When most organizations plan a business move, there are many things to prioritize and categorize so that nothing is missed. Relocating a business usually arises from changing positives (such as growth and expansion), or negatives (downsizing). Decision making will typically involve managing staff at different levels, working with internal staff and occasionally external consultants too, all of whom are planning for suitable alternate space and creating a well-developed ‘Business Relocation Plan’ (BRP). Your insurers can also be part of the BRP planning team, or at least be kept informed on the plan in some detail.
BRP’s come in many shapes and forms, depending on the size of the business and the complexity of the move. They include:
- Pre-Planning (management sponsor, initiation, scope development, tasks and schedule)
- Selection of Alternate Facilities (search/negotiate/lease/buy – office / production / both)
- IT & Telecoms Requirements (inventory, relocate / replace / upgrade)
- Interior Space Planning (office space, employee amenities, production, manufacturing)
- The Physical Relocation (the move itself, all at once, or in phases)
Often overlooked is that the business move, whether partial or whole, has potential to create serious risk to your business. If not well planned and executed, there will be impact on employees’ everyday expectations for the working / production environment, as well as on the customers who pay for goods and services delivered.
Fundamentally, every business has a duty to protect employees, customers and the public against events that could significantly affect the well-being and safety of personnel, the assets of the company, and the ability to provide services. A due diligence approach to address this responsibility when planning a move requires taking inventory of the processes and technology within the business and determining what is needed to ensure the safety of staff and continuity of the end deliverable (product) to your customers.
In general terms, by definition, business continuity is the ability for a company to survive during operational challenges (crises) imposed by “abnormal conditions” while meeting business obligations. Without proper planning, moving can create operational challenges. Risks can be identified and business continuity / technology disaster recovery planning concepts can be applied to your business move by asking such questions as:
- What do we do? How do we do it? Where do we do it?
- What infrastructure is needed to deliver the service or product to our customers?
- Who are our essential resources?
- What data do we need?
- What are the minimum IT / communication protocols we must have in place (internal and external)?
In today’s demanding marketplace, customers expect service providers to meet or exceed expectations 24 / 7. Your Business Relocation Plan should address risks and have suitable plans / actions / controls in place to mitigate or eliminate risks, or manage them if they materialize. Whether moving your business across the street, to a different part of the city, or to a new city, BRP’s require coordinated effort with key stakeholders to ensure the move is as seamless as possible with minimal impact to employees and fully transparent to customers.
Introducing a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) component into your BRP will benefit you if some unforeseen challenges surface during the actual move that impair your essential business functions (the parts of the business that cannot be disturbed or interrupted, without financial, operational or customer impacts).
Practise continuity planning, including the following proactive steps:
- A risk assessment of what could go wrong (threats that could impact your business)
- Preventive actions, to reduce the likelihood
- Mitigation actions, to reduce the severity
BRP’s should address employee health and safety, business-prioritized recovery and restoration, internal and external communications and communications protocol with other offices, businesses, suppliers and customers. It is recommended to notify customers of the move as soon as possible. Let them know that you are committed to ensuring that business / services will run as usual throughout the transition.
When relocating a business, there are several things to consider for ensuring a successful outcome. Essential business functions should be partitioned, or implemented in duplicate facilities, for a short period until the move has been fully completed. This is also known as “bridging” the move. A strategy for production facilities is to stockpile produced goods, in case your production line undergoes relocation to a new facility. If a call centre function is vital to the business, then a BRP strategy might be to move part of the call centre over to the new location first. After it has been proven fully operational and “bug” free, then move the other half the following week. This ensures that the call centre function is available to your customers at all times.
When considering a large move with hundreds of modular workstations, determine the amount of time it will take to disassemble, pack, load, move and re-assemble the furniture in the alternate location. It could take weeks or months to re-establish the normal workspace environment. To address this, you could consider leaving the existing furniture behind, selling to the new tenant and buying new for the alternate location. This allows your employees to arrive at the new site and get to work immediately.
The technology transition risks are high and impacts are more complex during a business move, because there are so many dependencies where things can go wrong all at once, while transitioning into a new workplace. Even simple moves for medium sized businesses have significant impact on operations groups who rely on the technology. The expertise needed to assess, plan and manage the technology move properly, or migrate from one technology or facility to the next as part of the BRP, may not always exist within the organization’s pool of employees. The unique nature of technology relocations requires an added workforce to plan and execute, because the current workforce has to handle day-to-day business. Similar to the office move, such a BRP provides an opportunity for upgraded technology, or an opportunity to eliminate end of life or legacy technology. Simplified computing or telecom protocols might include cloud computing, VOIP, virtualization and third party managed hosting. In addition, keep in close contact with your telecommunication services providers throughout the planning stages and inform them of your expectations and move dates. This also takes careful planning for a smooth execution.
Physical security is another risk to be considered when relocating. Plan for it pre- and post-move, as your assets may not arrive exactly as planned and may even magically disappear! Ensure that you address the safekeeping and transportation of critical business documents, including articles of incorporation and other legal papers, utility bills, banking information, essential HR documents, building lease papers, and tax returns. Consider all of the critical items that are needed to start your business from the ground up. This includes back-up customer and business data stored on business systems and applications.
What about risks at the new premises (office or production area)? Determine if the new location is constructed of fire-resistant and non-combustible materials. Is it a building shared by other tenants who may run risky businesses? If yes, is their business a risk to your organization? Learn about the new location’s water supply. Does the building have suitable fire protection systems? With technology’s high reliance on power, loss of source power is a concern. Does the building have back-up power (standby generator and / or battery UPS)?
Another risk often overlooked in business moves is staffing (retention, redundancy, re-training). Consider how your staff will embrace the move to the new location. Ensure your essential staffs that have business operations and customer expertise will be retained – even if only for the transition period. For staffs that are not relocating, or are being laid off, what is the plan for using existing HR polices? Consider your obligations to bargaining units (unions). Keeping staff fully engaged and motivated before, during and after the move to a new location is vital, as it can affect the delivery of service to your customers, who are expecting “business as usual. “ A strategy for key staff who may not wish to move to the new location, or for the business to consider in reducing real estate costs, is the use of remote office tools/applications, also known as telecommuting.
Every business relocation initiative will bring its own unique circumstances. Pre-planning as early as possible is recommended. With the correct stakeholders involved, you will learn about the estimated timeline needed to define the business move scope, plan and execute the relocation. As a result, you may need to fast-track planning so you can exit the existing lease on time (another risk) or buy time by extending the lease for a few months to ensure the correct BRP is in place. However, lease extension may not be possible and might incur additional cost. As a minimum for a medium-sized business, approximately five to seven months should be allocated for the BRP to ensure a ‘disaster free’ experience.