Out of the Office With OKRs

OKRs take on commercial real estate.

squarefoot, commercial real estate, office, workspace, laptop

What’s the one thing every company needs? Office space. As soon as an organization grows too large to fit in the CEO’s basement, garage, or living room, there is a pressing need to find a larger workspace. According to data from the Small Business Administration, 99.9% of all US firms are small businesses, and 19% have employees.

Some of these companies are startups looking for their first space, while others are small businesses seeking larger spaces. But one thing they have in common is that neither usually knows where to start looking for office space or what the leasing process entails.

Startups and other small companies were an underserved segment of the business community until SquareFoot came along. The company, founded in 2011, has been disrupting the commercial real estate market for almost a decade by providing flexible office space solutions, which could include a shorter-term lease or no lease, and the ability to rearrange or replace furniture.

A consistent framework for trust

Like all teams, when COVID-19 hit, SquareFoot had to adjust. OKRs helped them to successfully make this change to working remotely.

“One thing that remote work does is test management frameworks,” explains Jonathan Wasserstrum, SquareFoot’s co-founder and CEO. He says remote work is effective if everyone knows what they’re supposed to do and if you trust people.

“Historically, remote work has been scary for managers who say they can’t see their employees and don’t know if they’re working,” Wasserstrum explains. But with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), he says it’s cut and dry. “So, this is what Jonathan is supposed to be doing this week, this month, this quarter — is he doing it?” When remote work requires an extra layer of trust, “OKRs provide that framework to trust but verify.”

Jonathan Wasserstrum, okrs, square foot

Wasserstrum admits that his first attempt at using OKRs wasn’t very successful, dubbing them “overkill.” With 15 people, everyone was communicating all of the time, they were well aligned. “However, when you have 70 people,” says Wasserstrum, “you need to start having frameworks, and OKRs are absolutely necessary.”

And knowing his team is on track allows Wasserstrum to focus on, and adjust to, COVID-19’s impact on the commercial real estate industry.

Where work happens

Long-term leasing requirements have always been an issue for small companies. Startups and other small businesses often experience uncertainty regarding future plans. However, the pandemic caused even long-established companies to take a second look at their leasing options.

“When there’s uncertainty, companies are less interested in making long-term commitments,” explains Wasserstrum. “And that can be because they don’t know where the economy is going, or because they don’t know where the company is going.”

After the initial coronavirus shutdown, he says that clients and groups that SquareFoot worked with stopped everything as it related to renting office space. “Real estate was just not a concern because they were wondering if they still had a business or not,” Wasserstrum says.

Once companies started working remotely, many pondered whether or not the change should become permanent. “Now people are ready to start going back to the office,” Wasserman asserts, adding, “in fact, most people are anxious to get back to the office.”

While a small percentage of companies, like those in the travel industry, will remain fully remote, Wasserstrum believes that other industries will adopt a hybrid model. “They’re not all going to work from home all the time, which means you’re not actually getting rid of your office.”

His reasoning is based, in part, on the fact that “cities, where office space is the most expensive, are the cities where work from home works the worst.” Urban centers like New York, Seattle, and San Francisco often have such high costs of living that many employees live in very small spaces. They’re unlikely to have a spare room that can be used for a home office, and they’re unlikely to have the level of privacy and space needed to work from home eight hours a day. “Picture an apartment in Queens, Brooklyn, or Manhattan — the bedroom barely fits the bed, so where are they going to put a desk?”

squarefoot, okrs, child at office

Many parents working from home must also attend to the needs of their children. They are among the most likely to vote for going back to the office. Even if schools open, Wasserstrum says a 7-month-old baby is not going to take classes every weekday. “So, the home is not a very conducive environment for work in the cities where it matters most, where real estate costs matter the most from an office space perspective.”

Flexible goals: the new constant

SquareFoot is poised to help both clients and landlords during this challenging time. While COVID-19 caused SquareFoot to reprioritize, OKRs have helped the organization stay oriented towards its North Star. In fact, there’s been an uptick in people returning to their services, as well as in first-timers seeking assistance with their search for office space.

“Recently, we reached the phase of the reopening here in NYC that we could begin office tours again, but in Q2, for the most part, we couldn’t conduct business as usual,” Wasserstrum says.

“Instead, we tried to understand first what we could do, then to attach metrics to those areas that would lead to impactful results for us — and help us usher in the next phase when we could hit the streets again with our clients,” he explains.

Wasserstrum knows where he wants the company to be at the end of the year, and says he’s not able or qualified to do everything himself, so he brought on other executives and team members to help execute the vision. “OKRs allow us to establish the pillars we are aiming for, and then we can ladder all of the work we do back to getting closer to the goal.”

“Because we had to be more focused and disciplined than normal, our setting of and completing OKRs last quarter was among the best processes we’ve had in our company’s history.”

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