The ups and downs of office relocation

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Complimentary yoga classes…an artistically lit courtyard that hosts free concerts in the summer…beautiful, repurposed-wood flooring in many common spaces…and commutes of, often, an hour and a half or more.

These are some things I discovered when a company I’d freelanced with for about 10 years, starting in midtown Manhattan, moved to the Industry City complex in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Sunset Park, as close to Coney Island as it is to Manhattan, wouldn’t be called a central location. For many workers, getting there and home is a time-consuming haul. The flip side is that Industry City can offer bigger spaces, lower rents, and other perks that more geographically convenient spots won’t.

Companies seeking a lower overhead have in recent years been moving their offices to out-of-the-way areas. In order not to repel current or future employees, they often seek to sweeten the deal by offering attractive amenities.

Industry City has focused on drawing creative businesses to its offices; a glance at the IC calendar shows free poetry readings, Drag Queen Bingo, and a jazz happy hour coming up soon in communal areas.

A quick survey of friends’ experiences illustrates the move/perk trend.

“My company moved from the Union Square area [of Manhattan] to West 46th Street and 11th Avenue, which is closer to New Jersey than to anything much in Manhattan, excepting car dealerships,” says Robert. “To make things more enticing, we have a café in the building and an inexpensive full-service gym. They also have Ice Cream Tuesdays and Happy Hour Thursdays, plus a free shuttle bus to public transit. Still, it’s a long slog to get here, and everyone misses the vibrancy of Union Square.”

“Half of our office was moved to a kind of lousy downtown location that, at the time, wasn’t close to many restaurants,” says Alice, also in New York City. “So they had a program where a caterer would come to the offices instead, and employees could buy lunches that way. They also got a barista—yes, a personal one for the office—to make their unlimited coffees every day, plus a café worker who put sliced fresh fruit into their cooler water. I’m not kidding.”

It’s worth noting that where companies go, supporting businesses often go as well. Put office workers hungry for lunch into an area without such choices, and you’ll usually find that local options appear to fill the need.

Flexibility

Some companies offer the perk of flexible workspaces and locations. Chanel, in Atlanta, notes that her company pays for her co-working space. “Hardly anyone in tech here works in an actual office,” she says. “So many co-working spaces. Traffic is also a beast here, so that plays a role. I have a desk at a local tech co-working space—but I’m writing this from my couch. Go figure.”

Some relocations are more dramatic than others. In 2018, finance firm AllianceBernstein moved 1,050 jobs from New York City to Nashville. The company benefitted from tax breaks and lower operating costs, but CEO Seth Bernstein spoke of benefits for workers as well. “Moving our corporate headquarters here allows us to offer advantages to our employees that we simply couldn’t in the New York metro area,” he told the press at the time, noting lower living expenses and housing costs, plus a more modern work facility. (No word on whether the office hired a barista.)

On the other hand, some companies seem to decide against offering perks to offset a move. Erica followed her company from Manhattan to Brooklyn; but when the company then moved her office to New Jersey, the commute she’d face led her to change plans. “They told us if we wanted to leave, we were free to go,” she recalls. “That was an ‘amenity’ they offered.” Erica moved on to a new job, with an office in Manhattan.

Muriel, who worked with Erica, recalls, “They moved us to Brooklyn because they got a tax break on a building there—and Brooklyn is cool. I guess it was cheaper, but then they spent a lot fixing it up, and we were way too far from our other co-workers, who were in New Jersey. So then they shut that office and moved us to New Jersey. I don’t think we were offered amenities.” (Except, of course, the
freedom to find another job.)

Deborah and Samantha—in Seattle and Columbus, respectively—report similar chains of events. Both of their companies moved to more remote locations within their cities; the only perks they report are reasonable parking situations (a dubious perk for Deborah, however, who had an easy commute via public transit to her previous office but has to drive to the new one).

Some jobs, of course, feature built-in resistance to the relocation trend. Susan is a professor in Louisville. “That’s one nice thing about working for a university,” she notes. “They’re really hard to move.”

What to ask for when you relocate

If you’ve been asked to relocate for your current company, or if a new opportunity would require you to move, you’ll want to negotiate a fair relocation package.

Some things to keep in mind—and to present to the company in your negotiations—are “smaller but add up” moving expenses, such as help with disassembling and reassembling your furniture; and, of course, the cost of living and tax rates in your new area. Document your findings as specifically as possible to your company, and be sure to get their relocation offer in detailed writing as well.

Be aware that a company might be more open to a good relocation package if you’re a known entity to them. “When one of our current salespeople is hired for an open position in our company, in another market, we pay for their relocation,” says Sandra McCall, operations director at Casmigos Tequila, in White Plains, NY. “For new hires, we prefer someone already local who has familiarity with the market they’re applying for.”