Change management and office relocation

A considerable amount of deliberation precedes any plans for an office relocation irrespective of the size of the business involved. Numerous factors are likely to necessitate a change of location among them, a need to either up or downsize a business operation; a merger with another company; or the decision to split an enterprise into different trading divisions.

Apart from the physical aspects that give rise to a move other factors might lead to a company relocating. For example; the existing premises may simply be too old, too expensive, or be either too small or excessive for current requirements. And, even when a move might be considered undesirable, external forces such as the termination of a lease, the landlord selling the premises or land being needed for redevelopment, may make relocating unavoidable. Whatever reason is valid, an office relocation can never be taken lightly though much of the pain and conflict can be reduced by effective, timely planning and by adhering to a well-conceived schedule.

Communicating the plan

A major part of the planning process should always focus on ways of keeping the workforce fully informed. Staff need to be engaged with the relocation plan at the earliest opportunity and the intricacies of a move must concentrate on the affects it is likely to have on individual employees. Few people relish change, particularly within a place of work that has provided them with a familiar, secure and comfortable environment over an extended period. While some relate to an office relocation favourably, this can never be guaranteed. Everyone is different and any rumour of a relocation that has not come directly from management is likely to create suspicion or cause panic within the workforce.

When dealing with a move, it’s best to take it slow to make sure you’ve covered all of the major aspects. View Office Principles’ office relocation check list for a comprehensive step by step guide on what you need to do.

When staff learn of an imminent move there is a natural reaction to link it to redundancies. The fear of job losses will not only be disruptive but difficult to handle, therefore care must be taken to avoid your relocation plans reaching the workforce before they are officially announced. A greater danger is when company bosses are reluctant to tell their staff of their plans to relocate. Keeping staff in the dark is likely to multiply the problems by creating distrust and disharmony. Should this occur, the long term damage that is caused to staff-management relationships can be immense. An open attitude that involves and consults with staff from a very early stage will help alleviate their worries and will often bring them onside. Being upfront will also help to disperse or confirm any rumours of redundancies and help to deal with any related issues.

Staff retention & Recruitment

Changes to a person’s work pattern often leads to resentment. This must be avoided at all costs especially if job losses are inevitable. Nobody wants conflict; but a sensitive reaction by management can make it possible to turn a negative situation into something more positive. When an office relocation is over a considerable distance, everyone involved has to accept that for practical reasons there are likely to be job losses. Although some staff may respond well and be prepared to uproot their families by moving home to an unfamiliar location, many more will find it impractical. An office relocation coupled with moving home can cause levels of stress that some will find insurmountable.

Despite their loyalty to the company, even key employees have to consider their family and personal circumstances before contemplating what is likely to be a life changing experience. You should therefore be prepared to hire replacement staff. When employees feel unable to relocate with your company, it is your responsibility to make their redundancies as painless and rewarding as possible by providing as much HR care as you can to help them find alternative employment elsewhere.

Even when staff are receptive to an office relocation, in all likelihood there will be factors that need to be built into the planning procedures. Any change will come at a price. Issues might be raised if there are plans to alter working routines, perhaps by expecting staff to give up individual offices to work in an open plan layout in view of everyone. In such a scenario, senior staff may feel that their status has been forfeited if they are expected to give up a private office to work alongside others with less seniority.

Whether this fear is real or not, the problems can be dealt with by demonstrating the advantages of an office relocation and adopting the different infrastructure that new offices might provide. Even when radical changes are proposed, staff morale can be enhanced when certain familiar aspects of their former offices are retained. This might mean retaining some of the features from the old premises, such as popular artefacts (wall clocks, decorations, iconic machinery, furniture, plants etc) and by maintaining as much of the organisational and work routines familiar to staff as is feasible. Although you should expect a certain level of ‘teething problems’, over a period of time the majority of staff will usually start to feel comfortable with the new environment.

Prior to relocating, depending on the size of the business and the numbers employed, it will be necessary to involve staff in a ‘de-cluttering’ process. This might include disposing of redundant office equipment, furniture and computers, but more specifically a lot of the accumulated files and paperwork will probably need shredding. This needs to be carefully accomplished to ensure no vital records are lost. Sufficient time must be allocated within the working week for this purpose and for packing ready for the move. When Guardian News Media relocated offices it was essential to maintain an uninterrupted work schedule that required highly refined planning. Exactly how they achieved this is available in a case study found online at: Melcrum.com – Communicating an office move.

Delegating enthusiastic members of staff that you are confident will get the work done on time and with due diligence is vital for making the move a success. When the workforce is large it is useful to establish teams in each department, with an appointed leader to delegate duties. By engaging staff in this process will help to gain their support for the office relocation. Most companies will hire external movers to facilitate the physical side of a relocation, but before anything can happen a workable system needs to be devised to ensure that the office contents are securely packed and labelled clearly to ensure that they arrive safely and are delivered to the appropriate areas of your new offices. This, in itself is likely to be a mammoth task involving many people and countless working hours, but with clearly thought out logistical planning using appropriate staff, the difficulties of the process can be overcome.

The University of Salford has published a document, available online, that analyses the process of office relocation in Change Management and Relocation: a moving experience, a document that emphasises the affects a move can have on individuals. Various other online sources also offer formulated advice on ways to organise an office relocation. One of the best known examples involved the BBC in a move from London to MediaCityUK, Salford. The way this was achieved relating to the human aspects of the move was described by BBC North’s director of HR, Ken Lee, in an interview with Laura Chamberlain during October 2011 that was published by Personnel Today and is available online.

Of course, from the outset a capable project manager should be appointed to oversee the relocation. This role can either be filled by a responsible, highly organised individual from within the organisation, or a consultant can be hired from an external source that specialises in office relocations. If you prefer to keep the relocation operation ‘in house’ you will find some well-founded advice on planning and instigating a relocation and the duties of a project manager in our online resources Office Principles’ Whitepapers.

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