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Relocating your entire staff: how to put a human face on moving the office.

In January 1992, the 400-plus staff members of the American Psychological Association (APA) relocated from three locations in the greater Washington, D.C., area to a newly constructed headquarters building near downtown Washington. Two of us spent virtually full time for more than two years planning the event. We talked to many other groups that had relocated recently, learning from their experiences as we hope you will learn from ours.

The move--a massive collective effort--was remarkably smooth, if not perfect. But this story is not about how to pack your boxes or put out bids to movers. It's about the human factor: addressing staff concerns, opening lines of communication, and involving staff at every level in practically every aspect of the move.

With a large staff and brand new building, it's easy to allow institutional concerns to obscure the needs of the individual. For example, we launched an internal newsletter about the move several months before the event. In the first issue, the following item was buried on page three:

Plants: The design of the new space includes plants in the open areas. We'll hire a private firm to install and maintain the plants. However, the plant company will not guarantee the plants if there are personal plants in the space. Therefore, personal plants will not be allowed in the new offices.

Staff reaction was immediate and intense. E-mail exploded with comments, and there was talk of circulating petitions. We decided to allow personal plants.

Change causes stress. In fact, one of the most stressful events in life is moving. In a work environment, a change in office location affects staff in a variety of ways--each capable of causing stress. For example,

* APA was relocating half its staff from the heart of downtown to an area of the city deemed less desirable. The other half of the staff was relocating from two buildings in a suburban location that offered shorter, less-congested commutes and cheaper parking.

* After 15 years of being split between two different locations, the two staffs had developed distinct cultures. They even had different typical office hours.

* Realigning departments at the new facility promised to be stressful too, as many staff members would be working close to other staff whom they previously had not known well.

* The new offices had a number of windowless interior offices, which meant that some staff would be trading offices with windows for less desirable interior spaces.

* In the end, the move went well, in large part because of APA's early commitment to meeting the human needs of its staff in the planning process. What follows is an account of APA's relocation project--and its emphasis on the human factors.

Everyone has a story

We began planning how to consolidate APA's staff in 1987, when APA decided to sell its buildings and build a new headquarters. In 1988, the association formed a partnership with a national real estate development firm, and we broke ground in February 1990. Through a competitive process, we chose a design firm to develop the building's interior.

Role of the chief executive officer. With two staffers managing move logistics, APA's chief executive officer, Raymond D. Fowler, could focus on communicating regularly with the board of directors and other leaders about the project status at every stage. By focusing on managing staff expectations and thorough, ongoing communication, Fowler hoped to create a sense of comfort about being together for the first time in years in a new building and new area.

Staff starts early. Staff at all levels got involved from the beginning in our planning. One of the first steps, in the summer of 1990, was to review current and future space needs. Department heads made lists of their staff members and of current files, workrooms, and equipment. They verified and updated the current information, and then projected their space needs in the new building, anticipating future growth or downsizing as they could.

Although space was initially allotted by position level, we often found that position functions required changes to the formula. After working on the space program, Fowler authorized executive staff to allocate space within general parameters as they saw fit. This allowed for some tailoring within functional areas and within some position levels.

Designed for interaction. The interior design firm also asked department heads which other departments they interacted with most. The APA Monitor, for example, had to be on the sixth floor with the executive offices because the newspaper staff spoke so frequently with Fowler. Communication staff use the library most, so they are on the third floor.

The designers recommended a floor plan that management accepted, and the next phase of design began.

Designing a human space. Fowler felt strongly that the new offices should be designed on a human scale. Recognizing that staff spend the better part of the waking day at the office, he wanted an environment that they could enjoy.

Residential materials. Working from Fowler's directive that the space be warm, inviting, and homey, the designers developed a space with a residential rather than corporate feel, yet of materials suitable for an office environment. Although some staff were initially nonplussed by the idea of a "residential" scheme, they relaxed when they went on pre-move building tours and they saw the final product.

