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Aercoustics Engineering's Steve Titus, left, and Payam Ashtiani in their new, bigger offices. (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)
Aercoustics Engineering's Steve Titus, left, and Payam Ashtiani in their new, bigger offices. (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)

THE CHALLENGE

Employer's dilemma: new workplace, no public transit Add to ...

Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

Aercoustics Engineering Ltd.’s office in Toronto is buzzing. Change is in the air at the 40-year-old company, which has grown into the largest acoustical engineering firm in Canada.

Its 35 employees are preparing for a big move in the fall, the culmination of nearly three years spent revamping the company.

“We’re completely changing the office dynamic,” says Steve Titus, president and chief executive officer. “I think it’s a nervous excitement.”

Aercoustics, which brings in $3- to $5-million in sales a year, has engineered spaces such as the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto to control and shape acoustics and vibrations and reduce undesirable noise.

The company’s upcoming move was kicked into motion by a new management team led by Mr. Titus and principal Payam Ashtiani. “We’ve outgrown our current facilities both from a physical space perspective but also from a culture perspective … the offices don’t communicate our brand.”

The company will soon move from its Kipling Avenue and Dixon Road location to one just west of Sherway Gardens near Toronto’s border with Mississauga. “We have a lot of equipment and we have to travel to a lot of project sites in Ontario, so being able to load a vehicle and have easy highway access put an additional constraint on our options,” Mr. Titus says.

But there’s a catch: The new headquarters will be just beyond the reach of transit. That could complicate the recruitment and retention of highly skilled employees. “For attracting new talent that may be something that’s a knock against us,” Mr. Titus says.

Some employees have been with the company for 25 years, with the average being between five and 10 years, Mr. Ashtiani says. “[Employees have] gotten used to their commute path now and we’re changing things up – that’s where there is a question mark,” he says. The new landlord declined requests to set up a shuttle to nearby bus or subway stops.

The company already offers flexible hours and the ability to work remotely. But it can’t afford to lose any of its “uniquely qualified” team of acoustical engineers as a result of the change.

“We’re just concerned about what we don’t know,” says Mr. Titus. “What happens with that nervous excitement [once we move in]?”

The Challenge: How can Aercoustics help ease the transition and prevent turnover when it moves?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Sally Talbot, move manager and principal at the corporate relocation firm Sally Talbot and Associates, Toronto

Have a kickoff presentation with the floor plans posted. Invite the new workstation furniture dealer/manufacturer to deliver and install a mock-up so the staff can feel it and sit at it. Make the kickoff a big deal including a lunch or breakfast. Talk about the new amenities in the new area.

Ahead of time, get HR involved: Where are staff members coming from? What time do they start and finish work? What mode of transportation do they take now? What will be available to use to get to the new facility – GO, bus, subway?

Put a car-share program in place where the staff member who drives the car is compensated for their gas and wear and tear on their automobile. The corporation leases the car for them, under the condition that it is used for transportation to work and some minor stops along the way.

Tracey Sullivan, director of business transition and move-management services at commercial real estate company CBRE Ltd., Toronto

How do we make sure people are engaged enough to feel comfortable in their new space? We’ll often go out to the different restaurants and vendors in the area and say, ‘Look, we have this company arriving, new potential customers, what can you offer?’ Maybe it’s discounts on haircuts or drycleaning. When employers talk about employee retention, it’s about feeling like we’re part of something. If you’re not happy in your work environment, it reflects all around.

As for travelling and people going to meetings downtown, do they have a program with Uber? Do they offer taxi chits? Do people have a car allowance? Some landlords might offer discounted parking for carpooling. Investigate incentives, financial or otherwise, for transportation. Maybe reimbursement for transit passes?

Anil Verma, professor of human resources management, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

The commute itself is a smaller issue; the bigger issue is change. Whenever you introduce any kind of change, our instinct as human beings is to stay within our comfort zone. Some might feel unsettled.

One thing they could do is use computer renderings of the office space in 3-D and provide a virtual reality program so workers could walk through the space and see where they’ll be sitting. It also would not be out of place to invite some experts and employees from other companies where they use the open-space concept to share their experiences, someone who could show them it’s the way of the future. You can put a positive spin on the experience. That would make them feel better about the new place, and maybe even excited.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Create a car-share program

Lease a car and let employees use it to carpool to and from work.

Develop a 3-D rendering

Use virtual reality to let employees explore the office before it’s set up.

Invite an open-concept expert

Bring in someone to discuss the benefits of the space and address any concerns.

Follow Report on Small Business on Twitter at @globesmallbiz.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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