Moving offices—just like moving your home—is a big decision, replete with pitfalls and headaches that can sap the resources of even the most prepared company.
We should know. Convene recently moved our corporate headquarters from two offices in Midtown Manhattan to a new flagship location in Lower Manhattan. It’s a move of only four miles, but moving over 100 people, spread across multiple locations, is never a simple task.
To facilitate this move, and ensure a smooth transition, the team here at Convene designated a move committee: a team of experts, picked for their specific knowledge around problems we knew would arise with the big move. Think of them as our moving dream team—the Office Move Avengers.
Four of these experts were kind enough to share their thoughts on the move—what went well, what didn’t, and how other companies should prepare to relocate. Learn from our successes—and mistakes.
Jenna Wollemann – Corporate Communications Manager
Sarah Slater— Director of Solutions (former Change Consultant)
Corinne Vassallo—Project Interior Designer
Danielle Christophe—Design Strategist
Start with “Why?”
The most important consideration our experts shared was the importance of “Why?”
“Why are we moving offices?”
“Make sure everyone knows the ‘why’ of the move,” says Slater. “People respect transparency. You need to outline whether it’s going to be better or worse for them.”
Let’s face it, companies move for lots of reasons—sometimes good and sometimes not-so-good. Those not-so-good reasons (downsizing, reducing real estate costs) can be tough to navigate, but Slater stresses that transparency is key. “Ultimately, you’re relocating because you want the experience to be better for everyone at the other end. Even if you have to move for a negative reason, it’s important to transparently communicate why the move is needed. Cutting costs can be hard, but ultimately it’s for the best.”
We moved into our old office back in 2010—when the team was significantly smaller.
Of course, plenty of moves come with lots of good news too—growing teams, expanding revenue, and new opportunities. Even when things are looking bright and sunny for your company, don’t take the ‘why’ for granted. You’re still asking people to change their routines, which in many ways is more challenging in good times than bad.
“All communications regarding the move should always start and end with the key vision of why we’re moving offices and why this is important,” says Wollemann. “Even when it’s just an email about logistics and timeline, it’s important to remember the ‘why’ when you’re asking people to change a major part of their routine.”
“What’s in It for Me?”
Even the most selfless team player will have one big concern about any office relocation: “What’s in it for me?”
Transitions and routine changes are hard for everyone, and some of the changes might make life more difficult for a portion of your team (longer commute, less familiar neighborhood). While you shouldn’t belittle or ignore those concerns, make sure you’re framing the move around the individual benefits people can expect from the new digs.
Moving furniture into the new office space.
“If you’re moving someplace with top notch amenities, it’s a big message to people that our talent is the most important for us and we’re going to take care of you,” says Slater. “Whatever the benefit of your new space is, hype that up for the team: more space, better amenities, better neighborhood, anything that frames up the all-important ‘What’s in it for me?’”
Choose Your Move Team Wisely
Moving offices is a big decision—a very expensive decision. Make sure you’re choosing members of your move team wisely, and not just throwing any willing volunteer into the mix.
Our team was purposefully chosen based on their skillsets—communications, change expertise, design, strategy, etc. Each person had a role to play, and that role was vital to a successful move. “Plan people’s roles ahead of time on the move team,” says Vassallo. “Make sure you have your needs covered.”
Despite the accrued talent, there were a few areas our team could’ve used some extra help with (operations being a big one). “Certain things I handled might have been better handled by an operations specialist. For example, hiring the mover, coordinating all the boxes, what teams need what, and what kind of things they own.”
“Having the right team of people to coordinate the move and divvying up responsibility is really important,” says Christophe. “We had a really good group, which made it easier.”
Communicate Early and Often
“Step one is creating a communications plan, where you outline the before, during, and after the move, and make sure everyone has information about key dates,” recommends Wollemann. The team laid out a detailed timeline, with corresponding dates for when important items would need to be communicated to the company—junk cleaning days, last day to pack your box, last day in the old office, first day in the new office, and more.
Make sure you thank those on your team who helped make the move possible.
Communicating early and often applies beyond just your own company too—make sure to confirm with outside vendors like the moving company months in advance. “Start the move at least six months in advance, not four weeks like we did!” says Vassallo. “When I contacted the moving company, they thought I was crazy.”
That goes for the building (actually buildings) involved too. Most commercial office buildings aren’t going to let movers mess up their nice elevators with moving carts and heavy furniture. “You also need to coordinate with the building (both buildings) a lot,” says Vassallo. “What time people can come, using freight elevators, what time people can use the freight elevators, extra cost for moving after hours, then coordinating with the new building to have that all happen on the same day.”
