Op-ed: Moving lessons from Ottawa’s Klipfolio

Peter Matthews and Allan Wille
Klipfolio's Peter Matthews and Allan Wille, seen in 2017 in the company's old office space. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Sooner or later, just about every company has to move its office. For a growing startup, moving into a bigger space can be a rite of passage, a clear sign to employees, the community and customers that the company’s future is bright.

But any move is also fraught with peril. Dozens of things can go wrong, from service interruptions to employees quitting because they don’t like the new location. Therefore, any move, even the smallest, has to be thought out and planned to minimize the disruption that will inevitably happen.

Klipfolio moved into a new space in the World Exchange Plaza in late January. Co-founders Allan Wille and Peter Matthews take a look at how the company prepared for the move. Later this year, they’ll be looking at how well they did to see if we there are more lessons to be learned.

Why we moved in the first place

Just over a year ago, it was becoming evident that Klipfolio was outgrowing its office space.

Though we’d only been in the space for about two years, occupying the entire floor of a small office building in downtown Ottawa, we were already renting extra space on two other floors.

Our employees were packed too tightly into the space we had, with meeting rooms turned into offices and people tucked into unlikely areas. That created problems. For example, because people were on different floors, they were missing out on chance interactions – what we call water cooler conversations – that help drive creativity and the exchange of ideas.

People were also starting to have meetings in the hallway, or take phone calls in the stairwells if they wanted privacy.

The building we were in did not have more capacity, and we were continuing to grow, so we decided about a year ago that we had to move to a new building.

Here are seven things we learned as we prepared for our move:

1. Realize that leaving may cost you

Think you can just up and leave your current building? It’s not necessarily as easy as you might think. In fact, you may find yourself having to pay for the privilege.

We were lucky that we had signed a five-year lease with an option to terminate after three and a half years. Thankfully, we were able to end our lease without penalty by exercising that option.

But we are still facing exit costs. That’s because when we signed our lease just over three years ago, our landlord made a number of improvements to the space. We were still paying for those improvements, amortizing the cost over a number of years. So even though we were able to end our lease without penalty, we still had to pay the balance we owed the landlord for the office improvements.

Yes, it’s a bummer. But we’re really glad we did not sign a 10-year lease.

2. Get expert advice throughout the process

One of the reasons we did not sign a 10-year lease three years ago is that we had obtained good advice – and followed it.

This time, we went in search of experts to help us plan all aspects of the move.

Klipfolio
Klipfolio's new office (OBJ file photo)

In addition to legal counsel to review any documents we had to sign and to help us negotiate with QuadReal, our new landlord, we hired Cresa, a broker, to find new space and Linebox, a great architectural firm, to help us design it.

We also consulted the real experts in office use and efficiency at Klipfolio – our employees. (More about that later.)

3. Get investors on board

A move is both disruptive and costly. As a result, the people who have a financial stake in the company have to agree with the plan.

We started by testing the waters with our board, feeling them out on the idea of a move and touting the benefits that would follow from an investment in a new space.

If our business projections were correct, we had no choice but to move.

But the “hard” benefits of a move – such as having enough office space for our employees – are an easier sell to financial backers than the “soft” benefits, such as having space that is conducive to creativity and fosters employee engagement and retention. Accountants will always look at the hard benefits first.

4. Get employees on board

It’s equally important to have your employees in your corner.

We did two employee surveys to prepare for the move: one to collect general information about what people wanted, and another with the architect to collect more granular data to help with office design.

We took the results of the surveys very seriously. We have always been a downtown firm. Our first employee survey sounded out employees on a variety of things, including location, access to green space and access to transit.

Klipfolio
Klipfolio's new office (OBJ file photo)

We found our employees liked being downtown, which was no surprise to us; what did surprise us somewhat were their requests for more bathrooms and showers, bicycle storage, and more nooks and crannies where they could hide out with a laptop.

None of the requests were outlandish or impossible to realize.

We have kept employees in the loop throughout the process, which has helped boost morale and kept enthusiasm running high.

5. Be prepared to change your mind

Initially, we were focused on class-B buildings for our new space. But as we began viewing offices, we learned a lot of things. We learned that the culture of a building is important. Other tenants in the building are important. What you see from the windows is important. (So is having windows, for that matter.)

We learned to interview building managers to find out about the building culture. We learned to look at the building from the point of view of what would happen if we expanded. We also learned to question our own initial expectations.

We eventually ended up leasing space in a class-A building. It kind of just happened. We found out about the space in a roundabout way and decided to go see it.

By coincidence, the building’s owners had been looking for a tenant like us and were willing to give us some sizable incentives. Once we crunched the numbers, we were shocked to realize the cost of being in an A-class building was in line with what we projected to spend on B-class space.

6. Stay focused on the bottom line

Money is always a concern and must remain a concern throughout the entire process. We found we often had to go back to our budget to get costs back on track.

Extras, change orders, movers and finishing touches all seem to add up very quickly. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and creativity to keep costs contained.

7. Plan the move carefully

A move is disruptive. To minimize the disruption, the actual physical process of moving offices has to be planned carefully.

We interviewed several movers before choosing one. We selected a moving date that gave the architects one or two weeks after the construction was finished (but before we arrived) to make final adjustments. We gave our employees a day off and set the move to happen on a weekend when there is less traffic downtown.

We hope our employees were blown away by the efficiency of our move, and we can’t wait to see the great work they will be able to do in the new space.

Allan Wille is a co-founder of Klipfolio and its president and CEO. Peter Matthews is a co-founder of Klipfolio and its chief experience officer.