Movers and Shakers

How a boss can deal with the dreaded office relocation

Back Article Jun 20, 2018 By Jessica Kriegel

Moving offices is a dangerously stressful time for a business: Employee retention rates, cultural harmony and productivity will suffer. Your relocation might just be the straw that breaks your bottom line.

Today, your employees are continuously being asked to adapt to a stream of new processes, systems and technology, and master new skills and competencies. The list goes on. For your employees, the one constant is their personal office space.

Employees typically have a reassuring home base: the desk where they sit, the chair they lean back in, the coffee shop they visit each mid-morning and the view from their cubicle. During an office relocation, those reassuring baseline constants get ripped away, and employees lose the one anchor that allows them to cope with the never-ending requests to “pivot,” “disrupt the industry,” “get out of the box” and “increase agility.”

The major stressors of a move result in lower employee engagement and lower productivity. Talent attrition can also spike significantly during office relocations if leaders don’t manage the transition carefully.

Sonia Lupien, at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, identifies four main sources of stress, using the N.U.T.S. acronym. An office move hits all four points.

Novelty: Something you haven’t experienced before.

Many employees have not had the experience of moving offices before. They don’t know what to expect, which can be scary. “What will I be responsible for? How will the new office compare to the last? Will my commute be longer? What if the coffee shop isn’t as good as my current one?” The list of questions adds unnecessary anxiety to an employee’s day.

Unpredictability: Something you weren’t expecting.

Past the executive leadership level, employees often lack visibility into operations. The typical employee doesn’t know when the company’s lease will expire or whether growth projections dictate a necessary move. Often, leaders purposely keep conversations about an office move hush-hush — while rumors swirl.

Threat to the ego: Your competence as a person is called into question.

For many employees, prestige is measured by space and proximity. Employees seriously compare office sizes to determine who is viewed as the most important executive. They measure the distance to the CEO to interpret who is viewed as more critical to his or her daily operations. This physical manifestation of value in the office can lead to significant toxicity during a workplace move. In my experience, when learning of a move, employees first and foremost want to know where they will sit and who will be near them.

Sense of control: You have no control over the situation.

Employees lose a sense of control during office moves because most decisions are made at the leadership level. Employees are often informed of one after the fact. Extensive research has been done on the power a sense of control has on stress levels (check out “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky). The lack of control during an office move is the final thunderclap in the perfect storm of stress for employees during this transition.

These major stressors result in lower employee engagement and lower productivity. Talent attrition can also spike significantly during office relocations if leaders don’t manage the transition carefully.

What can you do about it?

Gather the voice of the workforce

Rather than trying to shield employees from the relocation storm, business owners should get their employees involved from the start. Employees have boots on the ground. They will be able to tell you what is working for them in their current space, and where they’re losing productivity.

Employees who feel their input is valued and their experience is considered, will transition faster and be productive in the new space sooner. Not only will they be getting what they asked for, but their engagement will go up because they are included in the process.

Depending on the size of your business, there are many options for soliciting employee input: surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews or engage a firm that specializes in driving employee productivity during your move.

Develop a communication plan

Start conversations at all levels of the business early on — as soon as the workplace change is on your executive radar. You need to start gathering feedback and including employees in the process before the design takes place in order to ensure alignment with your culture and objectives.

Being on the receiving end of a workplace change is not easy, especially when communication is lacking. Key elements of your communication strategy may include manager training, digital notifications, an internal website or message board, or regular town halls and brown bag lunches.

Drive enthusiasm

Finally, drive enthusiasm with your team. Your goal is to cross the finish line with a team of enthusiastic employees who can’t wait to move into their new offices. Consider hosting employee sneak peaks of the new office space and furniture samples. Create an office welcome package with comprehensive details employees need to know about their new space. Include a small gift for a nice finishing touch.

The key to a successful office move is a strategy that addresses inherent challenges before they even begin.