When Moving Is A Moving Target

If you know my story, you know that I have spent the last 10 months in some state of “moving” with either my home or my office. So just imagine my dismay last week  at learning – completely out of the blue – that we need to move offices yet again. What? Really??

Move #1: The Fire

Unfortunately most of these moves have been connected to terrible circumstances. And I’ll start with the worst one. In August of last year my apartment caught fire and our living room was completely destroyed. Everything else in the apartment was covered with soot and smoke, even things in cabinets and behind closed doors.

Our 44-gallon saltwater fish tank was managed by a controller unit which monitored temperature, pH, lighting, etc. For ten years that unit sat mounted behind an adjacent bookcase with absolutely no problem. Suddenly, one Saturday morning when my husband and I were out of town, there was a problem. According to our neighbors, eight fire trucks and 25-30 firemen showed up, canvassing the building to ensure the fire was not spreading through the walls.

By the time the fire was extinguished, the apartment was completely destroyed. Removing the ruined hardwood floors exposed flooring beams that were rotted and needed to be replaced. The ceiling in the living room sagged and eventually collapsed. The walls between the kitchen and living room subsequently followed suit, with neither floor nor ceiling to hold them in place.

In February we were finally able to move back into a “brand new” apartment with upgraded fixtures, but for seven months during the repairs and renovation, our things, once painstakingly cleaned with special solvents to remove the soot and smoke, lived in boxes in my parents’ garage. Can you imagine how long it takes to thoroughly clean each and every single thing that you own with different solvents for fabric, wood, etc.?

After the fire (culprit in foreground)
Saying goodbye to West 34th Street
Saying goodbye to West 34th Street

Move #2: Juggling Office Space

Just six weeks after the fire, Optimum was scheduled for our office move. This move was a planned one, based on the proposed rent increase at the end of our five-year lease. We had found a great space nearby, a bit smaller but at a good savings, and the challenge was to decide what to take and what we could get rid of. 

What should have been a standard office move — hellish in its own way but otherwise manageable — turned into an issue right around the time of the fire because of our workload. We had just landed a gargantuan contract that required additional staff, and the new staff couldn’t fit in the new, smaller office. Fortunately, the adjacent office became available, and I made a snap decision to lease the adjacent office as well, knocking an opening between the two and sharing the front part of the second office with a side business an employee was running.

In order to build out the empty space into something that served our needs, we moved all of our things into the smaller adjacent office while construction took place in the larger office. That meant we worked on two rows of folding tables in the front half and stacked our boxes in the back half. When the larger office space was complete, we swapped spaces so that construction could proceed in the smaller space. 

We had to pause all construction for two months during our peak busy season, so it wasn’t until January that we were finally able to take full possession of both sides of the new office and start to unpack. Between October and January, I had neither home nor office and everything I owned was in a box somewhere. It was entirely discombobulating.

Before we had even finished the construction, though, the second terrible move-related circumstance occurred. That gargantuan contract that had tied us up during the move disappeared when the company reorganized and eliminated the division we were working with. We had been hired to design promotional materials for 150 events over nine months — each with web page, advertising, social media, etc. — and the company disbanded their events division entirely four months into the contract. We were notified the contract was being canceled just one month after we moved into the larger space.

Fast forward to last week, when I returned from a business trip to learn that my employees of color had been subjected to intermittent prejudice from building staff since we moved in, and that it had finally reached the point where they were no longer comfortable coming to work. The examples they related to me were absolutely shocking. One employee even occasionally came into the office at 5:30 am and napped on our couch until his workday started, just to avoid entering the lobby while it was staffed. I had been unaware of the building staff behavior, since my employees, hoping that over time the situation would improve, hadn’t shared their experiences with me. 

Move #3: ’Nuff Said

By the end of that conversation, it became clear that we had to move yet again, even though we had additional planned construction for this summer and hadn’t fully unpacked yet from the last move. Even though I’m still many boxes away from being fully unpacked in my apartment. Even though the thought of packing (vs. unpacking) and moving yet again makes me nauseous, there isn’t any other viable option. It’s important to have good relationships with building staff in order to get things done; reporting the behavior would surely cause backlash that would likely result in retaliatory behavior towards us.

The decision was made on Thursday evening, and by Friday morning at 9 am, we were already looking at alternate spaces and found two decent options. This is what is possible when you surround yourself with good people and keep your business relationships strong! I have maintained an excellent relationship with my amazing real estate broker, so she was able to jump when I called. She was also instrumental in helping us think through the decision to move, as well as how to broach the situation with our current landlord.

Silver lining: I hadn't unpacked my own boxes yet.

It turns out that moving will save us money; a single larger space is priced lower than the two contiguous smaller offices. And the market is much better for renters now, given the rapid rise in popularity of co-working spaces. So I’m going to have to hold my nose and move yet again.

While this decision means I will be living with boxes for more than a year, creating a safe and comfortable working environment for my team is one of my main responsibilities. Ultimately, it will realize a cost savings after the moving costs are absorbed. It just means living in controlled chaos for a while longer yet. But it’s not as if I don’t have lots of practice, right?

Lessons learned:

  1. Talk to other tenants in a building before you sign a lease. As it turns out, in speaking with our neighbors, we discovered we’re not the only ones to have witnessed prejudicial behavior from our current building staff. 
  2. Make sure you have strong business relationships with your accountant, lawyer, banker, insurance agent, real estate broker, etc. You never know when you might need them in a pinch! 
  3. Don’t ever complain about how bad things are, because it can always get worse.

I know we’ll be in a better place at the end of the year. And hopefully my life won’t have as many boxes in it.

Lara Kisielewska, Founder