Office relocation is a decision that many accounting firms encounter at some point as a result of firm growth, leases ending or marketplace changes. Most of the time, the very thought of an office move incites feelings of anxiety and stress. This month’s Spotlight digs into the challenges and success stories of moving a business and illustrates how an office relocation can be an exciting opportunity to make your firm stand out in the crowd. We interviewed Marty Einhorn, CPA/ABV, CVA of Wall, Einhorn and Chernitzer, P.C. (WEC) to tell us what to expect during an office move and lessons he and his team learned in the process.
What prompted your decision to move offices?
We had been in our previous space, which was built in the 1960’s, for 26 years. Over the years we grew from filling out an office suite to maxing out at 2.5 floors. During these years of expansion, we noticed that building maintenance started to slack and we were growing very dissatisfied with the space. We started a search in our marketplace and ultimately chose this building because the floorplan was the most suitable, the footprint was large enough, the location was optimal, and the price was reasonable.
How long did it take to go from making a decision to move to signing a lease on a new building?
The search process, from notifying our landlord to signing a lease on the new space, took about 16 months. It was an incredibly complex negotiation, but with the help of a broker who worked on our behalf, we were able to reach terms that suited our needs. I highly recommend enlisting a broker who is an expert in your market as part of a successful moving plan.
What steps did you take to prepare your new office building for your arrival?
The first decision we made was to hire a project manager. This person held everyone in the process accountable, from the architect and contractor to the IT team and designers. We also sought out a design team to help us create a space that was worthy of a total scene change. We interviewed design firms that were recommended to us by the building owners and our project manager. Through extensive due diligence during the bidding and proposal process, we found the right team for our firm.
Talk us through the design process.
The design firm we hired is a local start-up, comprised of 3 talented individuals – an architect, interior designer and engineer. This team began our design plan by interviewing our staff and holding focus groups to further their understanding of our culture. The interviews revealed that our team valued natural light, that we didn’t want hierarchy in office design and that we predominantly work in teams. To honor these principles, we designed all of the offices (and the furniture) to be the same size and made sure every space had lighting from the office windows. As Managing Partner, my office is located in the center of the building, which makes me accessible to everyone. Instead of corner offices, we have 3 collaboration centers and 1 conference center. Our unique workstations feature a combination of glass and lower solid walls, which encourages conversation while still affording privacy.
In addition to designing around our culture and work style, we wanted to make our workspace as healthy and ergonomic as possible. Almost every person has a sit-to-stand desk surface and we provided extras such as exercise ball chairs. Since we wanted to save the exquisite waterfront views for our staff and clients, our conference room and reception center are positioned to optimize the view for everyone coming through our office. Our breakroom looks out over the best views from the office so that our people have a great place to relax and decompress.
Did your design plans take into account firm growth?
We absolutely wanted our design to plan for growth. Our conference room has moveable walls so when we gather for training or social events we can open up the space. We furnished the space to expand and since our workstations are homogenous, people can move from one spot to another very easily. We are currently in the process of setting up a virtual desktop system, which means we will eventually be able to have terminals that staff can just walk up to and log in.
How do you use the space for retention and recruiting purposes?
Last year, while our offices were still under construction, we hosted a student open house in our building’s community room on the top floor. During the event, we brought candidates down to the offices for a hard-hat tour and showed them 3D renderings of what we were working on. We had the best recruiting year ever, and the main thing I can attribute it to is our office – our people and our mission stayed the same – and now our office space reflects our culture.
What was the biggest surprise during this process?
There were actually two – maintaining our budget and nervousness from employees. We knew staying within budget would be a challenge, but the initial estimates from our vendors came in $1M over budget! We held our ground on keeping within our original budget and wound up delaying construction for two months as we value-engineered every last item. We had to make some compromises, but we eventually came in only $45K over budget. Having a project manager working on our behalf was a critical factor in staying so close to our budget.
We were also surprised to learn from all of our advisors that most employees will have negative expectations about an office move, even if the move is positive. We decided to overcome any potential concerns by over-communicating during the design and construction of the new office. We created a private Facebook page for our team and posted updates and pictures throughout the process and we took people on tours throughout construction. The benefit of our communication efforts was immediately evident. The day after we moved, fears completely vanished; everyone was thrilled and our biggest critics became biggest champions. Most people commented about the painlessness of the move and praised the layout of the new office.
Thanks to our amazing team including Susan Rozier, Office Manager; Lani Joslin, Assistant Office Manager and David Chase, CPA, our people turned off their computers on a Friday and powered them back up the following Tuesday without losing any productivity.
Biggest Lessons Learned
- Office design should represent firm culture. Clients and staff should come first as far as look, feel and functionality.
- Communicate often with staff throughout the entire process. Bring everybody into the discussion as quickly as possible and give them a voice. Listen, then be prepared to manage the fear of change.
- Assemble a logistics team. Eight of us decided that we would not let this move affect anyone else in the firm. We were going to meet regularly to ensure the drama stayed behind the scenes and create a turnkey experience for our staff.
Takeaways from Inovautus Consulting
For WEC, mitigating challenges was made much easier by the involvement of a broker and project manager. Be sure to allow plenty of time for the full process – should contract or negotiation issues arise, you’ll be glad you built in the extra time. Give thoughtful consideration to your design. Relocating gives you the opportunity to assess operations and company culture, and align perceptions of your brand with your overall mission statement. Adopt a mindset where clients and staff come first and be ready to communicate with your people from start to finish – even when it means alleviating the fear of change. Relocation is a great excuse to make things better! It’s not without challenge but it can definitely be rewarding when approached the right way.