HR clinic: Laying the ground for a big move

How should we handle staff who are refusing to cooperate with an office move?

It sounds as if you should have planned further ahead. There's an old saying offered in some parts to a stranger asking for directions: "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." So let's go back several steps and work out how best to ensure staff cooperation from the outset.

Mobility clause

Every employment contract should have a mobility clause in it, saying not only where the job is located now, but also asserting the employer's right to relocate it in the future.

This is not absolutely watertight - you can't reasonably relocate everyone to the Outer Hebrides if you're based in London. But a statement saying that the job may be relocated anywhere within the borough would be unlikely to be judged an unfair contract term. So get cracking with introducing the necessary changes if you need to.

But just having the right to impose the move on staff isn't going to be enough. You don't want a team that doesn't see the need for the move and who will do anything to get in its way.

So the first step is to explain why you think it's necessary. For example, your lease has run out, or you need more suitable premises, or the scale or nature of your operation is changing.

Listen to what the staff have to say about your plans, because they might come up with some better ideas. If you still decide to proceed. at least they will feel they've been listened to, and you will have been able to explain clearly why the move is necessary.

Then get them involved in planning the move. It makes sense to have a project manager with overall responsibility for it, but each working group can plan their own aspects of it, such as running down services ready for a new start, layout of workspaces and the order in which things need to be packed.

Continuing service

Make sure there is also a focus on continuing services and that nobody who is unable to make a contribution, for example on physical grounds, is expected to do so.

Relocation may also make it more difficult for some employees to get to work, so rephrasing of working hours, at least in the short term, should allay some concerns.

Compensation for extra costs, especially for lower paid staff, will always be welcome.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions. Send your HR questions to personnelsolutions@btopenworld.com.

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