It can be an exciting time when your business is growing and things are really starting to take off. A growing business does however, more than likely present a new set of problems that need to be addressed, to allow the business to continue to grow and execute effectively. One of these challenges is often moving the physical location of a business from a home office, to what some would call a "real" office. Alternatively a small business that already occupies some small office space may need to expand into larger premises to accommodate additional employees and equipment. The location, size and cost of a new office are likely near the top of any list of requirements, with technical requirements often being somewhat of an afterthought. This document focuses on helping every small business owner identify which technical requirements are important, and why they need to be evaluated when searching for a new office location.
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New Office Technical Considerations and Questions to Ask
- Ask about the Internet. Office buildings sometimes display banners on the exterior stating that their offices are Comcast Cable ready. If this is the case, then you don't have to worry about the Internet, right? Well if you don't need a huge amount of bandwidth and don't mind sharing the connection with other offices in the building, then you might be in good shape. However, if the success of your business depends on having a dedicated and scalable Internet connection, then you should dig into this and ask more questions to find out what the options are, and if you have any control over making a choice. You may also want to consider bundling Internet service with phone service, and even television service if your business requires it.
- How is the outside world (Internet) connected to the building? This is important as it will determine what your options are for your Internet access. Ask if both cable and phone lines are wired to the building and if there is a dedicated phone line for each office (in the case of a multi-business building). Having access to a dedicated phone line will enable DSL as an option for Internet. Find out if there is any fiber already wired to the building and if so, who the service provider is for a service such as FiOS. If you think your business will ever grow to require one or more T1 lines, then make sure this is a possibility. Also check if metro Ethernet or fixed wireless Internet is available. Ask if there are any Service Level Agreements (SLA) in place for uptime guarantees. If the available Internet does not match what you need, and there are not definite assurances on the availability, then do not sign a lease, and continue your search for office space.
- What network equipment exists and can you change or add to it? Evaluating networking equipment is likely going to be a little outside your knowledge base, so focus on determining if any routers and switches are dedicated to your office or are shared across the building. You can potentially run into network congestion issues if you are sharing switches with other businesses that have heavy network use. Ideally the network is setup internally to ensure that each business located in a building has its own equipment and a clean path to and from the Internet. Additionally, if you already own some network equipment and want to add it to the network at your new office location, you need to find out is that is allowed, and if it will be easy or a challenge to install. Ask about the HVAC and wiring closet space and cabling to make sure it will actually fit and be sufficiently cooled.
- How is the internal network secured? Another reason for ensuring the internal network is partitioned correctly within a building is to ensure effective network security. You obviously do not want anyone from another business located inside your shared building hacking into your computers, or passing on any viruses.
- Is there a network admin available? Find out if there are any costs involved with this and if you are allowed to hire a network administrator as and when required.
- Is there a WiFi network? Although a basic WiFi network is easy to install, it creates another cost and takes time to setup. Find out if this is already available and confirm that it is dedicated to your office and encrypted. Ask if if supports the 802.11n standard or if it is only 802.11a and 802.11g. Having 802.11n support will increase your maximum wireless network throughput from 54Mbit/s to 600 Mbit/s.
- What type of phone service exists, are phones provided, and what are the options? Is there a PBX in the building that every phone line is tied in to and are the calls then routed directly to the PSTN? Will you be allowed to by-pass this if you decide that a hosted phone solution is the best and most cost effective choice for your business? How many phone lines already exist and what can you scale to? Can you port your existing numbers to this new location? A hosted phone service will undoubtedly be the lowest cost, most scalable and most feature rich phone solution, but it is dependant on sufficient Internet bandwidth availability. To learn more about the different options for office phone service, and to review some of the most popular providers, please visit our main business section. A further question to ask that is related to the phone service, is that in the case of a multi-office building with shared space, it is important to find out if a receptionist is available. If there is no shared receptionist to answer calls, and if you do not plan to hire one, then you will need to figure out who is going to answer incoming calls. Alternatively you can use auto-attendant software to create an automated answering service.