The design firm's interpretation of Fowler's direction was a garden motif that included a leaf-patterned carpet and plants above file cabinet niches and in reception areas. Office doors had residential proportions rather than rising to the ceiling, and etched-glass windows down the length of each door allowed light to the interior while protecting the office's privacy. We mixed fluorescent with some incandescent light, and wall sconces at each door added a homelike source of light.

The right light. We also paid special attention to work space lighting. We took a lighting specialist around to talk to staff working in the old space to discover what they did and didn't like.

Often staff didn't know what was wrong--for example, the light may be right, but the desk is too dark. The consultant developed a lighting scheme with enough flexibility to meet specific needs of individual functions. Editors, for example, wanted to be able to brighten and focus lighting on their work. People who worked a lot on computers needed dimmer lighting. A moveable task light enabled staff members to adjust the lighting to meet their needs.

A planning management team

As the design planning phase got under way, we realized that spelling out how the association was to function in the new building was a critical step. This was an opportunity to institute new policies and procedures and overhaul others. Issues we needed to resolve included new mail distribution procedures, security, staffing reception areas on each floor (which we hadn't done in the old buildings), receiving couriers, and other questions.

This opportunity, however, found the association's executive staff busy with the ongoing business of running the association. We needed another management group to develop these new policies and procedures and recommend them to executive staff. Management representatives from each of the eight major divisions, plus the building staff and the directors of human resources, administration, and management information systems, convened as the coordinated committee for administration and management, or CCAM.

CCAM's premise was that we needed input to the decision-making process from all segments of the organization. CCAM representatives sought input from their staff on each topic at hand. More staff groups would form in the months leading up to the move to ensure staff input on all major relocation decisions.

Making space workable

Standardizing spaces. APA had grown haphazardly into our other buildings, and office sizes and styles had never been consistent. Internal politics always arose over prime spaces or pieces of furniture, and we wanted to obviate those issues in the new building. With valuable input from all staff through their CCAM representatives, we decided on standards for office sizes. The offices were 300 square feet for the heads of the eight components of the association; 225 square feet for the deputies; and 150 square feet or 120 square feet for the other staff.

Workstations. A number of functions--such as clerical support, accounting, and editorial--operate in workstations. We achieved consensus on a standard size of 80 square feet. Space limitations on one floor forced us to make stations there 64 square feet.

Focus groups. Focus groups of support staff in each of the major areas of the association discussed their needs within workstation configurations. Having standard workstation configurations couldn't satisfy every need, but staff knew the arrangements we adopted were based on their input.

Focus groups also tested five lines of chairs and chose one manufacturer. Here again, we never reached consensus, but active participation in the process went a long way toward achieving acceptance of the final decision.

Choosing furniture. Originally we planned to keep some of our old furniture. Many staffers were anxious about who would take what to the new building, or who would receive new furniture. Realizing that fewer of the old pieces than we had thought were likely to make it over in one piece helped us decide to purchase all new furniture. CCAM representatives gave us input on standard choices, and staff chose between two finishes for desks and other wood furniture, and three color schemes for chairs.

Thinking ergonomically. Recognizing that stress in the workplace has physical as well as psychological origins, we paid a lot of attention to ergonomically correct solutions. With that in mind, we selected workstation systems that had fully adjustable work surfaces and retractable and adjustable keyboard trays. Likewise, each furniture configuration for the offices included adjustable keyboard trays. Office chairs were also fully adjustable.

Newsletter answers questions

We identified rumor control as a critical need early on. With more than 400 staff members in three different locations, little things magnified instantly.

For example, a senior staff member talked about the new building being nonsmoking. He later joked that "nobody better smoke within 500 feet of the building." Soon, the joke was a fact making the rounds. We usually heard about whatever was running through the grapevine via E-mail; managers passed along potential problems we needed to answer.

To answer the sort of questions that might quickly become rumors, we created an internal newsletter about 10 months before the move. We published every six weeks--and in the last few months every three weeks. Staff from all levels--and even an administrator from a building in our new neighborhood--contributed articles addressing worries such as whether the financing of the new facility was at the expense of staff salaries, when computers would be shut down, and safety concerns in the new neighborhood.

