Rachel Houghton, MD at Business Moves Group, shares advice with those in charge of real estate strategy about how to manage a relocation project.
Among the standout findings from PwC’s 2021 Law Firms’ Survey is that 48 per cent of the top 100 UK firms expect to reduce their office footprint in the short to medium term. Another interesting finding is that every firm surveyed intends to keep some form of virtual working post-Covid. In fact, the future of the office is one of five key themes highlighted in the report.
The fact that one of the more “traditional” sectors is so open to hybrid and flexible working speaks volumes about the impact of the pandemic. But while these might be exciting times for workers in the legal sector, senior managers have tricky decisions to make regarding their real estate. From furniture management to the security of confidential documents, those in charge of real estate strategy have a lot to consider. A good plan can make an office relocation a much less stressful experience. Here are some of the top factors to consider.
It stands to reason that an office downsize will result in excess furniture. Indeed, even firms staying put but redesigning the office, may find they have excess furniture if they create more community spaces and remove desks.
Conducting an audit at the outset is absolutely critical. We take digital audits as it makes keeping records much easier and multiple people can access the data at any time, from any location. An audit should include every piece of furniture and equipment, its condition, location and photos. Once this is complete, the relocation team can work with key stakeholders to determine the future of each item.
The next step involves much more than simply deciding what to keep and what to throw away. Sending items to landfill should not even be considered a last resort – there is always a more sustainable option. Options include selling, refurbishing (items can then be reused or sold), storing, donating or recycling. Selling items is a great way to offset some of the relocation costs, while there are plenty of worthwhile charities that take old furniture and IT equipment, such as Business 2 Schools.
If you recycle any items, find a partner that details the life journey of every material. We provide reports to our clients so they can rest assured that nothing is going to landfill. This is also very helpful when reporting on CSR and sustainability goals to the wider organisation.
Storage can be a good option, but don’t store items simply because you can’t decide what else to do – the costs will add up and you’ll need to decide eventually.
Fine art relocation
It’s not uncommon for law firms to have a fine art collection and this requires special attention during a relocation. Moving art is essentially a mini-project within a relocation and the importance of working with an art and restoration specialist cannot be understated. The key is to treat each piece individually. Its age and condition must be audited as this will determine how it should be handled. As with furniture, a digital audit at this stage is a must.
The moving team must be told exactly where each piece of art will be displayed in the new office. Art is usually one of the last things to be moved so there won’t be space to store it while a decision on where to hang it is made. As for transport, items can be moved in GPS-tracked vehicles that have temperature-controlled units if needed. It can be a lengthy process, but there’s no room for error with valuable artwork.
Speaking of GPS-tracked vehicles, security is of course a top priority for legal firms. Confidential documents must be handled carefully, both paper and digital copies. An audit is again a great idea for paperwork. Clearly label all boxes, keep items stored in a safe space and inform your moving team which items need to be tracked or accompanied by a security guard. Moving digital documents falls under server and IT relocation, which is a whole other project in itself.
Moving your servers
IT relocation can be broadly divided into two categories – server relocation and office equipment relocation. Not only must servers be handled with great care, but the timing of the move must be precise – employees will not be able to access them while they are offline which can cause disruption. Work with your IT and moving teams to pick a time that will have the least impact on your staff.
There are specialist packing crates designed for servers that will ensure they are safe – even slight damage can result in data loss. The IT equipment includes computers, printers, keyboards, wires and more. At the risk of sounding like a broken record – take an audit! You might even find you have equipment that you had forgotten about.
The personal touch
Among all the tasks of an office relocation, it can be easy to forget to keep the people in the loop that it will impact the most – your employees. Keep an open dialogue, ask for opinions and involve your staff in the process. Giving them a sense of ownership will greatly increase the chances that they will use the new space. After all, the last thing you want after moving is to find that the majority of staff want to work remotely for the majority of the week.
There is a lot to manage during a relocation which is why many choose to partner with a specialist. If you do choose to manage the process in-house, avoid the temptation to task the management of it to an existing employee – it becomes too much of a burden to take on what is effectively two roles.
With a strong plan and team in place, there’s no reason why your relocation can’t be a success.