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Space exploration Companies eschew traditional offices to get more productivity from their employees

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Having its employees work from home helps Wayside Technology Group save on its real estate costs, says Vito Legrottaglie.
Having its employees work from home helps Wayside Technology Group save on its real estate costs, says Vito Legrottaglie. - ()

The times, they are a changin’.

It’s probably safe to assume that the free spirits of the 1960s, many of whom clung to Bob Dylan’s every word, had no idea that future generations would redefine the meaning of change — at least in the workplace.

“When you think about the younger generation and what they want, they want tremendous innovation and flexibility,” said Todd A. Elfand, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, in Edison. “And technology allows them to be totally free.”

Today, young professionals expect to land jobs where they can power up and clock in from home, Starbucks or any other public space that offers free Wi-Fi, Elfand said.

It’s a work style that can truly benefit small businesses, though some companies — notably, Yahoo — have gone the other way, and require employees to be in the office, rather than working from home.

“The cost of technology has come down so dramatically that smaller companies working off a budget now have the money to spend on (technology such as) wireless networks, cloud computing and video conferencing,” Elfand said. “All of it is readily available for them to build their businesses around.”

Like anything that’s exciting and new, it’s important to watch out for potential snags — like managing productivity from afar.

“I think it’s really difficult,” he said. “I think you have to be in an environment where the people that are working virtually are either reactive employees or they’re self-starters.”

By virtue of its sophisticated phone system that tracks calls made inside and outside of the office, Wayside Technology Group, in Shrewsbury, has the capability to record employees’ productivity levels, said Vito Legrottaglie, vice president of operations and information systems.

The company’s policy permits employees to telecommute one day a week, with one exception. “I have the developers work from home two to three days a week because they’re just that much more productive,” Legrottaglie said. “They’re developing applications, so it’s real important that they can sit down and concentrate on what they’re doing.”

In the future, Wayside may increase its telecommuting policy, he said. One incentive for doing so is the ability to better manage real estate costs.

Wayside was recently close to moving from its 18,000-square-foot facility to a 25,000-square-foot space, but ended up choosing to stay put for another three years, Legrottaglie said.

“It’s a significant cost savings,” he said, estimating each employee requires 200 square feet of space, costing between $15 and $20 per square foot. “That gets very expensive when you start adding 10, 20, 30 or 40 employees at a new facility.”

Wayside also aims to conserve valuable real estate through hot-desking — a concept in which employees work different shifts sharing one physical workstation, Legrottaglie said.

Additionally, businesses can keep real estate costs in check — and still appeal to a younger workforce — by creating shared office spaces.

“A lot of companies are reinventing their space,” said James Hughes, dean of Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “If they do have individual offices, they’re not on the perimeter of the building with windows. They’ve moved them to the core, and then areas closer to the windows would have various types of workstations.”

Telecommuting and shared office space both are selling points to the nation’s younger workers, and businesses can leverage that to their advantage. “Essentially, if a company offers half telecommuting and half coming into the office, they may only need 50 percent of the space than if everybody had an office eight hours a day,” Hughes said.

One enterprising way to profit from this fast-growing shift in office environments is to create a business that caters to it.

Mission 50 did just that. The Hoboken-based company, in business for two years, offers entrepreneurs and small businesses a choice of private or collaborative workspaces.

“We offer individuals the freedom to be flexible, mobile and independent, but with a professional address and modern business services at their disposal,” said Greg Dell’Aquila, president.

Anyone who wants to rent space can make a reservation online, he said. Monthly memberships are $99; full day and half-day rates are also available, he said, adding there is no long-term commitment.

Besides providing the standard technological equipment that workers typically require, Mission 50, which at press time had 160 members, also offers amenities that include three soundproof phone booths and a conference room.

“Initially, we thought this space would appeal solely to technology startups,” Dell’Aquila said. “We have members ranging from an attorney and a freelance interior designer, to a local mom who started writing a novel and needs office space outside of her home a couple of days a week.”

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