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Strategic move

A relocation is a stressful time for any organisation. Grant Clarke, Senior Project Director at Rhino Interiors Group, identifies the most common pitfalls and how to avoid them

The average business moves office every seven years. But two thirds of employees responsible for the project are either fired or resign within six months of the move, according to the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). Workspace relocation specialist, Help Moving Office, says it’s ‘alarming’ to see how little strategic or operational attention is paid by most companies to the process, adding that most move managers (70 per cent) are taking charge of a project for the first time.

To avoid the pitfalls, there’s only one place to start a huge project like this: find the vision, pick the team, do the research. When it comes to planning a move, there’s no shortcut for frontloading the project with research, planning and strategy.

Start with these three basic questions: Why are we moving? Who should be involved? What do we want from the new workspace? These questions may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many businesses don’t spend enough time considering them. Nothing should be set in train until these questions have been answered fully.

Do you really need to move? In many cases, it’s avoidable – you can accommodate growth and change by adjusting the employee-to-desk ratio through a clever redesign of the existing space. This is an increasingly popular solution. With trends such as a 25 per cent increase in full-time self-employment, flexible working and desk-sharing, many organisations may not need to move at all. However, regardless of whether you stay or go, every refit needs a move (even if it’s a temporary relocation of staff), and every move needs a refit to tailor the space to your needs. It’s rare to have one without the other.

Choosing the right project lead is crucial. The selected individual should have the time, communication skills and experience to manage the project. They will need a degree of autonomy and contacts with an internal team of departmental heads. Appointing a change champion can help to ease the transition and help with communication before, during, and after the refit.

Who should be involved in terms of determining how the new space is used and how it can be improved? The answer is everybody. Staff surveys and a workplace consultancy process in the early stages will provide the data you need to make the right decisions later on, including the design of the new space.

Design is a key priority. Around 15 years ago there was limited choice in office design apart from furniture. Today, new workspace trends are emerging every year, and they’ve been shown to improve recruitment, retention, wellbeing, engagement, and productivity.

It’s important to see the fit-out as an opportunity, not just a cost. One third of employees are not happy with their workspace, according to the Steelcase Global Report, which adds that workplace satisfaction correlates with employee engagement. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report finds that 85 per cent of staff worldwide are ‘not engaged or actively disengaged’.

More than half of UK workers (53 per cent) would turn down a job if they didn’t like the office space, according to a survey by Furniture123.co.uk. And The Workplace Advantage study from The Stoddart Review urges businesses to perceive their workspace as a ‘performance lever’, because an ‘effective workplace’ can improve business productivity by as much as 12 per cent. With only half (53 per cent) of respondents saying their workplace helps them to be productive, the report points out “we can’t afford to ignore them”.

The key to creating happier, more engaged and more productive people lies as much in the workspace as in leadership and culture; offices designed with that in mind have a better chance of attracting the right talent and keeping it.

An obvious early mistake is inadequate preparation (lack of vision, inexperienced team, scant research). Failure to properly prepare means most companies will fall foul of the other four major pitfalls: unworkable timeline, unrealistic budget, ineffective communication and wrong choice of supplier.

It’s never too early to plan. Fit-out projects can take months from enquiry to completion – typically over nine months if you go through a tender process. Everything is interdependent, so even small changes to the project plan, budget or timeline can have knock-on effects.

An unworkable timeline comes from leaving the planning too late, not giving contractors enough time to prepare a proposal and deliver the service, or compressing the schedule once you’re in full flow. An unrealistic budget misses out essential costs or includes inaccurate quotes because contractors were provided with incomplete information.

Bad communication can spell disaster. A relocation or refurbishment is an anxious time for employees. To soothe insecurities, stop rumours and prevent resignations, tell everyone everything they need to know at the same time. Expect some resistance to change and implement a well-planned, open and inclusive communications strategy to change hearts, minds and habits.

When it comes to selecting suppliers, you may need financial, legal and logistical service providers. But it pays to find a holistic partner – a business that can manage multiple tradespeople and other contractors, handle the compliance and keep everything on track. Suppliers unable to deal with any of the necessary elements – workplace consultancy, workspace design, fit-out and furniture supply – will cause delays, unforeseen costs and extra work. The best way to avoid this is to find a partner that can deliver a turnkey solution, rather than a string of individual contractors which you will have to manage and coordinate.

Before hiring your office move specialist, ask if they can handle all the aspects, from initial consultation to completion. What’s their plan to reduce disruption? Do they have project managers who will deal with the contractors? A reliable partner will go a long way to smoothing the path of this stressful time.

About Sarah OBeirne


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