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Managing a stress-free office move30th of October 2014
Just the thought of it is enough to send your stress levels through the roof. Yet managing an office move with all the hassle, upheaval and expense that comes with it is a nettle most business owners will need to grasp sooner or later. Hartley Milner reports on how one company on a tight budget sought to smooth the move.
Publisher Lyall Kinley surveyed 20 years of clutter at his rented premises in north London and a deep panic set in as the reality of what he was about to take on hit home. “Every shelf, cupboard, filing cabinet, in fact every available nook and cranny, was piled high with stuff we really should have thrown out years ago,” said Kinley. “And it was not only paper clutter but also bulky stuff such as obsolete computers, printers and a photocopier.
“Why we let the place get in such a state, I really cannot say, but we had to shift the lot, along with moving the office furnishings and IT equipment we use every day – and all in the space of three weeks!”
Kinley was having to downsize his retail catalogue publishing business following a steady fall in orders due to the recession and the rise of online shopping. He had left three vacancies unfilled and made two employees redundant, leaving a staff of eight full-time copywriters and designers.
“Drastic measures were needed in the short term and a move to more affordable premises would be key to returning the business to profitability and to ensuring it remained competitive,” said Kinley.
“We had been through lean times in the past, but a relocation had never been on the cards before, so all I had to guide me were horror stories about what can happen if it all goes wrong,which everyone seemed most eager to impart.
“From what people were saying, the one thing you should resist at all costs is going down the DIY route, which we had considered at one point to save money. I heard tales of employees injuring their backs while lugging around heavy boxes and falling down steps while helping carry a desk to a waiting van, then going on to claim hefty compensation from the business owner in the courts.
“In the end, we heeded all the warnings and obtained a short-term 12,700 euros bank loan to cover bringing in expert help, including a professional office relocation adviser. After all, while the move was under way we still had to continue servicing our clients, so we wanted to ensure it all went seamlessly to avoid causing disruption to them.
“We anticipated repaying the loan early from the 21,600 euros we estimated we could save on our rental, heating and phone costs and business rates in just the first year of relocating.”
Clearly, the first step for Kinley was to find premises that would provide the savings he was seeking, somewhere nearby but with around half the 1,600 square feet of floor space he was currently occupying (100 square feet per employee is generally recommended).
“This is where the local office relocation adviser started earning her money,” said Kinley. “Knowing we were on a tight budget, she put us in touch with commercial property agents offering the most competitive commission rates and advised us that because our business was IT-based we did not require ‘shop window’ premises in a prime location. The key thing was getting a lease that suited us.”
Kinley was advised to opt for a flexible lease, which meant he could leave the premises at short notice if he suddenly needed to slash costs further. A non-flexible lease can mean up to three months’ negotiation before the contract is signed and can often tie you to a property for five years or more. Whichever option, always check the lease offer is competitive against similar office space in the area. Never accept the rental quoted – always haggle for a better deal and show the terms of the lease to your solicitor.
The adviser also drew up the following property seeker’s checklist:
• Crucially, are the offices big enough
• Is there room to expand?
• Is the office serviced or unserviced? If unserviced, what would be the costs of putting in all the fittings you need?
• Is the building in a secure, low crime area? How will its security status affect your insurance? The more doors and locks to the office, and further up from ground level it is, the better the insurance deal. Will you have to pay for your own locks?
• How hands-on are the management? Do they provide their own plumber/electrician/etc.
Points to check
• Who will be responsible for maintenance – management or you?
• Will you be forbidden from doing anything, such as redecorating?
• Will you have access 24/7, or do you have to be out by a certain time?
• Check service charges and business rates.
• Are there good transport links and free parking attached or nearby?
• What shops and amenities are nearby?
• Is a shower available?
• Is there secure parking for cycles?
• If an office block, is there a lift?
• Are there enough power sockets?
• Will you have access to a kitchen?
• Will you have access to drinking water?
• Is there air-con/central heating? How costly are the offices to heat?
• Check all windows open and close.
Kinley’s adviser, Jenna Smith, said planning should start at least three months ahead of the move date with finding a reliable removal company an early priority. “You should get at least three removals quotes and not simply from a man with a van who does a bit of removal work on the side,” she said.
“They should be experienced in office removals, and therefore used to handling office equipment, furniture, and they should also be mindful of the importance of getting everything re-assembled in the right place, tested and working as it should quickly and efficiently. You will also need to check that they are adequately insured.
“Once you have chosen a removals company, try to plan your office move so it doesn’t eat into valuable business time. Many office removers will be available at weekends to accommodate your business needs. It also means your staff can leave the office on a Friday already prepared for the move and return to a work-ready office on the Monday morning.
“There is so much to think about and organise, so drawing up a well thought-out relocation strategy is key to ensuring everything goes smoothly. Checklists are central to the success of any move and you will find they never seem to get shorter, because you are always adding to them. Something that tends to get left until late is contacting your existing service providers. Yet by letting them know about the move early you are in a strong position to negotiate a good deal for carrying them over to your new premises. It is also a good opportunity to get alternative quotes from other providers.
“Your responsibilities for your old premises may not end simply because you have vacated them. You may well be liable for dilapidation costs, which can be huge. Office moves can entail a range of different costs, including IT cabling and infrastructure, insurance and new equipment and furnishings. These are just some of the costs involved. Make sure you do detailed costings and add on around 20 per cent as unexpected problems are likely to push you over budget.
“If you are using an office fit-out company, ask them for a detailed layout of your new office to enable the removals firm to set up everything in its right place in your new office. Ask your staff to pack their own desk items and make sure everything is correctly labelled so it ends up at the right desk in the new office.”
You need to get your IT company to pack all your computers and servers on your leave date (or before if you can work off laptops) and set them up again in the new office on the same day and as soon as possible, said Smith, as it is almost certain that you will not get everything up and running satisfactorily first time.
“We followed all the advice, including using professionals, and we were settled in our bright new offices well within three weeks,” said Kinley. “We over-spent our budget by 2,500 euros, but this was more than offset by the savings we made. Our biggest cost by far was the 44,500 euros for putting right dilapidations in the offices we vacated, but we had this covered because we had regularly put money aside each year for this purpose.
“Best of all, we have been able to diversify into a more lucrative area of publishing and significantly increase our turnover. We are even considering taking on additional staff.”