Insights: Tips for moving your creative firm to a new location

In a world where creative professionals can work from anywhere: cafes, libraries, co-working spaces..., choosing the right location to set up your creative firm involves  important decisions.

(Photograph by Daniel Kim Prov. RGD)


Here are tips from Design Principals with first-hand experience with the challenges of moving their studios.


1. Make it a strategic move  

"Our moves have been determined by strategic reasons: growth, geography, perception," says Ben Hagon RGD of Intent. "With each move, we have upgraded our space, which seems natural as our firm continues maturing."


"We typically enter into 5-year lease terms unless we are expecting to grow in which case we may opt for a shorter term and then anticipate that we will likely make a change at the end of the lease," explains Laura Sellors RGD of Crescent. "This has been a good strategy for managing (or avoiding) rent increases as well."


2. Identify your needs

"Having a bright, airy space that is conducive to creativity and collaboration is key," says Lionel Gadoury RGD of Context Creative. "We spend 10-12 hours per day at work, 5 days per week, so whatever it takes to make you happy and productive is essential. Beyond this, it’s location that matters most."


"In order of priority, I would say that location (from a staff perspective and client perspective) is the most important, followed by the feel/ambience of the space or the type of space, and then cost/affordability," says Laura. "We want to make sure the space is accessible (by public transit preferred), that there are amenities around the space and that generally it is an enjoyable place to be for our staff. We're also asking ourselves whether it provides opportunity for future growth." 


"When we look for a new office, we're looking for a location that is accessible, with public transit close at hand, plus amenities for staff like food, banks, post office, etc.," says Ben. "Being located in a vibrant neighbourhood is no good if the space doesn't have good infrastructure. Points like commercial Internet and a good HVAC system are very important." 


3. Find the right feel (or make it yourself!) 

"A firm’s location and space is also key for business," says Laura. "The questions we are asking ourselves have to do with perceptions: what sort of impression will our clients have if we are located here? Does this space align with our desired brand perceptions? What does it say about us as a firm?" 


"Your physical space plays a significant role in defining you as company," says Bob Hambly RGD of Hambly & Woolley. "It's essential to establish a strong connection between the print, digital and physical expressions of your brand. Clients, and more importantly potential clients, will see and appreciate the value of such a coordinated effort."


"Before making the final decision, we ask ourselves whether we could see our people working in the space, whether we think they would be comfortable. Does it have a creative feeling?" explains Ben. "To date we've worked in a century home, a warehouse conversion, a 1950s modernist building and now our Toronto office is at the dynamic Daniels Spectrum building in the revitalized Regent Park." 


"One of the greatest challenges has been finding a unique creative space that is conducive to the creative agency environment" says David Brown of Mindshape. "In 2012, after 20 years of upgrading rented space, we found an amazing warehouse space, but it meant buying the building and converting it. While challenging, this gave us the opportunity to design and create a space that is unique to our creative culture and workflow."


4. Be as organized as possible

"Planning the transition is key. Drawings are essential! We plot out what is coming and what is not and derive a labeling system so that we know where everything is going in the new space - furniture, boxes, everything (we are designers, after all)," says Laura. "Everybody knows where their place will be in the new office well ahead of time and that gives them something to look forward to."


5. Put someone in charge 

"We had one person dedicated to managing the move and so there was little impact on anyone else," says Laura. "She made all of the arrangements for packing (and unpacking), worked with the movers and handled all the utilities (ensuring Internet is connected and disconnected at appropriate times, etc)."


6. Plan for the unexpected

"Before such a major undertaking, we needed to make sure the agency had solid cash flow and an existing lease term / landlord that would accommodate inevitable delays," says David. "In our case we were delayed six months, with contractors, city permits and design playing into the extended timeline."  


7. Find ways to keep working

"Hiring professionals is worth it," says Lionel. "Our staff packed their own bins and labeled their computers, but otherwise stayed productive and focused on client projects up until moving day. The movers came in on a Friday afternoon, worked through the weekend and on Monday morning, 9:00am, we were up and running in our new space."


"Whenever we moved, we've only ever had one half day of downtime, which was manageable during the transition," says Ben. "By avoiding over the top improvements, staggering our move-in times and with professional movers, our team could continue working while the move happened around them." 


"In our experience we've found it’s critical to have some overlap," says Laura. "We had both spaces for two weeks to allow us to prep the new space for our arrival, move-in and then tie-up any loose ends at the old space. Staff packed up any personal effects at their desks on the Friday afternoon and unpacked at the new location on the Monday morning. We lost at most 6 hours of productivity."


8. Spread the word and celebrate! 

"Once we're settled, we usually invite clients and contacts over for a meeting or a coffee, or better yet a party!" says Ben.


"I think most people view change as an exciting, positive, forward-moving thing, so the stage is already set for you to message on that," says Laura. "To communicate the change we sent out an announcement, a press release of sorts, once all of the details were confirmed. We were very excited about our new space and our message was received in exactly the same way."


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