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What can go wrong when renting an office space?

You probably know the adage: ‘anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’.

It’s also known as Murphy’s Law – and in our first experience with renting our own office space, it has proven true to a terrifying degree. Let’s just say, luck has NOT been on our side. The last handful of weeks have left us flabbergasted at the amount of problems that have come our way. No matter how much you prepare, sometimes life is just a series of unfortunate events, stacked on top of each other.

We’ve read the ‘top 5 mistakes to avoid when renting an office space for the first time’ articles strewn about the internet. Of course, you need to be aware of who you’re leasing from, and be clear about the details and terms of the leasing agreement you sign. Of course, you need to check every seam of the office space to make sure you know what you’re spending money on. But no article prepared us for the troubles we’ve faced.

Here’s a list of the most significant things we weren’t expecting to be a problem:

  • Mold in our kitchen and bathroom after signing the contract

  • Getting proper office furniture

  • Establishing internet access

  • Having to deal with reverb

(There was way more than this, but it would be too long to go over every thing, big and small, that has gone sideways with our office.)

In this blog post, we will go over our office-renting journey and offer some tips – in a hopefully humorous, yet informative way – so that you can be better prepared if you’re ever renting an office space yourself.

Attack of the mold

Even though we followed procedure, and had checked out the lease before signing anything, we were still surprised. A severe case of mold was found in the bathroom during a routine inspection.

While you can try to fix mold with cleaning remedies, you cannot be sure it’s gone unless you get to its source. So to fix the mold problem at its root, our new landlord decided to rip up four layers of flooring, ceiling and outer walls of the kitchen and adjacent bathroom. While we appreciate the thorough solution to the mold problem, it does disrupt the whole ‘let’s rent and use this office space’ thing we were doing.

Craftsmen were hired to install new floor boards and kitchen appliances, which involved plasterboard ceiling, rockwool installation, loud drilling, and so on. That meant we had no kitchen nor bathroom to use. For 2 months, we’ve had to use the bathroom of nearby shops and public restrooms. At least until we got a master key to another nearby apartment also being renovated by our landlord.

So we had to postpone our usage of the office space as long as we could. However, it is better to have the problem before we move in, than later where it’s a much bigger upset. And it does mean the kitchen and bathroom is getting upgraded, so it’s a lose-win situation? Yay? Worth it?

What can go wrong when renting an office space?, Renting an office? 4 unlucky cases to learn from., Digital Devotion Games

Yep, no bathroom here.

Tip 1

Be aware that office spaces can suffer from all the same problems houses can. Make sure to talk with the landlord beforehand about such risks, and what the terms are in case it happens. We, for example, got a month of our rent paid back. Without a doubt a kind gesture from our landlord.

On the Hunt for Furniture

We made a deal with the landlord that we could move furniture into all the rooms that were ready, even though the kitchen and bathroom wasn’t.

So, off we went to acquire furniture. Earlier, we had scoped out Ikea for the tables we wanted (the ‘THYGE’ model) and had runningly checked their supply to make sure we could get them. But upon arrival we hear that they’re sold out – except for their legs – and that stock would not be refilled soon because of COVID-19.

Welp – then we went on a table hunt. But finding 8 office-ready tables that don’t exceed your Ikea-based budget is near impossible. We spent close to 13 hours driving around, negotiating with salesmen, checking auctions and visiting outlets. We even visited Mikkels brother, who apparently had 6 height adjustable tables laying around. But he had sold them off just 2 days before we visited him. Damn.

Our solution? Buy the legs of the first Ikea table and put them on the slightly more expensive table-surface of another Ikea table (the ‘BEKANT’ model). It did mean we had to put them together with no manual (crazy, I know), but it only cost us $30 more per table.

What can go wrong when renting an office space?, Renting an office? 4 unlucky cases to learn from., Digital Devotion Games

We call it the ‘Ikea Frankentable’.

Tip 2

If you don’t already own the stuff you need, nothing is guaranteed. Do your homework and think of plan B’s in case you aren’t able to follow plan A all the way.

Our table hunt did, however, mean we found two perfectly fine office chairs at sale for $8 each, which was a steal. So remember to check out outlets, auctions, and similar, where good deals can often be made.

Internet Troubles

The most troublesome challenge was without a doubt the lack internet. As a game development company, internet access is more than important for our day-to-day work. We could work without a bathroom, no kitchen, and some noise from renovation. But internet is necessary. It was one of our main demands when negotiating the office lease contract. We did everything we could to make sure we had internet day 1, checking in regularly with our landlord to express how important it was.

What can go wrong when renting an office space?, Renting an office? 4 unlucky cases to learn from., Digital Devotion Games

So that’s where they hid the internet!

But – life isn’t always easy.

We’re renting an office in an old building, so the wiring is a bit all over the place. To ensure that the internet was proper, Mikkel and a technician from a local internet provider went on a search to find where the ‘cortex’ cable was, so the technician could connect us ‘to the grid’. They ended up on the roof, in the cellar, inside the burger joint at the ground level – yeah, pretty much everywhere. With the ‘cortex’ cable nowhere to be found, electricians were then hired to fix it, so internet access could be established as soon as possible. We were assured the problem was fixed. And that the technician could hook up the internet next he came around.