- What wiring is installed? Check to ensure that there is CAT5/5e or CAT6 Ethernet cable to every cubicle and office and find out if it supports Power over Ethernet (PoE) as that will remove the need for power supplies if you decide to use IP phones. If Ethernet cabling does exist (and it should), ask if it supports Gigabit Ethernet speeds. The Gigabit support will be determined by the type of switch the cables are actually terminated on. Also check to see where there are RJ-11 phone line ports as you will likely need these for your fax machines.
- Is the office secured by an alarm system? First and foremost confirm that an alarm actually exists. Secondly, find out what happens if the alarm is triggered and if it is monitored 24x7 by a security company that will alert the authorities. You are likely going to have a lot of assets in your office that are critical to the operation of your business, so make sure you are 100% comfortable with the security system and procedures. It goes without saying that every building should comply with fire codes and have fire alarms and smoke detectors installed. You should also check if there is a sprinkler system installed. There is likely very little that you can do about these alarms after you sign the lease, so make sure you know what you are getting.
- What about protection from power outages? Ask if there is any backup power available in the event of a power outage. Internal office networks should ideally have an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) installed to ensure routers, switches and servers remain active during a power outage.
New Office Walk Through Checklist
Every business has different office requirements ranging from basic needs that require only one or two phones and less need for higher Internet access speeds, to businesses such as a small call center that will have very specific technical needs and require many phones and faster Internet. Regardless of what you think you need, we recommend that you print out the following technical checklist and use it to help with your evaluation of each office. Choosing an office with the best possible technical features may even help with your business insurance rates. For convenience, you can download the checklist here. The following provides the structure of the checklist:
|T1 or T3|
|Service Level Agreement (SLA) Exists|
|Allowed to modify as required|
|Outside Wiring that is already installed||Phone Lines to PSTN|
|Office Wiring (Ports available at Desktop)||Single Category 5/5e/6|
|Multiple Category 5/5e/6|
|Phone line (RJ-11)|
|Power over Ethernet (PoE)|
|VPN Router (allows remote access)|
|Switch (non PoE)|
|WiFi Access Point (802.11a/g)|
|WiFi Access Point (802.11a/g/n)|
|Network Support Available|
|Allowed to modify as required|
|Dedicated phone lines to Desktop|
|Dedicated phone lines to Fax location|
|Desktop phones already installed|
|Conference phones already installed|
|Allowed to modify as required|
|Security System||Security alarm exists|
|24x7 Monitoring when active|
|Active monitoring via PSTN|
|Active monitoring via Internet|
|Active monitoring via Cellular|
|Complete Access Control|
|Power Outage Protection||Uninterruptible Power Supply Installed|
|Other||In ceiling projectors installed & available|
|Fire alarm installed|
|Smoke alarms installed|
|Sprinkler System installed|
|Shared building receptionist|
Conclusions and Recommendations
Let's face it, choosing a new office location is unlikely going to be an easy task and there is a long list of things to consider, besides the aforementioned technical items. Adding to the challenge, office spaces come in many different shapes and sizes, from stand-alone buildings to shared office space. The key thing is to actually make sure that you do in fact consider these, as the long term success of your business could ultimately depend on some of these technical factors. There is a good chance that you will run into some unexpected issues when moving your business and any such issues could result in some unexpected costs, or even worse, impact your businesses productivity and revenue. This list of considerations and our checklist are aimed at mitigating those risks, and helping you ensure that enough up front questions are asked, to ensure you avoid any major technical mishaps. Even if you don't think these are important right now, they may be one day, so ask away.
Office Finder - Helps you in narrowing down the search for a new office.
Regus - Office information for any size of business.
Vonage Business - Low cost and feature rich office phone solutions that are hosted in the cloud.
Choosing an ISP - List of things to consider when choosing and ISP for your business.