The moving team

Six months before the move, we saw that still another staff group needed to help with the logistics of the move--planning for file needs in the new building, packing and marking boxes, and implementing decisions made by CCAM. We formed a cross-department group, with about seven people from each building.

The move committee regularly communicated information to all staff. Committee members functioned as front-line sources of information, got questions answered, and controlled rumors in their areas. Some members prepared one-page newsletters for staff in their areas after each move committee meeting. Staff often just dropped by to get specific questions answered about commuting, packing, and deadlines for phone and computer shut-downs as they planned their pre- and post-move workloads.

The move committee brought together people who had not previously worked as a team. The committee helped develop the team spirit that we would need to carry out the relocation. More importantly, the new team spirit brought the two separate groups together--and the sense of teamwork moved into the new building along with the people.

Counseling from the EAP

Recognizing that the stress related to the relocation might be manifesting itself in different ways, APA brought in its employee assistance program (EAP) provider to help. The EAP's executive director attended all meetings of the move committee and functioned as a resource to the move committee representatives on handling stress.

She helped them deal with the increasingly stressful situation by reminding them to prioritize and keep in mind how much they had accomplished as well as what there was still to do. She advised them on dealing with stressed co-workers and encouraged them to keep things in perspective as moving day drew closer.

The committee shouldered a lot of responsibility by making sure everyone stopped work, got packed, and exited the building on time so the movers could do their work. Dealing with co-workers as these eleventh-hour tasks approached put move committee members themselves in a stressful position that the EAP director helped them deal with calmly.

She also helped our human resources department develop a staff questionnaire eliciting concerns about the relocation. The survey identified concerns such as commuting time and costs, security, and what could be found in the new area in the way of banking, postal services, shopping, and restaurants. Fowler addressed those questions point by point in one of his newsletter columns.

The EAP counselor met privately with staff on other concerns: new child care arrangements because of longer commutes; the higher cost of commuting or parking; and how to manage workloads during the downtime the move created. The counselor was also on call in the days immediately following the relocation to meet privately with any staffer. That went a long way toward achieving a smooth transition.

The final steps

Cleaning clutter. The highlights of the planning period for many staff were the seminar and follow-up sessions with a time-management specialist who became affectionately known by staff as the Clutter Lady.

We knew early on it would be worthwhile to clean out our files before the move. The entertaining but instructive seminars attracted more than a quarter of the staff, and about 50 people received intensive, hands-on assistance in getting their individual offices and work styles totally reorganized.

According to reports from managers, the cost of those services has been more than offset by a demonstrably more efficient staff, and we dumped literally tons of old files before the move.

Easing into the new site. When construction progress made staff tours possible, the move committee coordinated getting all staff over for a walk-through prior to the day of the move. It was important for all staff to have a sense of where they would be working and to find out their proximity to other staffers, the copier, mail room, pantry, bathrooms, and so forth.

The move video. Despite the preparations, stress built up during the final hectic days that preceded the relocation, as well as during the first few days in the new building, when we knew there would be problems--a few lost boxes, furniture not placed properly, and other mistakes.

Fowler suggested that the public affairs staff create a fun video spoofing the move and the new building, using some of the candid snapshots taken during the move preparation and the actual move. We showed the hilarious result in conjunction with an all-staff meeting--the first time in many years that all APA staff had been in one room at the same time. The meeting, and the fun of watching the video, marked the end of the move and the beginning of building a unified team.

Make a Long-Range Schedule

Many concurrent projects support a relocation. At the American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., we developed a relocation plan to document specific actions required by the association and its consultants, contractors, and vendors to meet the relocation deadline.

APA contracted with a specialist in facility planning and relocation. With this guidance, we developed a comprehensive, 24-page relocation plan. The major tasks fell into one of the following categories: budget, design and engineering, tenant construction, furniture and furnishings, data and telecommunications, security, administration, and move coordination.

This is a vastly simplified version of one planning category. You might add columns to note start date, duration, status, and name of individual or company responsible for carrying out the task.


Skip Calvert is director of administrative operations and Holly Holstrom is director of office support services for the American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Annual Meeting Issue
Author:Holstrom, Holly
Publication:Association Management
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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