The Perfect Match: Finding The Ideal Office Space In Dubai
With more and more businesses setting up in Dubai every day, a major concern is the availability of suitable office space. According to a survey published by Dubai Silicon Oasis and Google MENA in October 2014, technology startups were estimated to have increased by 45% in 2012 across MENA- more than double the global average. Also, according to the Dubai Expo team, SMEs are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries of the six-year build-up to the Expo 2020 from 2015 to 2021.
The Expo will help attract additional foreign direct investments (FDIs), new businesses, and more skilled workers, while also increasing Dubai’s competitiveness in the global business arena. By 2020, Dubai is expecting approximately 200,000 new businesses to be established. Right now the increase in new business setting up in the UAE is up around 50% on last year. This means an immediate and urgent need for office space.
While this is exciting news for the Dubai economy and for the property industry, do we really have the commercial office available to meet the demands of the markets? Traditionally in Dubai, there has been a shortage of commercial office space. Finding an available office in a centrally located area, or near a traditional business or financial area is one thing, but finding a commercial office building, which has all the services and facilities to deal with business requirement is another.
The Downside Of Makeshift Offices In Non-Commercial Buildings
Quite often, when a company can’t find or can’t afford to rent a commercial office in a tailor made office building, they opt for an office in a building which is licensed for mixed use. This means you might be renting an office in a building which is also residential. This could look like an ordinary apartment building, with homemakers traipsing downstairs to the local minimart and carrying bags upstairs, nannies and children in the lifts and so on. At the same time, business clients in suits, carrying briefcases will be sharing the same lift and walking down a corridor towards your office with the smell of residents cooking wafting through the air. This doesn’t exactly give the right professional image.
The real issue with these types of building though is the lack of facilities: visitor parking, reception services, nameplates for each business in the reception, bathroom facilities, maintenance and so on. A fully commercial building will have all of these things, including uniformed security staff, maintenance staff, reception staff who can sign guests in or ring up to your office to inform you they are here along with a very corporate, professional physical façade in the lobby to give the right image. There is definitely a shortage of this kind of commercial office space in Dubai at the moment.
Are Serviced Offices The Solution?
Another option which is quite sought after by businesses is fully serviced offices. A serviced office takes everything to the next level. If you are a small firm, it may be that you simply don’t yet have the staff to perform certain tasks, such as service staff to serve tea and coffee to your clients, or a receptionist to man the phones or IT staff to help when your office technology suddenly goes haywire or even a cleaner to keep your office looking sparkling and professional.
A serviced office takes this away from you, so you simply rent your office space, and if you choose the right serviced office provider, you will be able to choose from a range of add on services such as reception services, 24/7 IT support, and much more.
This is also very popular with local branches of multinational firms which need an office space immediately. Their requirement is to have the most professional image possible with zero set up time. They simply need a fully serviced, fully functioning office immediately and do not have time to hunt down locations, negotiate lease contracts with landlords, choose office furniture, set up DEWA and internet connections, install a server and hire support staff (reception, IT, cleaning etc). They need everything available and fully functioning immediately and this is what a serviced office can provide. Again these vary significantly in the quality and range of services offered in Dubai, and there is very high demand for them. Some serviced offices, such as Sentinel Business Centres, offer flexible rental agreements. Some serviced offices offer a basic furnished space, but then you have to pay extra for each add on such as IT services, refreshment services, secretarial services etc. At Sentinel, we offer an all inclusive package with a range of services including on-site IT support, which we find is a huge attraction to our busy clients.
There is a definite gap in the market between the demand for serviced and commercial office space and actual supply. In fact, I believe that within the serviced office sector demand outstrips supply by a ratio of 2:1.
Making The Right Impression
When it comes to making the right first impression, your office can have an important role to play. When you invite clients for a meeting, interview potential staff, or interface with would-be investors, each of them will use it as a tool to build an idea of what your business has to offer. A well-maintained building with a professional, clean and sleek lobby creates a good first impression, and ideally this should be maintained throughout. You don’t want clients or investors walking into a dusty office with peeling paint, noisy air conditioning and neon lighting- this simply will not make them feel reassured, calm and confident in your abilities and levels of service.
If you’re in a creative industry, you might feel it’s vital to incorporate some funky décor and aesthetics. This can range from expensive and dramatic, to cost–effective yet impactful like soft furnishings, posters, and colourful paint effects on the walls.
