Office Relocations are an Opportunity!

Relocation and Innovation Series – Chapter 1

For many years, decisions about office relocations were made purely based on location, the amount of space required, cost, lease length and terms and many other factors purely relating to the physical premises. This blog, the first in a short series, looks at using the relocation as a catalyst for business change and transformation.

Why Move Office?

Typical reasons for relocating office premises relate to:

  • the expiry of an existing lease (or the opportunity to break the existing agreement or sub-let the space)
  • the amount of space and whether the supply meets the demand (or exceeds it)
  • the need to reduce the cost of accommodation
  • future plans and how those will influence the desirability of the current location/space
  • the oversupply of space following a merger or acquisition
  • the desire for a more modern workplace that better represents the organisation
  • the suitability of the location for the business being undertaken

Interestingly, in many cases, the last of these reasons is rarely a significant driver by itself, unless the organisation is undergoing a seismic shift. The tendency for leases to lock tenants into long periods of occupancy (accompanied by an inability to sub-let) often makes simply leaving the office impractical and too expensive to contemplate.

However, if there is a property event which necessitates a move (or at the minimum provides an opportunity to consider options), then the suitability of the location (and how the space is organised and the workplace experience delivered) should become paramount. It becomes an excellent prompt for the organisation to consider what it really needs from its workplace. Activities such as workplace utilisation studies and workplace strategy studies can help assist with this process.

The Opportunity to Transform the Business

Business transformation may seem like a big idea to those focused purely on planning an office move and office space design. The workplace is a tool (albeit a very expensive one) and its configuration, design and delivery should be aligned precisely to deliver the workplace experience that the organisation wishes to provide its people, to enable them to be as productive as they can be every day.

The relocation provides a moment in time to really think about what the organisation needs and how that can be delivered. Without that guiding strategy, the temptation is to simply replicate the existing workplace arrangements, with a bit of fine tuning. If nobody considers how the organisation might want to change the way it works, then the right workplace design, facilities, behaviours and practices won’t be considered, let alone put in place.

Those responsible for delivering the workplace often seek external guidance to help them navigate this journey within their organisation. It isn’t something that happens very often, so experience in this area may be limited – but the stakes are very high. While it may seem natural to secure external relocation services for the office move, securing strategic guidance that can help translate the needs of the organisation (regarding its priorities, challenges, performance issues, desires to break down silos or create high performance teams) calls for different expertise. Recognising the need for additional expertise is a big first step.

If the function driving the transformation discussion has traditionally not held a position of power or the ability to engage strategically with the business, then this is an excellent time to reposition the workplace (and those delivering it) as strategic contributors to business success. Again, this would benefit from external expertise to avoid the typical pitfalls and to help people develop confidence and exert influence in the right places.

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5 Common Missed Opportunities

By considering an office relocation as purely a space / location situation, organisations can miss opportunities which are open to them, such as:

  1. To plan ahead and allow enough time to consider moving options and prepare the business to identify what it wants to achieve / do differently
  2. To be strategic – not just in the acquisition of space but in how the workplace can deliver real value to the organisation
  3. To understand what the business truly needs from the workplace – rather than purely replicating what it already has (but in a shinier form!)
  4. To identify the amount of space that is really required (not the amount that others want to sell the organisation or that it thinks it needs, using conventional approaches to the workplace occupation)
  5. To use the move as the seminal moment to signal that the organisation is changing. Preparing for the change prior to the move is ideal.

Thinking about making changes to the way the organisation works AFTER the move is usually a huge mistake. Don’t make assumptions, plan everything from your people, to your space to your IT. Humans respond to physical workplace changes – they signal that things have changed and “I have to change too”. Without that, change in the workplace is not impossible, but it’s much harder.

What does this mean for 2019?

If you have a property event coming up in the next few years – start the journey now. And not just looking for new office space but considering whether the relocation is even necessary. Engage with the business to try to establish new ways of thinking about the office as a value-add business tool – not just a huge cost overhead.

This takes time, effort and influence and it may be beneficial to seek expert advice to help with that journey. Considering what the future workplace experience should be and how to deliver it will add huge value to those moving into the space.

If you are already on your journey and are relocating this year – consider whether there is an opportunity to revisit your workplace solutions. If you miss the opportunity to start the change process before the move takes place, you really will be fighting a losing battle.

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This blog is the first in a series of reflections about office relocations which we hope will provide readers with ideas and different perspectives on this business opportunity.  Our views are based on 25 years’ experience supporting clients making a change to work, the workplace and workplace strategy. Next time we will look at some of the challenges when moving to a new location.