Being a successful multi-office architecture or engineering firm is different than simply having multiple offices. Whether it is because of a merger or acquisition, or the need to open a branch to provide services for existing client(s), as your firm grows, it becomes more likely that you will have multiple offices.
The first commandment of managing multiple offices is to try and make all offices equal in their support and policies. This is fundamental as offices that are not supported equally are likely to have higher defections of staff to the competition.
Having branch offices is more complex than many firms appreciate. The fact that your home office means you can summon or see all office staff by simply going “down the hall” becomes a challenge when those individuals are several hours away.
It is also important for your firm to appear as a single firm when making proposals. This means that all of your employees, regardless of their location should be providing similar client services. Most firms pay careful attention to such items as production standards and quality control processes, along with marketing, so that the firm is viewed as a single entity by your clients.
It is important to make each and every office feel they are an important part of the comprehensive firm. Their leadership should be part of your overall leadership to help build a stronger company.
One of the most important goals in any multi-office firm is to make sure that policies and practices provide uniformity to all offices. Try to accomplish something (anything, such as marketing task) and then test it to see if all offices achieve the same results.
Think about items such as training. You send someone to learn at a conference who then brings back and shares this knowledge for the benefit of the firm. How can you make sure that this new knowledge spreads to all of the staff in all offices? We have seen firms that establish multiple office video meeting capabilities so that all offices can participate and be seen and heard at training or other firm meetings, including project meetings. We have seen firms that design their network software so that any employee plugging into an Internet source will have his/her own desktop displayed and be able to use any of his/her usual applications.
One of the bigger issues we’ve observed regards centralized (home office) services versus local capabilities. Firms tend to go back and forth over time in many of the administrative functions between these alternatives. Centralized services are cheaper in almost every instance. For example it is cheaper to have IT staff at the home office provide support to other branches.
However, centralized services often lack the quickness and level of support that would be provided by a locally based employee. This debate goes on perpetually, and in fact may cause changes in how you structure the branches over time. When the firm is doing well you are more likely to have local support in each office. When the economy slows down, you are likely to centralize services to save money.
Your goal has to be to run your firm so that all offices are part of a single whole. This is and of itself is a major job to make sure everything is equal to the maximum extent possible. Being a successful multi-office firm is different than simply having multiple offices.
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