As one of America’s largest credit unions moved from the city to the suburbs this year, it underwent intense efforts to make sure not only that current employees didn’t quit rather than move, not only that future employees would find the new location as cool as San Francisco, but that employees would feel engaged, appreciated, and not cogs in a company machine with little concern about their personal lives.
Patelco had been in an old, historic building in San Francisco that wasn’t “seismically retrofitted” — an ongoing issue for many Bay Area organizations, from corporations to churches. Getting it up to code would have involved a lot of money and a temporary move-out anyhow. Conversations about what to do had been going on for years. In 2010, Patelco decided to move about 40 miles away, from San Francisco to Pleasanton.
“This was a huge change for us,” says LeeAnne Giblin, a Patelco SVP and Chief Administrative Officer. Though only about 200 of the company’s 500 employees were affected by the move — others were working out of other offices — going from downtown San Francisco to Pleasanton (home of, among others, Workday) was like … well, think D.C. to Chantilly, Virginia; Manhattan to Westchester; Lincoln Park to Northbrook.
Giblin notes that “San Francisco culture is unique.” Often, you don’t have, need, or want, a car, for example. She and others at Patelco were concerned about losing what she calls the “knowledge base” of employees, particularly as it’s moving to an upgraded new technology system. The credit union has long-time employees — as in 20 years’ tenure, not just 10. Giblin guessed last year that maybe 15% of employees would not make the move.
About a year ago, Patelco started a cross-functional, voluntary team to meet and discuss concerns about the move. There was the main “Employee Move Task Force Team” and two other sub-teams – the Xtreme Team and the Amenities Team.
The Xtreme team planned small events along the way, like shred days to get rid of boxes of old documents and to donate office supplies and furniture to local charities. The Amenities Team focused on the new facility and the new area: the “amenities book” it created tells you where the closest car wash and post office are.
Employees’ concerns, uncovered over a series of meetings of these groups, ranged from where people would sit in the new office to what sorts of restaurants there were in Pleasanton.
Transportation was a big issue of course, even more for people in Marin County, where the potential commute could be around 90 minutes, maybe double what it would be if you left from the heart of the city.
Patelco decided to add “extras” at the new office, like a fitness room, and twice-a-month massages. It gave tours. It added a shuttle service from the closest BART stop to the office. It expanded telecommuting options. It also had a recruiting ad agency called CKR Interactive make various suggestions as to how it might handle the communications; Patelco ended up having CKR create a special website (later honored at the annual Creative Excellence Awards) to make sure candidates “digged its new digs.” The audience was not just current employees but potential employees; remember, Patelco was assuming that it would need to hire some new people to replace those who didn’t make the move.
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The “dig the new digs” site was chosen and unveiled as 2011 began. This theme was used in corporate communications, PowerPoint templates, welcome kits at everyone’s new desk, and more.
(Incidentally: the idea of having the site be mainly an intranet site was a no-go, as the in-house IT staff was too busy and the intranet in need of an upgrade.)
The Patelco move happened at the end of February. Aside from two people at retirement age who ended up retiring, Giblin says she’s “happy to say that we had zero turnover as a result of the move.”
You might think that the job market’s weakness worked to Patelco’s advantage in creating this zero number. While true, Giblin, as mentioned at the outset, is adamant that this whole effort was about not taking employees for granted –because their options are limited — and not acting like the company was callously uprooting their lives. “If there’s anyone out there who’s taking advantage of employees,” she warns, sharply, “there’s a hidden cost”: Less engagement, less interest, less production, and in the end less-happy customers. “You have to think about people, appreciating people, people being involved in the process.”
Patelco, as mentioned, is currently knee-deep in a technology upgrade. Its mortgage lending department is being moved from Sacramento to Pleasanton this fall, a much smaller deal than the San Francisco relocation.