Relocation: expert advice on office moves – trade secrets

Office relocations are never taken lightly, but when they are necessary there are several key steps experts recommend. Tara Craig reports

Planning office moves was once the preserve of the facilities and IT departments, but HR is becoming increasingly involved, as organisations recognise that providing a good workplace can have a huge impact on productivity, staff retention and the bottom line.

The business case

Moves are expensive, and not lightly undertaken, particularly in the current economic climate, says Neil Paul, managing director of Cadogan Tate Business Moving.

“The main drivers for moves are either breaks in a lease, or the business expanding or contracting. For example, when you get a lot of mergers, there comes a point when it makes sense for a company to relocate to one building. This is demonstrated by law firms, which were once based in and around the inns, but over the years have merged and relocated to the new spaces in the City. This is also when environmental factors come into play – many of the newer buildings are much friendlier to the environment, which can be an asset to an expanding business.”

Managing staff expectations

Staff will have different expectations of life both during and after the move – some better than others. The trick is to present a consistent, detailed picture of what they can look forward to. And according to Chris Richardson, managing director, EMEA, Vision Relocation, “transferees tend to have a heightened sense of entitlement in a group move scenario”. Richardson recommends meticulous planning – remember to involve your suppliers, he advises – and issuing carefully tailored communications at key milestones in the run-up to the move.

Keep communicating

Keeping staff in the loop is crucial. What may seem like a relatively simple thing – moving someone’s place of work – could have a massive impact on their daily life. By moving office, you are asking people to accept something new: a different, possibly more awkward, commute an altered working environment or even something as seemingly trivial as the loss of a favourite lunch venue. Consistent and carefully planned communication will make staff feel part of the process, and may prompt comments and ideas that result in further improvements.

When it moved to a new, purpose-built office this year (see box), City law firm Eversheds went to considerable lengths to keep staff informed.

Cornelius Medvei, London senior partner, and project leader for the move, says: “Throughout the build process we had a webcam on-site (viewable online) and an online facility for people to ask me questions about all aspects of the project. The questions, and my answers, were posted on the firm’s intranet.

“In the four months before the move we published a short information magazine at least once a week. We e-mailed this to London staff and made it available to everyone else on our intranet,” says Medvei.

Ian Studd, commercial services director of business relocation firm Harrow Green, recommends appointing ‘move champions’ in each department, and says that “ownership by your people will be one of the most decisive factors in conducting a successful move”.

Planning the new environment

Long gone are the days when staff were content with drab surroundings and uniform furnishings. According to Ann Clarke, of office designers Claremont Group Interiors, which has just undergone its own relocation.

“Office design is one of the most visible elements of an organisation’s culture and an important barometer of changes in technology, the way people work and wider sociological trends,” she says.

“Current thinking on office design is largely a reflection of issues of flexible working, individual empowerment rooted in mobile technology and more relaxed management styles. The most obvious manifestations of this are to be found in smaller individual desk sizes, coupled with a larger emphasis on social space, meeting rooms, cafés, receptions and break-out areas, but it is also evident in a more relaxed, even domestic design aesthetic.”

And moving offices is a fantastic opportunity for HR to take a really good look at how staff work – does everyone need a permanent desk? There may be people who only need access to a desk or the internet for a few hours a week, so having a dedicated desk and floor space is an unnecessary waste of money. Do your senior staff need their own offices, or would they work better surrounded by their team? As Clarke points out, the world of work has changed, and offices need to reflect this.

After the move

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everything is done and dusted once the last packing crate has been delivered. Ask your staff for feedback – more than once – and make sure that the decisions taken are actually working for them.

It’s also worth remembering that things aren’t set in stone – if an aspect of the relocation isn’t working, change it. Ask for further feedback a couple of months after the move, once staff have had the chance to settle in, as by then you should be able to tell whether complaints are genuine or there are just signs of reluctance to accept change.

In business terms, moving office is about equipping staff to do their jobs well. How better to achieve it than to ask them what they want, and then to provide it?

Top tips

  1. Set objectives. Define realistic goals based on staff retention levels, relocation costs and time lines.
  2. Get help. Moving office doesn’t happen everyday, so you can’t be expected to become an expert overnight. Invest in the help of a professional relocation company. Take their advice before deciding which elements of the move you can manage in-house, and which you need to outsource.
  3. Communicate carefully, and keep staff informed. Decide how you choose to communicate the move – and anticipate questions. An office move can cause real concern and unfounded insecurities among staff if poorly explained. Sell them the benefits of the new location. Videos and flyers work well, as do group orientation tours.
  4. Employee assistance. Work out how much help your staff will need. The further they are moving, the more help they may need from you.
  5. Group moves. If the move involves personal relocation for employees, consider home-finding assistance and household moving support, Involving the employees’ families will help overcome personal barriers to the move.

Source: Mark Rising, Interdean International Relocations

Case study – Eversheds

Law firm Eversheds has just moved 700 staff to a new, purpose-built office near St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Cornelius Medvei, senior partner, led the move.

“We started looking at our options in the summer of 2005, identified the building we wanted in spring 2006 (when it was still just a hole in the ground), signed up around May 2006 and began the design process, having appointed the workspace designers and the architects that same spring.

“We spoke to staff regularly, and in spring 2007 we built a full-scale, working mock-up of the workspace for eight lawyers and their secretaries, with kitchen and quiet room facilities. The team who went in and worked in the space – right up until we moved – gave us feedback, which we took into consideration when picking furniture, colour schemes and IT equipment,” he says.

“The move to an open plan workspace was a huge cultural shift for a City law firm, as one of the more conservative industries, but we’re hoping that the new environment will encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration, while strengthening relationships across the firm. With the wisdom of hindsight, we could have done more to encourage greater cultural change ahead of the move,” he admits, “but even that would not have been without its difficulties.”

Features of the new building:

  • A 100-cover restaurant which provides breakfast, lunch and supper to all resident and visiting members of staff
  • A prayer and contemplation room for use by staff and visitors
  • A 100-seater auditorium
  • A doctor’s surgery which doubles as a massage facility for staff
  • Gym-quality shower facilities
  • 100 bicycle racks (with space for an additional 100)
  • Business lounges for client use

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