Is Your Pending Office Move a Burden or an Opportunity?

Sarah Gort

Office moves are an inevitable fact of nonprofit life. In this blog, CompassPoint Director of Operations Sarah Gort shares lessons and resources on how she organized and led a thorough, creative, and enjoyable (yes, enjoyable!) organizational move that meshed with our culture and goals – and was a resounding success.

Since CompassPoint's move to Oakland in late 2012, I’ve received a steady stream of calls for advice and referrals from nonprofit groups in the Bay Area who are facing office moves. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these conversations and have noticed a few common themes: 

  • Organizations are having to consider moving to new neighborhoods or entirely new cities because they can no longer afford the rent in their current location.
  • People are questioning whether to increase the amount of time that their staff work remotely and how this would impact the type of office space they would look for.
  • The individuals leading these projects are worried about staff not being happy with the decisions that will be made around the organization’s move.

It’s easy to understand why many people view an office move as a burden when you think about the magnitude of these issues and the possible impact they will have on an organization. When we started to plan our move, I wasn’t very excited to say the least. I braced myself for what I expected to be an enormous time commitment and a constant headache, but was surprised at how quickly our move turned into a fun and rewarding project.

In the spirit of helping organizations that are considering or working on office moves, I’ve compiled links to documents and examples of how we clarified our space needs and managed our move. Feel free to download and adapt these resources to meet your needs.

Defining Our Needs Together

As we embarked on this project, my first instinct was to create a needs statement, something that would outline everything we were looking for and guide our decision making. Once I began work on the needs statement, though, I realized that there was a lot  I did not know about what we needed. Leading up to and continuing through the move, CompassPoint had been going through many changes and transitions. We created our first-ever Theory of Change (a strategic decision-making framework), our business model was changing pretty drastically, and we were actively working to become an integrated staff practice (in the past staff had been siloed in departments). It quickly became clear that what we had needed from an office in the past was not what we were going to need from an office in the future.

This is about the time our move changed from being a huge headache to a huge opportunity. By defining what our organization needed from a new location, we were able to further our thinking on how we wanted to work together, what we desired from our work environment, and what we wanted our space to say about us. Thinking through these questions helped us claim a few things about our emerging identity, and by manifesting them in our physical space, it also helped us live into them in a new way.

All the information in the first draft of our needs statement fit on one page. It was just the basics such as square footage needed, location priorities, and the number of staff the space would need to accommodate. As we went through the planning process, it became a living document that was edited and added to. As soon as we clarified certain needs or claimed certain desires for the space, it was added to the document. This is what our needs statement (Link1) looked like towards the end of the process. 

Meeting Photo

Communicating and Collaborating

Getting clarity on what we needed and desired from our office space required a lot of communication with staff. And when I say communication, I do not just mean communicating out—letting people know what I was up to—but two-way communication: taking the time to interview people and collect information, summarizing what I had learned, and sharing that information back out to see if I got it right, and then doing it all over again. Chances are that in a move you are going to have to make a few decisions that not everyone in the office will be happy with. Involving people in the process helps ensure that decisions are well informed and provides others with insight into your decision-making process. Even when you may have to make unpopular decisions, colleagues will at least see how you got there and hopefully have some understanding into why and how the decision was made. We used this very detailed survey (Link2) to collect staff feedback on a variety of topics ranging from work style preferences to commute distances.

All of the information gathered was shared back with staff and posted around the office. We created a word cloud (Link3) to represent the impression that our staff wanted our workshop participants to have when coming to CompassPoint for a training. We asked folks to describe their ideal work environment, and gathered this resulting collection of comments (Link4). After collecting the results from the survey and staff interviews, I provided a summary (Link5) to our management team with a proposed office layout and staff preferences. We then created a vision statement (Link6) that was really about how we wanted the space to feel. Each of these clarifying steps assisted us in finding the right location and figuring out how to build out and design our offices.

Creating a Plan

Once we defined what we were looking for in an office space, the move became much more than simple project management. We adapted a property grading sheet (Link7) to reflect our site preferences and requirements. We used this grading system to help us rate the properties we visited and share what we were seeing with our employees and board members. 

We created a budget (Link8) and calculated how much money we had available for new furniture and space improvements, like having a full wall in our training room that is a white board. We negotiated with our new landlord for six free months of rent and funds for the purchase for furniture, and equipment. We used the total dollar value of these two lease negotiations as the basis for how we would be able to afford the move.

As the details of the timeline started to come together and we grasped the complexity of the logistics, we created a spreadsheet (Link9) to plan and track the different areas of the move needing attention, such as office layout, technology, and move logistics. We then created an easier-to-read overview (Link10) that we shared with everyone on staff.

From start to finish, our move took about one year from when we first began to name our needs to when we unpacked our last box. The first six months focused on refining what we were looking for and the second six months focused on making it happen. Although it took a tremendous amount of time, the payoff was worth it and the headaches were few. The greatest satisfaction came in small bits and pieces after we moved into our new location, seeing our vision being actualized in our day-to-day experiences in the new office.

Sarah Gort is the Director of Operations of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. She is responsible for CompassPoint’s financial, human resource and technology systems and is a member of the organization’s management team. 

Resources and Templates

Link 1: CompassPoint Office Space Needs

Link 2: Staff Survey questions

Link 3: Training participant impressions

Link 4: Staff response to best work environment

Link 5: Management team memo - Office layout

Link 6: Vision statement for new office space

Link 7: Property grading scale

Link 8: Moving budget

Link 9: Move Project Management sheet

Link 10: Move Timeline

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