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a firm’s spirit to the test

An office move can put
a firm’s spirit to the test

Last month we moved our offices one floor down and one building over. We thought the move would be a snap, but we were wrong. It was complicated, messy and tiring. My staff and I, engaged in the entrepreneurial struggle, hauled boxes of books, mismatched chairs, lamps and filing drawers down and over, down and over, down and over.
Our internal move coordinator had spent weeks planning so we would never be without phones and computers. But you know the old line about the best-laid plans going awry.
Naively, we thought we couldn’t survive a business day, or even hours during the business day, without a working telephone. Not so. We could be without telephones and we were. Relief came when one line worked.
We also thought a day without our personal computers would be a day without business. Again, we were mistaken. We could get along a whole week without computers being networked and functioning.
The move was unbelievably messy. Where did all those files, books, plants, chairs and tables come from? More important, where should they go now?
We spent a full workweek, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., making thousands of decisions about where to store documents and supplies, hundreds of books, and dozens of chairs, tables and plants. By 8 p.m., we couldn’t discern the wisdom of our decisions and by the next day couldn’t remember many of them anyway. Within two weeks, however, we felt at home: Everything had a place, whether it made sense or not.
And try as we did, we couldn’t hide the mess from our clients. They had to suffer with us through the drilling, banging and buzzing. They had to endure the smell of the paint, put up with the holes in the ceilings and walls that eventually would house vents, and envision, with us, a learning place that soon would be elegant and orderly.
I have learned through the move that customers who graciously share a vendor’s messy move contribute greatly to the trust and partnership necessary to build a productive business relationship.
The move was tiring on several levels. It tried our physical endurance, our commitment to the company and our tolerance for differences. Although the new office is a relatively small, enclosed space, our muscles ached as we worked into the evening. Each of us must have walked 10 miles a day for five days and pumped 50 pounds of iron for at least an hour carrying boxes, furniture, cables, computers and whatall to every corner of the new space.
In a small business, employees do not get overtime pay or bonuses for doing what has to be done. The whole staff’s working 60 hours a week to move was an expected part of their commitment to the company. They would be rewarded knowing they had done a good job bringing order out of chaos and that the new location would delight our clients. Most rewards in small business are reaped from personal investment.
Finally, an office move tries one’s tolerance for differences. No two people seem to fully agree on where all the artwork should be hung, what color the trim should be painted, how the reception area should be arranged, or even where the copier and printer should be located for optimum convenience.
Little things mean a lot and sometimes they cannot be negotiated. Otherwise logical, flexible people can become irrational and rigid around personal preferences in arranging and appointing a room. And conflict over little things can evoke the worst in us. People sulk, rearrange behind others’ backs, throw away what is of value in others’ eyes, and even take the offense as though their play will be the deciding score.
Fortunately, as Lady Macbeth said, “Sleep doth knit the raveled sleeve of care,” and as it is said in Ecclesiastes, “Time doth heal all.”
How would you rate your company on team spirit, commitment and customer satisfaction? Test your score with a move. If you accept the artwork placed according to an uneasy consensus dictated, add two points. If you come in early to move things around, subtract three points. When it comes to spirit, commitment and customer satisfaction, little things mean a lot and they are a big part of the big picture.
(Germaine Knapp is president of Wordsmart Inc., a communication skills training company.)

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