Industry analysis from GVA Acuity: Moving experiences

This article was also featured as an industry analysis in the September 2016 issue of Briefing. To read the issue in full, download Briefing.

In recent years, a number of law firms have made the decision to move to a more open-plan style of working – embracing the philosophy that fewer walls might lead to more collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Often this includes an aspect of ‘agile’ working, with the employee perhaps even relinquishing their personal desk for a hot-desk policy encouraging more efficient use of space and flexible working arrangements.

It may still be early days to be measuring the strategic success of these developments – but one can also look a little closer to home. In 2015, GVA Acuity project managed the move of its own parent company, Bilfinger GVA, including 520 staff, from two offices in the West End and the City, into one newly-refurbished 50,000 sq ft plot of ‘grade A’ office space at 65 Gresham Street. The fit-out was planned to provide a platform for the organisation to develop and thrive, with a contemporary, welcoming and flexible office environment.

And the phased move in February 2015 was completed with very little impact on business continuity. Since then, the company has taken advantage of many new opportunities in terms of collaboration across 24 business units, which include planning and development, property management, valuation consultancy, building surveying, business rates, office, retail, industrial and leisure agency, and project management.

Sustainability was also very high on the agenda throughout both the fit-out and office move, from the choice of building to selection of materials and management of waste in the process (keeping 150 tonnes out of landfill) and the use of carbon dioxide sensors to monitor air quality. The project achieved a SKA ‘gold’ rating. Operated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a SKA rating is an assessment tool for sustainable fit-outs. There was also a commitment from the start to create a ‘sustainable fit-out best practice’ case study to share across the industry.

We have also introduced and developed smarter working practices, including less space per employee, agile working (encouraging staff to move around the office and sit with different teams), a clear-desk policy, increased cycle storage, and significant management efficiencies including reduction in energy, water, greenhouse gases and general operating costs. Staff morale and wellbeing have noticeably improved since the move.

Moves can range from small, internal office reshuffles to complex company relocations that require significant investment of time, money and human resource. These are even more complex and costly if not managed well.

So what makes for a successful office move? First, it will ensure disruption to the business in the short term is minimal. It’s the result of thorough planning, risk management, integrity, open communication and enthusiasm – and this can only be achieved through strong project management at every stage. Our many years of experience demonstrate that a proven methodology is the route to success. 

Following the method

Broadly, our methodology falls under the following key stages:

Define strategic brief and core objectives. This period will involve drafting the brief, identifying the desired benefits and outcomes, and conducting both existing and future workplace audits.

Scoping and property search. Know what’s desired, find the building and conduct the due diligence.

Design. Appointment of the external professional team to carry out detailed design processes, fully coordinating with the in-house facilities and IT teams, including defining any new ways in working.

Implementation. Procurement of the right contractor is critical to overall success in terms of meeting objectives and delivering on time, to specification and within budget. This stage also involves the moving of staff and closing of old buildings. 

Project close. Once the move has completed, conduct a post-occupancy survey to measure staff morale and to encourage open comment in order to manage continual improvement.

Communication to all staff is paramount to keep them engaged – and to allow them to feel part of the whole process, at every stage.

The aim of GVA’s move was to create a fully flexible workspace, with an emphasis on collaboration. Given the wide range of visitors we welcome, we sought to deliver a professional but also comfortable and welcoming environment.

The project delivered on its major construction milestones to complete the design, procure and start construction. Meanwhile, an IT workstream delivered a working network infrastructure, and all the desktop IT equipment, phones, audio-visual, videoconferencing facilities and printers, in time for staff to move in.

The communication stream of the work involved regular newsletters delivered to staff throughout the preceding autumn. We also delivered a microsite and there were welcome packs for all staff on arrival.

The relocation over three weekends took place as planned and with no major problem. Post-move support was also on hand throughout the first days of the move, with the option to have tours of the building and talks about how to use the new technology and get the absolute best from a more agile office environment. 

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