Relocation and innovation: office moves as a vehicle for business transformation

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Andrew Mawson, Founder of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and Creator of Workplace Week

Businesses are moving offices with greater frequency than ever before. In many cases, greater economic and political volatility is forcing their hand, while booming trends like agile working are pushing many organisations to adopt ‘new age’ property strategies. In addition, the rising cost of prime office space in general is encouraging organisations to think deeper about the why and how of office relocation. 

As a 2018 report by Knight Frank on the London real estate market states: ‘The inherent uncertainty, together with the sheer scale and speed of change within the operating environment, means that business planning horizons are becoming ever shorter’. Perhaps this explains the increasing demand for real estate solutions that offer flexibility, adaptability and scope for innovation. 

AWA has been providing support to organisations looking to make more efficient use of their real estate assets for over a quarter of a century. However, in recent years we’ve noticed an attitudinal shift. Now it seems the employer onus is on providing work ‘experiences’ that support the health and unleash the potential of the employees, and that also assist recruitment by depicting their unique personality, values and heritage – as opposed to focusing solely on cost-saving initiatives, especially for businesses that rely on the cognitive athleticism of their knowledge workers. 

Where output used to be measured in the number of goods produced, for a vast number of organisations in the knowledge economy, productivity now hinges on the quality of the ideas shared and the conversion of these to commercial value. This also explains why office relocation is increasingly being treated as a vehicle for business transformation – a catalyst for a move to a more dynamic, fluid and adaptable work model that encourages social cohesion, information sharing and trust. 

A move to agile working (change management in general, come to that) must be guided by a thorough understanding of an organisation’s unique business pressures and employee needs. Property professionals need to think about how the design of the 

new workplace will support the needs of the people. Ditching a rigid system of ‘fixed desks’ for agile working requires a new mix of workspaces, workstyles, technologies and attitudes that allow people to concentrate when they need to, be collaborative when they need to and socialise when they need to. Ultimately, relocating is a precious opportunity to drop bad habits and adopt new, effective practices. It’s important to remember that a move to agile working is impossible without the right technology in place. Legacy IT systems and communications tools often can’t support the new way of working and increased mobility of staff. So, another crucial step is to appraise your organisation’s existing deployment of tech and then calculate which IT apps are necessary for the transition. Business messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams will help people to communicate with each other as they jump between different locations and workstations, from hot desks to coffee shops. Successfully relocating to an agile, digitally centred workplace takes more than just the right apps; it also requires a change to the culture of the organisation. The open, flexible and collaborative nature of agile working often demands a flatter organisational structure, so you’re not going to get anywhere without buy-in from the senior leadership team. These leaders can then help to embed the new philosophy and make sure the entire organisation is ready for the changes ahead. Moving to the new office shouldn’t mark the end of the project. After the relocation, leaders and their teams will need training to help them develop new understandings, practices and behaviours so that relationships, productivity and performance stay intact and improve. People need time to get familiar with the new technology, settle into their new surroundings and adapt to the new way of working. With the right strategy in place, a new workplace can be a tool for business transformation. Relocating, then, is the catalyst that brings this to life, giving your organisation the opportunity to think about its needs and how a new workplace can meet them.