Know Your Workers… and Their ‘Stuff’
Not all departments in your company are created equal—each team has their own needs and equipment. Designers need special monitors and areas to sketch. Sales people need a quiet office for making calls to clients. The HR team needs a room with some privacy for interviews and other sensitive meetings. And the finance team needs filing cabinets for accounting paperwork. “We did interviews with each department to learn about what they need and how they work,” advises Vassallo. “That went a long way in being ready for day one.”
Besides knowing what they’ll need in the new location, be prepared to handle equipment and other miscellaneous items that go unclaimed at the old office. “I found that a lot of things weren’t claimed by anyone, and someone had to decide what to do with it. For example, all the office supplies in the office that technically didn’t belong to any one person. Someone had to decide what gets tossed and what needs to come with us.”
Nail Day One
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Day one of a move will be hectic no matter what, but do everything you can to make it a smooth transition and a celebratory atmosphere.
Creating a celebratory atmosphere on day one was a critical component of our office move.
“It’s easy to get lost in the logistics but when it comes down to it, people care about a few things that will impact them on the first day—how do I get in the building and where am I sitting?” says Wollemann.
The moving committee created a welcome packet that had instructions on all the basics of arriving to work on the first day and paired that packet with a live presentation a few weeks before the move letting people know what to expect—where they would be sitting, how to get in and out, public transportation options, and more.
“You need to instruct people on how to prepare, and how to be successful in the new environment—how to set up their desk, their tech, their chair, everything,” says Slater. “Take time to solve even the smallest of issues and take care of the needs (not the wants) of people, either through design, technology, or education.”
There were a few items the moving team, in retrospect, wishes were handled differently. Moving to a new office, for us, meant lots of new IT systems to implement—new printers, new docking stations for laptops, new building security, and more. The IT team set-up a war room where people could drop by for support on the spot, but many issues could’ve been avoided by perhaps a team-by-team technology orientation.
Despite that minor inconvenience, the team nailed the first day experience. “We had a really celebratory first day (and week) at the new office,” says Wollemann. “There were swag bags, balloons, special treats, and more. Making people feel really special was a priority.”
The Lunch Crunch
One of the most surprising aspects of our move is just how invested people would be in exploring the lunch spots in our new neighborhood. Of all the routines being changed for the folks in our office, lunch unequivocally elicited the most excitement and anguish.
“We put together a really nice welcome packet that included information about the neighborhood, but I wish we included more options for lunch,” says Christophe. “The options we put in there were more special occasion type of places (i.e. – more expensive), and not every day lunch options.”
Prepare people for their new culinary surroundings. Scour Yelp for the best sandwiches, salads, tacos, and ramen, and make sure you communicate that information to the team. Food is a big deal, and you’d be well served to set minds at ease about where your team can eat in their new digs.
This response did elicit a fun and creative solution—our team has now started a shared spreadsheet where people can enter fun, affordable lunch spots they’ve discovered with a short review that anyone on the team can browse for some new options to try.
The Work’s Not Done After Day One
At 5PM on day one, it’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief and think the move is over with.
Not so fast, says our move team.
“People forget that the move and change isn’t over on day one,” says Slater. “Sustaining change is the biggest challenge and it’s not usually done well by most companies. People will start to leave cups and trash around or use the spaces inappropriately. You need to constantly iterate and address issues the first month as people get used to the space and make adjustments so that the space works effectively.”
The day one breakfast spread. But stay vigilant, the work’s not even close to finished!
“The biggest challenge is getting people to change their behavior,” says Wollemann. “One way to encourage that is really to focus the communications. Even if the sole purpose is to communicate the date of something or action they need to take, always bring that communication back to why this change is going to be great for the future.”
Don’t Forget to Make It Fun
Don’t kid yourself—moving offices can be a big old pain-in-the-ass. Everybody knows it.
But you can make things more bearable by working in some fun. One way our team did that was by hosting several “purge parties.” After spending years in one office, we had all accumulated a lot of stuff that clearly didn’t need to move to the new space. But since no one really likes cleaning, the team made it fun. Time was blocked out on everyone’s calendars for a “purge party,” complete with tacos, beer, and music.
Large trash and recycling cans were brought in and everyone in the company was encouraged to let go of all the junk they’ve accumulated over the years. Old paperwork was shredded, conference swag donated, and drawers full of napkins and plastic spoons from lunches past were thrown away.
Throughout the first week in the new office, special surprises were planned, like afternoon cookies or catered lunch, along with special welcome bags for every employee containing novelty chocolate business cards—featuring the new address, of course.