While an office relocation can be an exciting and positive time for an organisation – potentially signalling growth, success or a new era for the business – it is also a period of major change that requires the utmost care.
The way an organisation manages and communicates this process with its staff will ultimately determine whether your workforce hits the ground running in the new environment or sits spinning its wheels on arrival.
In this blog, I’d like to share with you six key things to keep in mind to ensure your office relocation is the success it should be.
- Plan for people as well as physical aspects
Whilst your physical move (IT and phone systems, desks, chairs, equipment etc.) is probably under the management of an experienced Project Manager, there are also more subtle elements that also need to be considered and planned for.
The often overlooked elements come from the people-side ; the impact on people themselves, as well as the impact of the relocation on an organisation’s culture and climate.
Staff will often have undocumented patterns, or practices, that cross team and department boundaries and when disturbed, can have subtle impacts on an organisation’s climate. This could be as simple as the morning walk to get a coffee with other team members, to the regular, informal lunch arrangements across teams that keeps the inter-team relationships friendly and helpful. Or it can be as unsettling as inter-departmental meetings, which may now be more challenging to organise when the teams are in different buildings, or cities.
Plan to identify and consult with all your stakeholders, not only the people relocating, but also colleagues, associations, unions, and any other relevant groups. Consider how these stakeholders could input into the design, or layout, of the new space.
Engagement and consultation with all stakeholders will ensure that everyone affected by the change is provided with opportunities to offer information, participate in decision making, ask questions, share their knowledge and skills, and ultimately commit to change
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
- Ensure your Communications Plan is aligned with your Project Plan
- Keep your staff regularly informed with updates
- Face-to-face communication is key
The staff who are impacted by the relocation can easily feel that they don’t know what’s about to happen to them and this can bring on varying levels of stress. If you don’t communicate and engage, informal processes will fill the void, sometimes with negative consequences.
The Communications Plan is pivotal to the success of keeping your staff informed, and therefore of your relocation. Ensure that your Communications Plan works closely with your main Project Plan, perhaps even integrating major events into the Plan.
Always keep in mind the clear and consistent messaging that you will be delivering to staff. Make sure that you can clearly define the purpose of the relocation, including why the change needs to occur and the benefits. Remember that staff don’t necessarily have the background knowledge that the relocation team has, especially as to why certain activities will be taking place in the sequence that they are.
Additionally as frustrating as it may seem to the Relocation team, it can take between 3 to 5 times for a message to be finally “taken on board”; don’t assume that just because you have sent a communication that your message has been received.
Use multiple communication channels such as face-to-face, email, intranet and even social media to reach as many people as possible – each channel should focus on a slightly different facet, or audience. Keep in mind, people pay attention to people, so engaging in face-to-face and verbal communication will be key to getting your message across . Email is useful and timely, but emails are often missed in the volume that many people receive. A disappointing, but not surprising, comment that I have heard is “Oh, I didn’t bother to read that. If it was really important, someone would let me know!”
3. Use “Move Champs” or Change Champions
- Engage and consult with Champions early and often
Successful relocations, like other change projects, involve people as early as possible. Starting with the Executive Sponsor, seek engagement from representatives throughout the organisation.
It is not always easy to overcome the negative emotions around change so utilise members of staff who are already engaged and positive about the change to help get the rest of the team on board.
‘Change Champions’, or ‘Move Champs’ in this case, can be your eyes and ears on the ground. They can help their teams prepare for the move, meeting regularly to convey information in both directions.
- Ensure communication is two-way – listen to concerns and act on them
Relocating, whether it be to the next street, suburb or state, can be quite emotionally unsettling for people. It’s important to listen to people’s concerns; though they might seem trivial compared to some of the larger issues, they are important to the individuals concerned.
Use the face-to-face opportunities, such as large “town hall” sessions , medium-sized staff forums, and individual one-on-one sessions, to ensure that people feel that you are sincerely listening.
If there are times where there are questions that you can’t answer, be frank about that. Once you are able to answer the questions, communicate the answers through the appropriate channels.
Engaging early can help identify critical accommodation issues, such as change rooms, and impacts on changes to doing business e.g. hot-desking. Good communication (and engagement) helps project teams understand, anticipate and respond to staff concerns.
5. Manage expectations
- Be understanding, but realistic, about expectations for the move
Staff may have differing expectations about the move and what their new environment will be like. If possible, take your Move Champs on guided tours of the new location, as soon as practical.
If your relocation is across a significant distance, there might be some staff who have to decide whether they have to resign from their positions. This causes stress for not only the individuals concerned (and their families), but also the team that they will be leaving.
Staff who have been located for a long period of time in one location could encounter ‘place attachment’, or an emotional tie to a place. This break from a location can be felt quite strongly, and is quite different to the attachment to a beautiful setting, or building. Acknowledging this feeling of loss, or nostalgia, for the old site can help individuals start to deal with the loss. You might also consider holding departing ceremonies at the time of the move, so there is a clear marker of the move from old to new location. Depending on the significance of the old location, you could also memorialise the old site with photos, or artefacts.
Also, do you need to keep the services that you provide seamlessly in place?
Staff may be expected to maintain a high degree of customer service whilst also encountering the stress that a relocation will place on them, often with no additional resources. This in turn can have a negative impact on morale . A Business Continuity Plan can help you address these potential risks.
6. Change management after the move
- Keep support available after the relocation
You’ve successfully moved – does that mean that it’s all done? Not surprisingly, with such a large scale effort, there still will be issues to iron out.
How will the organisation use technology to bridge the new, geographical challenges e.g. use of Skype for Business to facilitate video conferences? You might need to run additional training sessions, once staff have arrived at their new locations. Other pressures can be encountered in the use of what are now shared resources, such as limited conference rooms with video capabilities.
Your Move Champs can help smooth out some of these, but it is important to continue to listen to people. Some of the issues will be physical, but it is important that people continue to feel that their feedback is being considered.
In closing, celebrate the successful move to the new site with a welcome event, marking the transition for staff and stakeholders who will use the space. Continue the communication and engagement with the stakeholders, and make sure that the “lessons learned” are captured.