Business Matters:

Think Outside the Box When Relocating a Records Center

Although a facility manager will likely be responsible for coordinating your organization’s relocation, as a records manager, you will play a major role in helping them meet the challenges of moving the records center. That responsibility begins immediately upon learning of the potential relocation.

Michael J. Faber, CRM

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First Steps

Your first step should be to seek out other records managers to learn from their experiences – both positive and negative – in moving their records center. Take detailed notes for later reference.

Then, make a commitment to write a log or journal about the activities related to your own records center move. It will be a valuable future resource not only for your organization, but for other records managers who need help to plan a similar project.

ARMA International’s Records Center Operations, 2nd Ed., a technical report that contains information about selecting, equipping, staffing, operating, and managing a records center, can also be a valuable reference to anyone who has been tasked to relocate a records center. [Editor’s note: This book is available at]

Next, contact the person who is responsible for selecting or designing the new facility to alert them to unique records center requirements. For example, a certified engineer must evaluate and approve all plans involving the records center area, particularly to ensure sufficient structural capacity of the floor to support weight. This is especially important if dense magnetic media (e.g., computer tapes, microfilm, x-ray) will be stored or if mobile shelving, which rides on a carriage, will be used.

In addition, the person responsible for developing the request for proposal (RFP) to engage the moving company will need to know about the unique requirements of moving records center materials and equipment so those requirements can be included in the RFP. For example, mobile shelving systems can be extremely heavy, expensive, and difficult to move, so the moving company will need to know if they will be moving that equipment.

You also will need to plan carefully for visits from moving company representatives, who will survey the organization to gather information needed to respond to the RFP. Ensure that they are aware of all areas containing items to be moved, including basements, closets, attics, and remote sites.

Also point out any items that will require special handling or preparation, such as portraits, valuable documents, map cases, or architectural drawings.

Getting complete, detailed information will allow the moving company to provide accurate cost-projection information and to plan for the appropriate manpower and equipment to do the job.

These are just the preliminary steps in planning and preparing for the move. Follow the steps identified in the timeline below to ensure that you and your staff are prepared when moving day arrives.

Six Months Prior to the Move

Define areas of responsibility. Corporate relocation can sometimes introduce ambiguity about who is responsible for specific assets and equipment. If records management, IT, and mail room operations overlap, plan meetings with other department heads to determine who is responsible for what – and document it.

Organize the RM team and make sure all members understand their responsibilities. Try to anticipate vacations and other possible personnel absences to ensure adequate personnel during the move.

Conduct a records inventory if it is not current. Make sure to include areas that are often overlooked, such as remote locations, self-storage units, and basements.

Attend all of the pre-move meetings. Share with staff detailed information about the planning progress and what their responsibilities will be.

Three Months Prior to the Move

Make sure you and the moving company agree about the details. Whether moving 500 or 30,000 cubic feet of records, the organization, its staff, and the moving company need to be on exactly the same page about the moving process. Make sure these items are discussed and agreed to:

  • Which boxes move first
  • Whether the barcode on each box will be scanned onto a pallet so it can be found and pulled if needed during the move
  • Whether there will be a running index available at the end of each day indicating which boxes have been received at the destination
  • How items that need to be transferred in temperature- and humidity-controlled vehicles will be designated
  • How quickly containers will be shelved at the destination
  • Whether staff will receive paperwork or receipts for containers as they leave origin
  • One Month Prior to Move

    Arrange for special services to be provided for the records center. Let your facility manager or moving coordinator know about companies that provide records management-specific services so arrangements for them to be discontinued at the origin and resumed at the destination on the appropriate dates can be made. For example, the manufacturer’s representative should be able to provide information about the feasibility, cost, and timeframe for moving and reinstalling a mobile-shelving system.

    You’ll want to be sure that these services and systems (e.g., scanning or new hardware/software) are operational prior to the move. Equipment/computer problems are more difficult to deal with during the move or in the hectic days just following it.

    Meet or have an in-depth phone conversation with the moving company representative. This will ensure that you understand the move plan completely.

    Begin having weekly meetings with records management staff. Use this time to walk through the move process and discuss in detail any issues or problems that might develop as the move progresses. For example:

  • Try to determine if there are active projects or efforts under way that might require urgent access to critical documents during the move. If so, discuss pulling those active record series from the main collection and either have staff move them or have the moving company deliver them separately.
  • Coordinate closely with project or department managers to try to identify any special retrieval requirements.
  • Begin packing. In most cases, the records center staff will pull, palletize, and shrink wrap the records. A standard pallet can accommodate eight standard record boxes (10-in. x 12-in. x 15-in or 1.04 cubic feet) per level, and they can be stacked five or six levels high, depending on the quality and strength of the containers. This method allows for 40 to 48 record boxes per pallet.

