Too often, organisations have a one-dimensional view of relocation. They see it as nothing more than the act of getting from physical point A to physical point B. It’s a costly and unavoidable burden that gets outsourced to a moving specialist. Little, if any, thought is ever given to the potential for relocation projects to drive innovation and trigger bigger change.
Business transformation through relocation might seem like a lofty idea, particularly to the groups that are traditionally responsible for these projects, but the act provides a rare opportunity for business leaders to look up from the day-to-day and reinvent, modernize and evolve to new behaviours and culture.
The potential for change
The first step leaders must take is to identify what it is they are trying to achieve. Doing this will get them thinking about the workplace and what it can do for their organisation in a much more meaningful way. They might simply want to reduce costs. But it could also be a means of attracting and retaining a better calibre of employee. The objective might be to increase the productivity of people by providing more effective workspaces, or to get everyone working in a more collaborative way by removing physical and cultural barriers. Perhaps the aim is to move to an agile workplace that boosts both productivity and collaboration by giving people more control of where and how they work.
In fact, agile working serves as a great example of how relocation can drive bigger change. With the cost of commercial property leases continuing to rise, a growing number of organisations are looking to save money by rationalising their real estate. Agile working is a common solution to this problem, but it’s never as simple as relocating to a new workplace. In fact, thinking about it in such shallow terms will almost guarantee failure.
Yes, implementing an agile system can cut real estate costs through workplace interventions such as flexible working, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about speed, adaptability and responsiveness to change. Relocating to a new agile working environment, for example, provides organisations with an opportunity to ‘digitize’. This includes the introduction of new software or apps that let colleagues communicate as they jump between different places of work in the agile environment. In this sense, the new workplace becomes a container for the digitally-connected organisation.
Once the organisation understands the wider objectives of the relocation, attention should turn to the solution. If the aim is to boost productivity or collaboration, the needs of employees must be central to the decision-making process. Often, this means replacing traditional real estate and facilities management measures with activities such as workplace utilisation and strategy studies that investigate how, when and where people do their jobs. Armed with the results, organisations must then design experiences as much as workplaces so that they may shape the employee’s journey second by second, sense by sense, and create an emotional response.
These experiences must be authentic and unique to their needs, and they must encourage the new behaviours necessary to foster productivity, collaboration or agility. Business leaders must therefore consider the fusion of space, technology, information, and services – and how these converge to reflect the organisation’s personality and support people’s effectiveness. By doing so, they will remove the obstacles that get in the way of employees’ day-to-day work and provide environments that keep them happy, healthy and productive.
Transferring this power to employees, however, will first require buy-in from the senior leadership team, as the organisation democratizes the workplace decisions (though based on the solid evidence provided by the measurement data). Business leaders can then help to embed the new strategy or philosophy and ensure that the entire organisation is ready for the transformation. Once leadership has bought into the ambitious plans behind the relocation, the teams in charge of the project will need to manage employees’ expectations.
Dropping staff into a new space without any prior planning, training or consultation is likely to frustrate and alienate them. The answer is to develop an internal communications strategy that tells a compelling story and explains the objectives behind the relocation. Meetings, workshops focused on behavioural change, and tours of the new space before moving day will help employees to understand what is expected of them. Specially appointed ‘change champions’ will keep the buzz going, update colleagues about any progress made, and act as intermediaries for those who might have concerns about the change.
The business transformation that is triggered by the relocation should begin before the physical move takes place and end long after it is completed. Once employees have settled, the organisation’s leaders and their teams will need training to help them develop new understandings, practices and behaviours so that their relationships, productivity and performance at work can sustain and even improve. Employees need time to acclimatize to the new physical and cultural environment, which factors in the technology they use, new and agile ways of working and the flatter organisational structure that comes with it.
About the Author
Andrew Mawson is one of Advanced Workplace Associates' (AWA) founding Directors. He holds the executive position of Managing Director. He’s a leading pioneer, thinker and speaker on matters ‘work and place’. In 2014 Andrew worked with the UK Cabinet Office as an adviser, participating in a review of 13 government departments’ performance in implementing ‘Agile working’ as part of the government’s Civil Service Reform programme.