Opening a new, second office office is an exciting experience. It signifies the beginning of a new phase of our firm, one that our team has worked tirelessly towards for 10 years. Behind this excitement lurks an uncertain reality: the way we have done everything for the past 10 years will change. Our policies, procedures and practices will need to be modified to be functional across 2 locations. Our entire team will need to be reorganized. Contractors will need to be found, and prices negotiated. This is new territory for me and the reality is that mistakes were made; however, valuable lessons surfaced as a result.
Here are the top 4 lessons that I have learned throughout this expansion:
1. You Are Never As Prepared As You Think
Going into this project I had prepared a list of considerations for the expansion. This list was comprised of countless items: policies that would need to be revised, office supplies and furniture that would be needed. It was an extensive list and I thought I had it all organized and under control. I believed I was prepared. I was wrong. There were delays that crept up from the beginning that I did not anticipate, some of which I could not control. Waiting for quotes and the thousand and one revisions I requested was painful. Finding time to review and modify policies and procedures was difficult. So much for smooth sailing! Even now, days before our new opening, I am still remembering things that I did not anticipate for our second office.
Even though I went into this project thinking I was prepared, I have learned that you are never as prepared as you think you are and the unexpected will happen. It’s inevitable. You have to roll with the punches, add it to your “to do” list, and keep your eye on the final goal.
Key Takeaway: provide a bit more breathing room in deadlines to account for the unaccounted.
2. Time Management is a Valuable Asset
We all know that time is valuable, but when you are working on an expansion project, and your “to do” list is exponentially growing by the minute, you realize just how valuable time is, and how important it is to manage your time well. Prior to starting the office expansion, my schedule was quite flexible. I would have meetings set, and if adjustments were needed for whatever reason, I went with it. During the expansion there were meetings, phone calls, reviews, policy drafting and orders that were needed in a short time-frame; thus my schedule was no longer able to be incredibly flexible. To be honest, I liked this lack of flexibility. I enjoyed knowing what I had to do and when I had to do it; this added extra structure to my day.
Even though flexibility is needed in the workplace, being able to manage your time and provide some leeway for any necessary changes are important.
Key Takeaway: learn to plan out your deadlines, and work backwards to set “check-in” goals to keep yourself on track. This will allow you to maintain structure throughout your expansion project.
3. Timing of Communication is Crucial
This has been the first office expansion where I have been closely involved in the planning and execution of opening a second office location. This being said I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Communication is crucial, but what is even more crucial is choosing when to communicate.
When we were sharing the exciting news with our team that we were opening our 2nd office, we were originally aiming to open our doors in July of 2015, and we told everyone. It was hard not to share our enthusiasm. The excitement was contagious. It was great; until that time frame changed drastically and I failed to communicate the update effectively to the entire team. This led to quiet conversations throughout the office. While we thought this was exciting news and would bring the team together, I learned that by failing to communicate openly about any changes to our time frame created distance.
I also learned how crucial communication is when speaking one-on-one with team members about changes to their positions and locations. I learned that being too open and transparent when it comes to changes with someone’s position or job location can be a double edged sword, especially if you are not as prepared as you thought you were to have that conversation.
I communicated openly with team members about what we were thinking of doing, when we had not yet finalized plans, and then had to communicate that our final plans were not what we were originally thinking. It is here that I learned: not only is what I say important, but also when I say it. I learned that while I was trying to build ‘buy-in’ to the new office, and get everyone as excited as I was, I was building expectations that I was not prepared for.
Key Takeaway: Communicate openly and regularly and always consider the timing of your communication. Timing of communication is crucial to delivering the right message and aligning expectations between team members.
4. Having the Right Team is Critical for Success.
Yes, I know, there are many blog posts and articles out there that emphasize this point; however, I cannot stress how accurate it truly is. An office expansion is not a one-man job. There are many people involved and many different elements and qualities that you need in a team to be successful. You need a team who shares the same goals, the same values and same drive as your company.
At Shulman Law Firm, I am confident that we have the right team. Our team has been understanding of our learning curves (and some of the lessons that I have had to learn along the way), willing to work tirelessly for our clients, and has always been willing to grow together.
Key Takeaway: when opening a second location ensure you are working with a team of professionals who know their jobs, inside and out. These types of individuals will be able to provide great advice, support and other resources you will need to open your second location.
While I’ve only highlighted the top 4 lessons that I have learned through the expansion, this has been a great whirlwind of an experience, and I have learned many other valuable lessons along the way. As our office is not officially open yet, I am sure that I will encounter many more learning experiences. The important thing to remember is: don’t panic! Utilize these key takeaways and learn from every situation you encounter.