What I’ve Learned About Company Relocations: It’s All About the People

June 13, 2017  |  BY Nicole Nelson

relocation Minneapolis

Deciding to relocate a business is a big deal. A relocation brings exciting opportunities for growth and change, but also requires a tremendous amount of foresight. Whether the company has a handful of employees or hundreds, and whether the new office is down the street or around the world, moving can be tough on employees, and disruptive to a business.

I’ve spent the past eight years helping leaders manage the logistics, lower the costs and minimize the disruptions of major corporate moves. The biggest lesson that drives my work: People take their workspace very personally. Successfully relocating employees takes careful planning, intentional change management, constant communication and a few tricks of the trade.

No matter what kind of client I’m working with, my overall goals for every move are consistent:

  • Relocate on time and on budget.
  • Minimize disruption and stress.
  • Maintain productivity during move by seamlessly transitioning core office functionality.
  • Help employees feel excited and engaged.

If you’re considering a major relocation, consider these three tips to make your move as seamless as possible.

Pre-Plan Every Single Detail

The biggest key to a smooth move is preparation.

When I’m working with a client on a relocation, one of the first things I share is The List: an exhaustive catalog of every task that will need to be checked off as part of the move. It includes items like finding a relocation vendor, planning where furniture will fit in the new space, making a plan for fixtures you won’t reuse, preparing service elevators on move-out day and training employees on the new phone system.

Scanning hundreds of to-dos can be overwhelming at first. But having a definitive checklist actually makes the moving process calmer. I work with my move partners to pre-plan every detail of their move so that we’re prepared to tackle any unexpected challenges or surprises that might pop up along the way (and believe me, there are surprises in every move!).

“There’s always more to do than you think,” says Sara Hakanson, a former executive leader at the orthotics and prosthetics manufacturer Ottobock. During her tenure at the company, Hakanson worked with the team at Cresa to manage a major relocation from Minneapolis to Austin, Texas. “The detail to be attended to is immense,” she reflects — for example, dealing with the physical “stuff” of an office move, including documents, supplies and equipment.

“Anyone can create a short list of obvious tasks related to the move,” she says. But she was looking to go beyond that to find a relocation vendor that had deep experience working with many different sizes and types of organizations, to give her advice on “the BEST way to tackle each task for the best outcomes and lowest cost.” Hakanson says that having a relocation partner gave her team a safety net and helped save costs and aggravation.

Become a Cheerleader for Change

Relocations are often driven by cost savings and business needs. But people are the most important element of any successful move.

When you announce a move, employees often have immediate, emotional reactions. They might be worried about a longer commute. They might not like the idea of moving from a private office to a more open, collaborative workspace. They might wonder what the relocation will mean for their job long term. And they’ll definitely have a lot of questions.

This is where change management is vital. Proactive leaders are ready for employees’ questions about a move. You can’t over-communicate about a relocation. Employees need to know why you’re moving, how the process will work and what they need to do to prepare.

Here’s one example that showed me the power of communication during a move: I worked with a company that was moving its headquarters after 20 years in one space. The former building was dark and uninviting, with mostly private offices and little space for collaboration. But it was “home” for 350 employees. My team worked with leaders to develop a communication plan, which we shared at a series of town hall meetings. It was amazing to watch the progression of those town halls. At the first meeting, at least 50 people raised their hands to express concern. By the tenth meeting we would only receive a couple questions. Through those meetings, employees’ anxieties gradually calmed because they were clued in to the process and purpose behind the move.

“You cannot over-communicate,” Hakanson says. “Tell employees frequently what is happening, what they need to know, and what will reassure them and address their potential fears.” She recommends communicating weekly or even daily.

Put People Before Policies

Since a successful move is all about people, it’s important to focus on individual employees’ needs. One important tip: Be sensitive about each employee’s move date.

“It’s easy to say there’s a target move date for all employees who are relocating,” Hakanson says. “But the reality is that employees must be able to make their relocation departure, transition and startup in the new location based on how it works for their personal life,” not just their work responsibilities or the company’s needs. “Unlike other employment-related issues, relocation requires becoming aware of employees’ personal situations to truly make it work and to ensure they are settled and satisfied in the new location.”

Hakanson suggests making a plan for each employee, then making sure employees and their managers are fully engaged in the plan, the schedule and the “why.” Above all, she says, “thank employees often for their flexibility and support.”

Gratitude and teamwork can go a long way during a relocation, and focusing on people will make a move positive for everyone involved.

Ready for your next move?  Download our free checklist to support your relocation.