Choosing The Perfect Office
The factors to consider when choosing an office space can be split into a few broad categories:
- Functionality, i.e. how it will serve your business on a day to day basis, budget, how soon you need to start,
- Licensing and legal issues
- Medium to long-term business plans and expected growth
- Finances and cash flow: what are the payments terms? Annual cheque, vs quarterly or monthly. If it’s an annual cheque, does this fit in with your projected cash flow?
- Design and Layout: Maybe you think an open space will enhance creativity and teamwork, but then again if you have someone roaring on the phone while you are trying to analyse a spreadsheet it can be counterproductive. Most research shows that people are most productive when they work alone, so trying to saving space and money with an open plan office is counterproductive. At the same time, this doesn’t mean working in isolation. Recent research shows that workers do better when they are more sociable. When one firm encouraged workers to take breaks at the same time, they became 10% more productive. This means that you do need common areas where people can take a break and meet, or have easy access to such places, e.g. a coffee shop, in your office location.
- Furniture: choose furniture that is durable, looks good and is comfortable and practical. If you choose beautiful chairs that are uncomfortable, you will have staff complaining about back problems endlessly and this could affect productivity.
- An effective, personalized workspace and intelligently engineered office furniture makes all the difference in our productivity and overall effectiveness. Do you need filing cabinets? Stacking trays? Phone points at each desk? Headphones? A quiet room? A meeting room? Fax machine? Printer? Secure locking file storage? If you can’t work out what you need, then bring on board someone, e.g. an experienced office manager in your specific industry, to make the list and work it all out.
- Positioning your furniture. Consider how to use the space inside your office. The desk should be positioned with a view of the office entrance and to make the most use of natural lighting.
Get it Right The First Time Round
Once you’ve read all the above, you might think it is impossible to pick a perfect office. The trick is to find something you can work with long-term, and adapt if you are signing up for a long term lease or investing a lot of money in fit-out and equipment. Don’t get carried away fitting out your dream office with an incredibly creative and beautiful interior, only to realise that you actually only have three staff members and all client meetings take place outside your office.
Look at your budget and avoid becoming fixated on a specific building or location, because you might love it but it might not be the best place for your business in the long term. Do you think you’ll grow your team in the next twelve months? If so you do you have space to accommodate more staff should this happen or will you have to move? If you have to move, have you calculated how much this will cost? Will you be able to afford to move?
Then think about practical matters, such as if your team grows from two people to eight or ten, will you then need a server? Do you have a server room? Do you have outsourced IT staff who can come in and help you? Do you know what they charge per hour and have you included this in your budget? Also, when your team grows, do you legally have permission to staff this many people in an office of this size? Are there health and safety regulations to consider?
Again, one solution is to rent a short-term fully serviced office, which will either buy you some time to adjust and work out your needs, or could in fact end up being the ideal permanent solution, if it is flexible enough to allow you to expand your physical space and add on a range of services as you grow.
Last but by no means least: location, location, location. This means two things in my book: physical location and onshore versus offshore licensing. Your physical location should be convenient for your clients and suppliers of course and your address should denote your area of business if possible. For example if you’re in the business of banking and finance, ideally you want to be close to the central business district.More importantly from a legal perspective though is the nature of your business and where it is licensed. It’s all very well to dream of decorating that beautiful office you saw in the perfect location on Sheikh Zayed Road, but if your business license is in a free zone and not DED, then you are legally required to rent an office space within that free zone, and you can’t just rent an office anywhere in Dubai. This is possibly the most important aspect to take into consideration when picking an office, but sometimes it drops to the bottom of the list after the business license is in process, and then it’s too late! We always recommend reviewing licensing and location at the same time, which is why it can be very helpful to speak to a business set-up consultant, and get all the information and details set out clearly in front of you right from the start to make sure you really do end up with your dream office, once all the hard work is done.
Prajit Arora is the founder and Managing Director across all Sentinel group companies (Sentinel Business Centres, Sentinel Storage LLC, Sentinel Security LLC, and Sentinel General Trading LLC), which boast of a number of multinational companies as clients. Growing up in Dubai, Prajit attended Dubai College and then went on study at the University of Dallas and the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a degree in Economics and Philosophy. He is also a member of the Omicron Delta Epsilon, the International Economics Honour Society. Prior to establishing Sentinel in 2003, Prajit began his career at Chase Contracting LLC in Dubai, where he started work on site working hands on before moving up through the ranks.