How to get your office relocation right

Julian Smith of Maris Interiors looks at how you should tackle your relocation

Why move?

At some point every business will be faced with the dilemma of whether to relocate. It may be down to expansion or contraction, lease break or expiry, or driven by a planned change of working practices. Whatever the driver, the decision to relocate demands careful consideration.

Although many businesses would prefer to stay where they are, the benefits of relocation can be compelling. For example:

… Increased productivity and efficiency

… Improved staff morale

… Reduced occupation costs

… Proximity to key customers

Selecting the team

Any planned relocation has to make commercial sense and be supported by a proven business case. Armed with a clear and concise brief an internal steering committee should be tasked to prepare the business case. The committee chairman should be totally familiar with your business and have the authority to make decisions. The rest of the team will be drawn from key departments, particularly IT, finance and human resources. Remember an office relocation is an extremely stressful (and exciting) event for any company. Your staff will undoubtedly be unsettled by speculation and rumour. It is therefore a key responsibility for the team to communicate appropriately.

Once the decision to relocate has been made the external team should be interviewed and, providing it meets all requirements, appointed. Typically these will comprise a commercial agent, lawyer and fit-out partner, appointed – at this stage – with the aim of helping you identify the right building. It may also be wise to appoint a professional project manager who will understand how to support your management team and the chosen fit-out partner. The most important objective is to make sure the project doesn’t impact greatly on the daily routine of busy managers and staff.

The procurement method

Many companies make the mistake of starting the building search before appointing the professional team and deciding on their procurement route. As far as the procurement route is concerned the options are either to appoint a project manager, an architect or a specialist fit-out company. The decision will largely be dependent on the project size, timescales, your inhouse skills and the level of input you can afford to put into the project.

Many growing businesses will be attracted to specialist fit-out companies who are able to service the design and construction as well as the IT, furniture and the physical move. This is particularly relevant where there is a requirement for fast-track occupation and a need for cost certainty. A good fit-out partner should have experience in your business sector and be able to demonstrate best practice. An independent project manager can protect your interests and ensure you are getting value for money.

Appointing a fit-out partner

… Visit similar, completed projects

… Make sure they understand your business and brief

… Visit their offices and meet the whole team – not just the front men

… Make sure they have the key skills in-house

… Do you like the people?

… Do they offer a fixed-priced contract supported by a guaranteed start and finish date?

… Can they demonstrate value for money?

… Can they supply IT and furniture competitively?

… Do they offer post-contract services?

Whichever route you decide to follow, your fit-out partner has a fundamental role to play in identifying the right building and ensuring the final design solution is one that can carry your business through the next stage of its development.

Preparing the project breif and seleting the building

In order to select a building you must have a clear understanding of your space requirements; both current and future. Your external team will work closely with you spending time understanding your culture, assessing your current and planned working practices, projected growth and departmental adjacencies in order to develop a project brief. By interviewing departmental heads and other key members of staff they will develop an outline plan covering the allocation of workspace, the storage of information and the provision of facilities – such as break areas, meeting rooms, catering and washroom facilities.

The difference between an efficient relocation project and an outstanding one usually reflects the amount of time and energy that goes into the planning and briefing of the teams involved.

The work done at this stage will enable you to prepare a premises selection criteria, which will be used by the commercial agent to identify suitable buildings. Armed with the project brief and the selection criteria you will now be in a position to visit and shortlist buildings. It’s vital at this stage the buildings are properly surveyed prior to entering into heads of terms. Your commercial agent should be tasked with negotiating the most favourable terms, taking into account the full costs of occupation – rent, rates, services charges and potential future dilapidations.

You’re now at a point to embark on the office fit-out. The outline project brief will be firmed up in conjunction with your fit-out partner and a project implementation plan prepared. The plan will comprise a detailed specification, programme and budget, which will be signed off together with the design. The development of the final design solution is an iterative process and one that will continue to evolve throughout the project. You should, however, aim to draw a line in the sand and go into contract with a cost plan and specification that reflects your approved design.

This is a critical point in the process and where it typically goes wrong. This is the time to order long lead items such as UPS and telephone lines. You should also make sure you understand your health and safety and insurance obligations. Finally, you must take steps to firm up your furniture and move strategies, including your plan for communicating the relocation to your customers and suppliers.

There are a handful of contractual routes to consider depending on size, timescale and complexity of your project. On major contracts the best advice is to enter into a Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) building contract. These are fairly meaty tomes and you will certainly require professional help from your lawyer to complete. That said, it would give you the best protection should things go wrong. For smaller projects your fit-out partner should be able to provide a short form of contract based on the JCT that will offer you the same basic protection, but presented in a digestible form. Always ensure that any additional works or variations to the contract are costed and agreed prior to commencement of the works to avoid unnecessary stressful ‘final account’ negotiations and disputes at the end of the contract.

Plan the move

You can expect the physical occupation of your new office to be demanding, to say the least. Best advice is to appoint a specialist move management consultancy that will make light of what can be a logistical nightmare.

The move itself is going to be an extremely stressful time for your employees, too. Even the smallest gesture at this stage may reap huge benefits. A welcome pack for example could significantly improve morale by addressing many of the issues your staff will face, including new office systems, security and travel. It may also help define new office protocols connected with open plan offices, diary systems and the booking of hot desks and meeting rooms.

Schedule in time for training staff on new telephone systems, evacuation and emergency procedures and remember to update your health and safety and disaster recovery plans.

Julian Smith is managing partner of property services company Maris Interiors LLP. It recently published a guide entitled ’51 Steps To A Successful Office Relocation’. For more information visit www.maris-interiors.co.uk

SUCCESSFUL RELOCATION TIPS

? Appoint a project champion

? Interview and select a professional team

? Carry out a detailed workplace audit

? Develop a detailed premises selection criteria

? Shortlist and inspect potential buildings

? Carry out detailed building surveys

? Prepare a detailed project brief

? Sign off the detailed specification, design, costs and programme

? Order long lead items well in advance

? Plan the physical move

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