all the information is current and your strategy is consistent with your needs.

Reality Check

What's the true impact of affirmative action on productivity?

When companies use affirmative action as part of their recruiting and hiring process, how does it affect their employment outcomes? Critics say it forces companies to hire less-qualified and less-productive workers, which translates into greater inefficiencies. Advocates maintain it provides opportunities for women and minorities without compromising performance.

Professors of economics Harry J. Holzer and David Neumark of Michigan State University in East Lansing performed a survey of 3,200 employers from 1995 to 1996 and concluded that affirmative action has little, if any, effect on worker performance.

"In terms of qualifications on paper, minorities hired under affirmative action look a little weaker, but in terms of job performance, [they're comparable]," says Holzer. "It seems that companies engaging in affirmative action do things to compensate. They recruit more broadly, screen more intensely, and pay less attention to the types of characteristics that usually stigmatize employees."

Holzer says the numbers indicate that such employees aren't necessarily less able, and that, with adequate training, they can perform up to the company's standards. But it's taken companies a long time to figure out exactly how to make affirmative action really work. "In the absence of affirmative action, they might not have put the time and effort into ways of generating good minority and female employees, but now that these programs are in place, they don't want to let go of them," Holzer says.

Indeed, in today's tight labor market, Holzer says, "[Companies] need to find workers from groups they might not traditionally hire from who can still do the job." Which means that, even if you aren't required by the government to engage in affirmative action, it may be good practice to do so voluntarily.

Family Matters

Small businesses find creative ways to help employees with child care.

Because child care is one of the biggest challenges facing working parents, businesses of all sizes are becoming increasingly creative in their efforts to assist employees with this critical need. It's a smart move because employees who aren't distracted by worrying about their children are more productive -- and when child care is reliable, the absenteeism rate drops.

Jan Castagnoli is seeing more companies getting involved with the child-care issue. As the owner of Koalaty Time, a learning center in West Des Moines, Iowa, Castagnoli, 46, is often approached by companies looking to help their employees find affordable, quality child care.

After two companies contacted her wanting to negotiate special pricing for their employees, Castagnoli decided to offer a 10 percent discount to any business with children from a minimum of 20 families enrolled in her center. The discount provided a cost-free employee benefit for the company, and it's a deal you may be able to seal with a reputable child-care provider in your area. If your company doesn't have the volume of employees to merit a discount, Castagnoli recommends forming alliances with one or two other businesses.

Another service popular with employers is what Castagnoli calls the work-option program, which functions as a backup child-care provider. Employers contract with Koalaty Time to provide a certain number of unscheduled hours, which employees can use if their regular sitter is unavailable for any reason.

Before approaching any child-care provider to arrange special pricing or services, Castagnoli recommends talking to your employees to find out what they want, need and can afford. She says, "You have to look at what will work for the employee, employer and the child-care facility."

Contact Sources

Carolina Power & Light, (919) 546-6189, fax: (919) 546-6615

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., (312) 332-5790, http://www.outplacement-chalenger.com

Koalaty Time, 1300 Eighth St., West Des Moines, IA 50265, (515) 251-7688