    However, if the majority of the records boxes in the center are old, consider limiting the pallets to four levels high to avoid crushing them. This will allow 32 boxes per pallet.

    All records boxes should be placed on the pallets with the indexing information and barcode labels facing out. (See Figure 1.) Most professional moving companies will have the ability to scan the barcode numbers of the pallets or records boxes as they are being loaded onto the trucks. If that degree of control is necessary, make sure that has been discussed and documented with the moving company.

    Figure 1: Pallet Illustration

    Line up resources needed for the move. Moving a very large collection (10,000 to 50,000 cubic feet or more) may take several days or weeks; the moving company should be able to project the duration.

    For example, a company that could commit for the project’s duration a tractor trailer (1,200 cubic feet or 1,200 standard record boxes) or three standard 26-foot straight trucks (400 cubic feet each or 400 standard record boxes) could move 2,400 cubic feet per day. So, it could move a 30,000 cubic foot records center in 12.5 working days.

    The capability of the personnel who are pulling and palletizing at origin and the ability of the staff at destination to shelve and scan the containers as the move progresses also has a great impact on the length of time required to move the records center.

    Generally, one person can pull and palletize records at the origin at a rate of about 300 cubic feet per day. It is a slightly slower process to shelve and scan at the destination, but one person should be able to process approximately 250 cubic feet of incoming records boxes per day.

    To keep pace with the 30,000 cubic foot scenario described above, eight people (and a supervisor) would be required at origin and 10 people (and a supervisor) would be required at destination each day to complete the move in the 12.5-day timeframe.

    To meet this demand, consider hiring part-time employees, working a second shift, or reducing the daily volume and extending the number of days required for the move. A large, working records center is a unique environment and can present safety issues to someone unfamiliar with its operations, so take the time needed to train personnel thoroughly in safety and operational procedures.

    Also, check with the organization’s insurance representative to be certain liability coverage insures part-time or contract personnel working in the records center.

    One Week Prior to Move

    Develop a work schedule. Check with staff members to be certain that key personnel will be available and identify employees who might be available for overtime or additional hours if the need arises. Develop a schedule for all employees who will be working at the origin and the destination and make sure everyone has a copy.

    Once under way, an office relocation is a very fluid situation, so make sure that someone authorized to make on-the-spot decisions regarding the move is at the origin and the destination at all times.

    Equip the team. Cell phones will likely be the moving team’s primary communication device, so be certain that everyone has a fully charged cell phone, a charger, and a complete list of internal and moving company team members’ cell phone numbers.

    Plan to have on hand at the origin and the destination plenty of pre-assembled records boxes, bar code labels, and tape for making quick repairs to boxes.

    Encourage team members to have a kit with a suggested list of items in it, including tape, scissors, a stapler, stapler remover, felt tip markers, pencils/pens, lined notepads, checklists, cell phone charger, and tape measure.

    Plan ahead for breaks and make arrangements for food and beverages, especially if the team will be working overtime or late hours.

    Prepare a checklist of things to do. Refer to the checklist often in the week prior to the move, as there will be an ever-growing list of things to do, and a cheklist will help you stay organized.

    As the Move Begins

    The first day of a major relocation is always a hectic and stressful time, but the previous planning and preparation to document the move process, train teams for the original and destination locations, and establish close communications with the moving company will make it less so.

    Moving will still require team members to be flexible, though. Regardless of how well-planned, the move will present unanticipated problems. Don’t panic; moving company professionals know how to keep the move on track, so take advantage of their knowledge and experience.

    Keep a positive attitude, it can be contagious. Compliment people when appropriate. A few words of encouragement can be very meaningful, especially when employees have been working long hours in an unfamiliar environment. Make sure personnel are taking breaks and have all of the supplies, equipment, and support they need.

    At the end of each move day, try to take a few minutes to make notes about the day’s activities. Mention any bottlenecks or problems and how they were corrected. Also note the positive aspects of the relocation, especially any personnel who performed exceptionally well. They will appreciate a personal “thank you” or a brief letter of appreciation later.

    After-Move Evaluation

    After things have settled down from the move, call staff together to discuss the relocation process and talk about what aspects of the move went exceptionally well and what could have been done better.

    Ask your team members to evaluate the moving company. If it did an outstanding job, write the company a letter of appreciation and make a copy of it for the after-move report for the facility manager or move coordinator.

    Within 30 to 60 days of the move, pull the notes taken throughout the move into one document to create an outline of the significant aspects of the preparation and the move itself.

    Although it may be hard to think about it now, the company will almost certainly move again, and the aftermove report and outline will be a great reference at that time.

    Finally, enjoy your new space!

    Download the PDF version here.

    Michael J. Faber, CRM, can be contacted at

    From July - August 2010