---- Helga Morocutti, Montreal, Quebec
A: Moving a small company into new offices is a complex process that involves not only the physical transfer and setup of equipment and furniture but also the seamless management of ongoing projects and the maximum use of space in the new location. "Any business relocating...today needs to think about more than just boxes, vans, and phones," says Rex Hime of the California Business Properties Assn.
The dependence of modern companies on Internet connections and other high-tech communications systems means that if glitches result from the changeover, you could pay a heavy price in lost business. Assuming you've already found a new location and dealt with lease negotiations and financial details, there are a number of things you can do and resources to check out to help the move go smoothly, Hime says.
First, target a move-in date so you can begin notifying service providers and schedule a mover. You'll need to make sure the new location is ready for occupancy around the same time your current lease is set to expire. If you can afford it, having a little overlap in the dates is a good idea because it will give you some breathing room. Take care that deadlines for major projects won't coincide with moving week or the week after, when your staff will be busy setting up, familiarizing themselves with the new location, and easing through the inevitable glitches -- technical or otherwise -- that will occur, regardless of how careful you are.
You'll also want to make sure your movers will have full access to parking, loading areas, elevators, and corridors in both the old and new buildings on moving day(s), which may mean most of the work will have to occur after hours or over a weekend.
POINT PERSON. A critical aspect of preparing for the relocation is communicating with your employees and getting their input about how the move should be accomplished and the new office set up. It's probably a good idea to put one person in charge of moving details to liase between the moving company and your staff. That way everyone knows who to go to with questions and concerns. (You may need to select more than one point person, depending on the size of your company and the complexity of the relocation.)
MovingSolutions (www.movingsolutionsinc.com), a Web site dedicated to corporate moves, suggests your coordinator list employees by department and draw up guidelines for how much space, furniture, and equipment each person will need. A floor plan that details where each employee will work and the location of equipment and common areas should be drawn up. If you can afford to hire a professional, a space planner or interior designer will probably be able to suggest how to get maximum use and comfort from the new location. A less expensive option might be to see if the moving company you're using has a staff designer who, for an extra fee, can help plan your space.
Keep your employees informed about important dates and their responsibilities in connection with the move, experts say. Have a schedule that explains when their areas need to be packed and when they can take time from their regular tasks to help prepare. Boxes should be labeled with their contents and where they'll go in the new location. Your moving coordinator needs to make sure telephone systems, computer networks, electrical cabling, software, equipment, and new furniture are all in place and operating in your new space before the move.
THINK SMALL. No detail is too small or silly to disregard, experts advise. Will the restrooms be functional and accessible on moving day? Does the new location require a business license or other government filings or approvals? What types of services are available at the new location? Do you need high-speed Internet connections? Does the new place have them? If not, how long would it take to get them operational? "A downgrade in your existing service could have a significant impact on your productivity," Hime cautions.
Utility companies will need to be notified of service cut-off and start-up dates. Files may need to be purged and new systems set up. Old documents that don't make the move may need to be shredded. Notify the post office and your customers about your move several weeks in advance -- and remind your clients afterward with a follow-up postcard listing your new address and contact information. Prepare artwork and an announcement letter, and make sure your business cards, stationery, and other collateral reflect the new information immediately.
Resist the temptation to "use up" the old stock after the move. Inviting clients and contacts to an open house is a good marketing event, but schedule it several weeks after you're comfortably settled into the new digs.
Several online services offer help, including software templates that calculate expenses and walk you through moving concerns and checklists. MovePoint helps you calculate needed business space, find the right location, set up your new offices, and negotiate a lease. Moving Solutions Inc. offers detailed advice and access to vendors. Moving.com has a section on corporate moves and an online moving "expert" that you can consult with. Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at email@example.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 6th Floor, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.