The Office (It's not just a funny TV show!)

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Editor’s Note: We have a nice post from Gabor Cselle today, on a topic I’ve been chasing for a while — real estate. Gabor is the VP of Engineering at the Y-Combinator startup, Xobni. (Xobni optimizes your email. We’ve written about the company a few times, here.) I’ve been wondering if there are ways for entrepreneurs to leverage the imploding real estate market to their advantage. If any of you have tips on how to do this, or better still, if you’re a realtor with advice for our audience, please holler.

Where you run your shop will influence your company’s culture. So, this is a decision to take seriously. In this excerpt form his original post, we highlight Gabor’s rules for how to make the right decision in a space, as well as his tips for how to make your space a nice, constructive working environment for your startup.

You’re in a small startup and need to find office space for the team. What should you look for? I’m for inexpensive office space that works. No private offices, no prime office space, no pretentious architects or sixty story buildings.

Rule 1: Location, location, location!

The first rule in real estate also applies to startup offices. You need to be in a great location. At Xobni, we have found that being in San Francisco is invaluable for hiring. You want to be close to public transportation [and] close to the city center…

This is also important because it will give you proximity to industry conferences — and that will make it both easier and more cost-effective for you to attend them.

Rule 2. Accessible (cheap) food options are a must

At Xobni, we typically order in food for lunch and go out for dinner even though we have a fully stocked fridge and snack cabinet. You want to be in a place where this is possible without excessive travel; the hours after dinner are the most productive hours for writing code.

Rule 3. Subprime is perferred!

When we were shopping for office space, we looked at a lot of fancy commercial real estate. But as a startup, you won’t need fancy Class A space. Marble floors, and monumental glass-and-steel architecture won’t make your startup more successful. Paul Graham says: “Professional means doing good work, not elevators and glass walls.”

Rule 4. NO Open Layouts

People have very strong opinions about what office space layouts should look like. Joel, for example, is a strong proponent of private offices. I think private offices are well-intentioned but go overboard… My experience with cubicles is slightly better. [But] open layouts should be avoided. While everyone in the same room fosters communication, you’ll find that you can’t focus on complicated tasks because everyone interrupts everyone else all the time.

4a. Do organize in small groups:

We have rooms for 3-4 people each. This is about the size of an engineering subteam will have. Being around people who are all working on the same thing encourages communication about the right things, but keeps interruptions down.

4b. Do create a communal space — for meetings & group bonding (e.g. meals).

There’s also a “living room” with nice leather couches. We hold daily meetings with the entire team here. The huge plasma screen shows current bugs and work items, and stats about installs, beta signups, and plus support tickets.

4c. Have private space, like a nap room.

We also have a quiet nap room with a comfy couch. Taking naps at the workplace sounds unprofessional, but it does make everyone more productive.

Rule 5. Home is where the heart is. Decorate.

We didn’t get Class A space, but we did spend lots of time decorating our digs. We put opaque glass panes in a wall next to the living room to bring in more light. We painted our walls in Xobni colors, and put up blik wall decals. We recently gave everyone a $100 decoration budget for their personal workspaces.

5a. Buy nice office chairs for your staff

You only have one back and if you spend a lot of time in a chair, it better be a nice one. That’s why we spend money on Aerons, which we buy used from Craigslist. Everything else is Ikea.

Read Gabor’s entire post on how he and his colleagues created the right home for Xobni (including some nice pictures), here.

For tips on how to find a broker, a lawyer, or negotiate with the landlord, Gabor refers us to this handy post from New York-based software developer, Joel Spolsky.

Read still more about Gabor’s thoughts and career experiences (we worked previously at Google and Yahoo!) on his very appropriately named blog, Gabor’s Blog.

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