Fast-forward 5 weeks and we are visited by another technician who quickly remarks that the ‘cortex’ cable he has to access is nowhere to be found.

Communication had gone wrong somewhere during all this, and the electricians hired had ‘simply installed new lan cables instead. With some quick thinking and a phone call to a russian electrician, Mikkel deduces the ‘cortex’ cable placement and asks the guys working on the kitchen to saw a hole in the ceiling plasterboard they’ve put up. Lo and behold, it’s there, hidden in the ceiling. Somehow, we managed to get internet that day. It goes to show that problems and responsibilities can often get very diffuse when so many different actors are involved. That’s when you have to step in, connect the dots, and get the internet up and running.

Tip 3

If you’re internet access dependent (like we are), then be very attentive with regards to the office space and its internet cable installation. Get the landlord to promise a deadline for the internet, make the consequences for failing to uphold that deadline clear, and get it in writing in the contract.

Fixing Acoustics

After all that, having setup both workstations, computers, furniture and so on, we found that the rooms were still heavily reverberant. And rooms with loud reverberant qualities have all kinds of negative effects on people.

In fact, “noise has repeatedly been shown to be one of the most recurrent reasons for complaints in open-plan office environments.”

Loud reverbs…

  • make it harder to parse what other people are saying as reverb ‘washes’ out articulation.

  • make it harder to concentrate as cognitive power is used to filter away the noise.

  • can induce headaches and even memory loss as people strain their ears from the two abovementioned side-effects.

We hoped that the furniture would reduce the volume of the rooms’ reverbs, but we needed something more absorptive – something that could soak up all the soundwaves as they bounced around from wall to wall.

But luckily, as an educated audio designer, I know a thing or two about acoustics. And I can tell you that you have to be careful what products you buy. The ‘acoustic foam panels’ that you can buy in music stores, or the ‘wooden acoustic wall panels’ you can buy in some craftsmen warehouses are neither dense nor thick enough to absorb most of the hearable spectrum of frequencies. Lower frequencies need thicker material, it’s simply a case of physics and transference of energy.

So, we decided to build our own acoustic panels (here’s a good tutorial).

And since most of our parallel surfaces (where sound can bounce into itself and create ‘constructive interference’ that increases the amplitude of the soundwave) were between the ceiling and the floor, we decided to hang our panels from the ceiling with a 5 cm gap. The gap actually massively increases the panels’ efficacy, since it basically allows the soundwaves to get absorbed twice per panel.

What can go wrong when renting an office space?, Renting an office? 4 unlucky cases to learn from., Digital Devotion Games

Sawing 2.4 meter planks down to lengths of 0.6 and 1.0 meters for the acoustic panel frames.

What can go wrong when renting an office space?, Renting an office? 4 unlucky cases to learn from., Digital Devotion Games

Teambuilding in action!

And we did it pretty cheaply too! We built 14 acoustic panels for ~$340 total. And it is basically a teambuilding exercise to build them together, so that’s like a two-for-one.

Tip 4

Think about the acoustics of your future office space (or any room you’re going to talk in for that sake). It’s important for the quality of your communication and well-being.

And if reverb has to be attenuated, don’t buy the commercial products – build the panels yourself. It’s fairly cheap and easy, and they’re much more effective.

In the end…

So what can go wrong when renting an office space? At least 4 time-consuming things. It’s been a bumpy ride – but we have our own office space! And some useful experience to boot.

And these 4 cases might paint a grim picture (and make you think: why did you put up with this particular office space?). But the office has a bunch of benefits. Our CEO, Mikkel, picked it out because of it’s strengths in all of the following areas:

  • Light (how bright are the rooms during the day? Do we need extra lighting?)

  • The angle of the sun during the day (is it annoying?)

  • How hot it gets during the summer

  • How disturbing is the environment around the office space?

  • Transport and parking

  • Atmosphere (how nice is it to just ‘be’ there?)

  • What is available near the office? (shops, food, etc)

  • Windows and air venting

  • Room configuration (How do they impact us daily? How will people move around? Where is the bathroom situated and will it be a problem?)

  • How old is it? Is it newly renovated?

  • Price per square feet, incl. water, heat, electricity, etc.

  • Privacy and neighbors

  • Interior design (can we make it even nicer to work here?)

There are always more to think of, but this list is good to check through.

And of course, now we can add the following to it:

  • Is there mold or a risk of mold anywhere?

  • Do we have all the office furniture accounted for?

  • Is there internet access? What will it take to get it?

  • What are the acoustic properties of each room?

You cannot be prepared for everything (something will always go wrong!), but hopefully you found something of use in our struggles and our tips.

Interested in more blogs like these? We write on game development, running a startup, and designing for the social human.

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See you ’round the block!

Jonas, Community Manager & Audio Designer

What can go wrong when renting an office space?, Renting an office? 4 unlucky cases to learn from., Digital Devotion Games