Chris Richards

marketing | branding | tech | startups


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Want to build office camaraderie? Try moving.

How a change of space invigorated a small agency.

Without change, things get stale. We all know that. Some people get tired of commuting on the same bus. Others get tired of eating the same breakfast every day, bound by habit or restraints they’ve imposed on themselves. In business, those tiny frustrations that come from feelings of ‘staleness’ can compound easily, impacting a company’s workflow. This becomes especially true if employees begin to feel jaded or take the frustration as a given.

So, when my small agency had the opportunity to move into a new office recently due to growth, it was easy to see a revived sense of excitement about not only the work, but the company operations from day-to-day. As moving day approached, employees all seemed to rally behind the idea of change. Everyone was engaged; the excitement was tangible.

Now a couple weeks into the move, having settled into the new space, I can clearly see that this physical change has brought the company together more than any incentive program, perk, or outing in the past. Personally, I’ve felt invigorated by the move, and I sense the same feeling in my coworkers. Throughout the process, I’ve realized that this new perspective for our growing agency has built camaraderie for a number of reasons:

1. Moving is physical. Really physical.

This might seem obvious, but in case you haven’t packed up one office, loaded it in various cars, and unloaded it on the 4th floor of a new building, you might not remember just how physically intense moving really can be.

Many companies, including ours, offer employee wellness days involving exercise, yoga, or the like. While those types of activities certainly achieve their goals of getting employees active, their physical settings (gym, park, beach, etc.) are somewhat expected. But, arriving at work in an oxford button-down and khakis, and leaving a little sweaty, having disassembled three desks, is not expected. For me, it was the physical element of packing and moving, mixed with the normal (keyboard-heavy) digital agency work that felt so interesting. I found myself smirking internally as I sorted boxes while in dress shoes, watching coworkers build chairs wearing heels.

We got really physical one day, going all Office Space on our crappy printer. It was the perfect way to release the stress that was brewing with the big move, and the growth of the agency. Seeing our CEO walk out of the office with our horrible old printer over her head, smashing it to the concrete, felt like watching the physical rebirth of the company and a new culture. Smashing the old, negative things, we were all ready for a fresh start — physically and mentally.

And, no matter how physically tiring the move may have been, it felt good to experience the physical fruits of our labor coming together. Seeing a new office emerge from an empty space isn’t something many employees in larger businesses typically get to experience.

2. Multitasking forces focus.

I know multitasking can get a bad rap in the digital world, but something about having to squeeze in packing, loading, and moving responsibilities with the day-to-day responsibilities every small agency faces made our team work harder and more efficiently. With the pressure of having to balance the duties of moving (assembling new desks to sit at), employees seemed to focus on the client tasks at hand with extreme focus in order to make time to both settle-in the new space and satisfy clients.

In a scenario like this, there’s really no excuse for “down-time” as there is always something to be done, something to be moved, or a new piece of furniture to be assembled. The focused feeling nurtured here is something we should carry with us beyond the move-in period. It’s a valuable feeling to capture.

3. Moving brings out the “real” in people.

Amid loading iMacs into the back seat of my car, it dawned on me that this wasn’t “typical” work behavior for a small branding agency. Do lead designers typically lug their 27″ machines across town in the back seat of a sedan? Do copywriters often take apart tables or wire phone lines? No. But all this atypical behavior actually brought out a refreshing “realness” in people. It reminded me a lot of moving in to college — while it’s stressful and physically demanding, the act of changing one’s surroundings brings out the essence of people.

At one point in the move, while pasting up a wall-length Whitey Board, as four of us struggled with installing the sticker-like covering, I felt as if I was taking part in a “team-building” challenge at summer camp. You know that one where you can’t let go of your partner, but you have to untangle? Everyone was real, everyone was focused on achieving the goal, and everyone was needed. It just felt like true teamwork. It’s a feeling I hope carries into the rest of our work as an agency.

Finally, the shared experience of going through this together as a company over many weeks has had a greater impact than any one individual perk could have had on the employees. By engaging everyone in the physical move, offering the freedom to “refresh” their perspective in a new space, and creating a chance to approach work from a new space, this move has done wonders for the health of the company.

I know it’s not possible for everyone to just up-and-leave their current spot. But, I’d recommend considering the impact that such a wide-reaching call to arms could have on one’s employees and business. Especially in our increasingly digital industry, removed from the real world, it can feel refreshing to take a day, grab some cardboard boxes, unravel a roll of packing tape, and cram some computers in a trunk.

Oh, and sharing a few beers after a job (move) well done? That’s always good for camaraderie too.

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