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How to Survive an Office Move

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The interior of an office.

For people who work in offices, a time may come when there is a need to relocate to a different site. In this Entry, h2g2 Researchers share their experiences of surviving the Office Move.

'It's Good to Move, I Think'

Some people find they have stayed in one office for a long time, whereas others find they move offices regularly. Reasons for an office move are varied. An office building may become too expensive to maintain, so it is cheaper to relocate somewhere else. Refurbishment may be required, so teams have to move out for a time before moving back in again. The jobs within the office may change, so some teams move to different locations while others stay where they are. In all cases there is disruption, and people need to get used to the change.

I've been 30 years working in this building, except for one year in a building a hundred yards down the road. I've kind of got used to it.

In contrast:

I have been in work for 7 years, and have never spent more than 2 years in one building. For the first 4 years, I didn't even spend more than 1 year in one building.

Moves may be big, involving large distances and very different buildings, but even small moves may take place as offices evolve.

I worked in one department for 14 years, and then came downstairs and worked in another for 23 years. But that doesn't mean I always stayed in the same place. My desk was moved around the floor many times.

A move may really put you in your place:

In my first ever office job, working in the sales department for a company selling power tools and fixings, they moved me out of the main office in order to make room for the Christmas tree. Surprisingly, I didn't stay in that job long after that...

'I Rolled My Chair'

Making the move can be a challenge:

I always found the stationery cupboard to be the fly in the ointment of an office move.

An office move may require logistical planning:

We needed to hire a specialist to move our safe, which was huge and extremely heavy.

Although sometimes the planning could be better.

Engineers and administrative people had movers and trucks to relocate them for a time - but we dirty-knuckled working stiffs had to use every cart, wagon and dolly we could find. To move all of the electronics test gear and tools we use daily, as well as the loads of devices we were there to repair. About two town 'blocks' was the drag. Less than three months later, we returned to the old place - same fashion.

And sometimes the 'removal experts' don't help.

The company I work for moved from a massive, sprawling building they'd occupied for 50+ years into part of a floor in a six-story tower and a small warehouse. It was bound to be chaotic.

My colleague and I spent months boxing and labelling, and I myself was in charge of all the secure archived stuff. When the time came to move, my pile of secure archive boxes were loaded onto a pallet and the removal men were instructed to unload them all in one area so they could be easily found and moved into the secure storage once it was finished the following week.

These guys obviously just opened all the pallets then threw boxes down a chain to pile them any old how. Stuff fell out of boxes and when it was found it was put back in the nearest box. Boxes were stacked against the wall, oftentimes with the labelling at the back. It was chaos and it still is. I still haven't managed to find all the records.

Sometimes the simple approach works best.

I decided to forgo the tea-crate and Pickfords routine. I loaded my computer (a big whirry unit in those days) on to my comfy Herman Miller chair and wheeled it into the new place. Despite the removals company only having to take the stuff across the road, they managed to lose or misplace most of it, and on Monday morning I was the only one working, and the only one with a comfy chair.

Hints and Tips

Preparing for the move helps.

I worked at one department for 15 years of my worklife, and I think I moved offices 10 times. First move was tough - I had collected too much junk in binders, and was insecure in myself, so a new office felt scary. Each move, I tossed stuff, and the last ones were easier.

Other suggestions for the practical side of the move are:

  • Take your personal belongings home before the move and bring them back on your first day on the new premises. This is a good time to re-assess the junk you have accumulated at the back of that bottom drawer...

  • Label furniture and boxes with the name and room number of the new destination. Post-it notes will not survive the manhandling, and indelible ink is not an option on most furniture surfaces, being, by definition, indelible. Self-adhesive address labels should be readily available in the stationery cupboard, but remember to get the office manager to order in some label-remover.

  • Lock all drawers and keep the key with you. If the lock is broken, or non-existent, stick the drawers closed with sticky tape, which again is usually available somewhere in the office for doing up parcels. You may need that label-remover here, too, once you've settled in.

  • Wastepaper baskets are useful containers for the bits and bobs you have to pack at the last minute.

  • Wipe down empty drawers and cupboards before you put your files and boxes in them.

  • Bring a flask of tea, in case the new kitchen isn't working properly yet.

  • When you start life in your new office, make a resolution to reduce clutter and paper to a minimum. It might work for a week or so!

