More and more we’re hearing people grappling with the very challenging question – should I keep my therapy office? Many people have moved to virtual therapy for much of their practice, some have added walk and talk or outdoor therapy to keep some in-person services, and may not use their therapy office for any significant portion of time, if at all. With the numbers of coronavirus cases continuing to skyrocket in many areas, the idea of returning to the office full time seems like a far-off dream. So, for those of us who are not using our office regularly (for in-person work or for privacy during telehealth sessions) it can seem silly to keep paying rent on four walls that you’re not entering. I’ve actually referred to my office as a very expensive mail box.
What should you consider when thinking about letting your office go?
Oftentimes, the first comment we hear in this conversation is the rent that’s being thrown away. All of the expenses related to keeping your lease can seem ridiculous if you’re not planning to return to the office for a very long time (a year or 18 months, for example). The hard numbers are important to look at, but so are the soft numbers.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Can I cover my rent with my current practice income? If you cannot cover your rent with the revenue from your practice, you’ll want to look at some sort of financial relief (see #2) or make the hard decision to let go of your office. On the flipside, if you can cover your rent easily, you may choose to delay this decision until you’re forced to make it. This whole decision is complex math, so to speak. However, if you become complacent about this monthly bill, you might be limiting your earning potential and even delaying your retirement. It makes sense to take a look at this expense critically.
- Can I get some sort of relief on my rent from my landlord or from government programs? Some landlords are recognizing the need to keep tenants happy – lowering rent or delaying rent collection, others are feeling the pinch and have raised rents. Or anything in between. What are you experiencing? Also, there are a number of programs, including the recent covid-related grants and loans that can either be partially or fully forgiven, meaning your rent may not ever need to be repaid. A modern therapist we know, Jennie Schottmiller, LMFT, CPA, over at Simple Profit is a great resource and has put together info on these types of programs here: https://www.simpleprofit.com/coronavirus.
- How does my rent compare to other offices in the area? If your office is rent-controlled or relatively inexpensive, you may want to check how quickly you would start losing money if you had to pay significantly higher rent when you return to in-office work. If your rent is high, it could be a no-brainer (on the financial side, at least) to let it go.
- What resources will I need to replace a physical office and what will they cost? To do your work, you probably need some attributes of a physical office. For example, a virtual office address or PO Box could be required for mail and insurance credentialing (although some people have used their home address, which poses privacy issues). In creating a home, there may also be conveniences or benefits that would be expensive to recreate. For me, a convenience I’m looking at is air conditioning as I don’t have it at home and I’m concerned I’ll be drenched during sessions this summer when I close the door for confidentiality. The cost of adding air conditioning to my home versus maintaining my reasonable rent at my physical office with free utilities is not even close.
Beyond the numbers, there are emotional considerations that can have real impacts on you, your decision-making, your business, and your family.
- How quickly will I want to go back to in-office work and what percentage of the time? This question may be obvious, but I often hear a lot of shoulds that come up when looking at keeping or ditching an office. If you’re thinking you may never go back OR that you’re going to jump back into the office as soon as it is “safe,” these decisions seem pretty darn clear. If you’re pretty sure you’d like to go back, but don’t know how quickly you’ll want to move or what percentage of your practice will be in-person versus telehealth – that makes it a bit more complicated.
- Would I want to work in a shared space? Some folks are already sharing offices, so this question is more for those of us who have been lucky enough to have our own space full time. If you choose to move to a shared office situation (to minimize or cover costs), you’ll want to determine whether you can actually get your head around having another person in the space when you’re not there and working around another’s schedule.
- Can I create what I need at home? When you’re forced to work from home (like when shelter in place orders came down), you can start with make-shift solutions that get the job done short-term. However, these solutions may not actually support your work in the ways that your office has. Looking at your ability to create a defined work space, with the privacy and tools that you need, could be important before you finalize your decision. If you cannot create what you need at home, you may increase your stress level, unbalance your work/life situation, potentially hurt your relationships with the people you live with, or negatively impact your work and clients. This may actually impact a short-term decision to use your office for telehealth.
- When I return to in-office work, how hard will it be to find an office I like? Finding an office can be very challenging in some locations. If you love your office and you don’t know that you will be able to find something as good or better, you may be hesitant to let it go. If there are always offices available, this may not be a true concern.
- Can I let go of the space I’ve created? When you furnish and decorate your office, it often becomes a reflection of you (or who you’d like to be as a professional). Whether you’re putting artwork on the walls or you’ve been able to save up for the super comfy ergonomic chair – many people fall in love with the what they’ve put together. It can be very hard to say goodbye to this place. Assess your emotional attachment to your office and honor that in your decision-making. There may be grief work to do before you move forward.
There is so much to consider when making a big decision about your office. I know I’ve missed considerations and I’d love to hear what you’ve been thinking about or how you’ve made your decision. Hop over to our The Modern Therapists Group on Facebook and let us know.