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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Does your start-up really need an office space?

At the beginning of your business journey, you really need to ask yourself if you can do without the traditional coporate setting

In the modern world of start-ups, an actual bricks-and-mortar workspace is rarely a necessity. Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg
In the modern world of start-ups, an actual bricks-and-mortar workspace is rarely a necessity. Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

Let me tell you what happened last week: I met with a couple of university students who wanted to intern at my new media company.

We met over coffee, and they were pretty excited to discuss all the details, until I mentioned the word "office". Their expressions turned, as they were waiting to hear what I was going to say about it.

When I said that I don’t have one because it doesn’t make sense for my business model, they were relieved. “In this day and age, an office space is old-school,” blurted one of them. I can’t say that I don’t agree.

One of the reasons I left the corporate world was so that I could have my freedom in terms of space and time. There are days when I pull an all-nighter, and days when I race the birds at sunrise, but in either case, the work is done no matter where I am. That is what’s important, and what the interviewees I met pointed out. They mentioned that as long as the work gets done, which most of it is over email, then was it necessary to meet every day?

As a millennial, I’m totally against having an office (if your business model permits). My newest venture is a media company that relies on the work of contributors from around the region, so technically I don’t need the space at all, and instead do a lot of travelling to meet people and generate content. In some cases, you have to have an office space but in others, and especially at the start-up phase and early stages of your business, you really don’t.

If you’re at the start-up phase and considering an office space, here’s why you shouldn’t:

It would save you money

Let’s face it, in this day and age, office rentals aren’t exactly cheap. No matter where you are, even if you opt for a co-working space, opting for an office will mean that a percentage of your budget, will go towards it. For many entrepreneurs, this a sum that they could utilise for something else.

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It’s unnecessary

When I tell some people that my new company doesn’t have an office, especially those from an older age group, they wouldn’t take my business seriously. In reality, an office is prestige, and translates to success for many people. Yet in many cases, especially at a time when most of our work can be done online, there’s actually no point in having an office. For instance, in my case, my work day is spent at meetings, travelling, and working from my laptop. If I had an office, I’d barely be in it, and my money would go to waste.

A more balanced lifestyle

There are two schools of thoughts here. Some would argue that you can be easily distracted by things at home, especially if you have kids and responsibilities and thus it’s better to conduct work somewhere else. The others would argue that because you are at home, then you would have less worry and be more productive. I’m with the latter, especially if you are strict with yourself. Because I am in more control of my day, I’m stricter with myself. I make sure to work at set hours, and I make sure that my friends and family are aware of that and thus I’ll remain undisturbed throughout. If I decide to work from a space outside my home on a specific day, I’ll make sure that the environment is suitable and I’ll be able to finish my work there. I found that following the latter model made me have a more balanced lifestyle and be more productive. In the future, and if my team grows, then having a space might make more sense. But even so, it will not be traditional and it will allow my team members to have flexibility.

Are you afraid that you may not be successful without an office space? Here is a real-life example of a company that went on to become successful without one: Calixa Therapeutics, a drug development company that worked with contracted employees and sold for $90 million. Having an office ultimately is great. But at the start-up phase you need to be strict and realistic with yourself.

If you business can function normally, and the space wouldn’t hinder your success and progression in any way, then do without until you can afford, and also need to have the space.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer who manages her branding and marketing consultancy in Abu Dhabi