Commuting

A new office may mean a new location, and hence a new commute. Some Researchers are philosophical:

At the moment it takes me 50 minutes to get to work. I think it will take an extra 30 to the new location. That'll be more than two and a half hours a day commuting. Still, that will include about two hours of walking which will be good for me.

While others have different challenges.

Your commute is still a lot quicker than mine (two hours door-to-door), but that's a lot of walking! I get my exercise by power-walking between transport links.

Technology could help too.

There's a three-wheeled bicycle with solar collectors and a battery-powered engine. It's pricey: more than $4,000.00.

'Done Up Like a Proper Office'

Even if an old office is only being refurbished for people to move back into later, there are still challenges to be faced:

I had no part in the outward move other than packing my few things, but I was given the job of measuring things for the move back so that they could make sure everything would fit. The place we moved out to was not ideal and we had cables all over the place. It was light and airy - we were on the top floor of a tall building and had large windows giving views over the city centre. The place was also spacious. When we moved back to the refurbished area I found that my measurements had been ignored. The test area was cramped and fire regulations specifying 6ft between desks were violated. The only windows were small and could only be opened by standing on a work bench. I could go on about the problems but it would take too long. Suffice to say that people started leaving. It got so bad that a sign was put up: 'Will the last person to leave please turn the lights off?'

The move may turn out to be better than expected.

The second move was from Portacabins that had been used for years to a completely different site. We were taken to see our new work space before the move and my heart sank when I saw it. The Portacabins were old and tatty, but they did have natural light. The new area had no windows at all. I expected a repeat of my previous experience, but it didn't happen. The work space was well laid out with plenty of room to move around. It was well enough lit for the lack of natural light not to be a problem.

A new office may present challenges to settling in:

I spent the first eight years out of the nine I've been here in the Uni's second-oldest building and now I'm in the oldest. Not sure how long the cracks in the walls have been here for, though. It was great fun yesterday listening to the windows rattle and the wind howl all day. Howl! Howl!

Or the facilities may provide advantages that the old office didn't have:

I have been involved in an office move - two, in fact. The first was from a sort of house, which we occupied entirely, into another house which, again, was just for us, but had been renovated and done up like a proper office with all the sockets and cables and fax and Internet connections.

Mostly, there will be advantages and disadvantages:

The first office I worked in was a sort of house, which I did like, as it was quite homely. We then moved into an older building that was much more grand, so I got a lot of exercise by going down the long corridors to get to my team's room. That cost too much to maintain, so we then moved into a brand new building with all mod cons, like 'temperature redistribution systems' and machines that produced a substance that was 'almost, but not quite entirely, unlike tea'. Unfortunately, with actual humans inside it rather than theoretical ones, the building struggled with self-regulation - there were always hot spots and cold spots in the massive open plan space.

Ripple Effect

Sometimes not moving is the only option:

I once worked in a bank branch. After being there a few years a really unpleasant person was appointed regional director – he spent his time being unpleasant to all the male employees and flirting with the female employees. Shortly after he started quite a few people, including many who had worked for the bank for years, had left, leaving the whole region short-staffed. The branch where he was based, Bristol, was particularly badly affected and so he started ordering people to spend a week based there instead of at their home branch. I was ordered to spend a week based in Bristol, but refused to go. My wife was heavily pregnant with my son at the time and so I said there was no way I would regularly go to Bristol. I got a tad told off, but I changed job to work for the Uni. The banking sector collapsed the minute I left and he lost his job.

Sometimes it isn't you who moves office, but you can still be affected by an office move.

I had rented a car for a month while mine was being repaired. Rather than pay for it directly and wait for my insurance to reimburse me, I arranged for payment with a purchase order from the insurer. The rental place moved offices at some time during the following year and sometime after that they found my rental agreement, but not the records of my payment. So, they charged my credit card without notice. This charge occurred over a year and a half after I rented the car. It took several phone calls to figure out what happened and get it straightened out.

And Finally

Moving office or any work-place is like a Dirk Gently driving experience. You and your files, furniture and possessions may not necessarily get to where you intended, but invariably it IS an interesting experience.

This Entry may or may not have provided you with the information you need to survive your next office move, but whatever happens, you can remember that h2g2 Researchers have been there before you so you're not alone.

Time to shut down my computer now. It should be waiting for me on Monday.

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