Businesses going through relocation might instinctively schedule a move over the weekend to minimize downtime, but experts say they need to be wary of unforeseen consequences.

“People do this,” explains Ed Katz, a moving expert and author of Move Your Business (Without Becoming a Moving Target) (Franklin-Sarrett, 2004). “They move on Friday, thinking they’ll be up for business Monday. Then there’s no one around at the phone company to turn on the phones, no one to turn on the electricity to make sure things are working. Monday morning, you’re missing calls, you’re missing e-mails, you’re losing money.”

While no national statistics are available, Katz says most companies move every three to four years -- the length of the average lease. And, every single time, whether relocating across town or to another city, moving the IT parts of the office -- literally the office lifeline -- takes special care.

Plan well ahead

The first step in the move should be taken well before the moving date, perhaps six months to a year ahead, depending on the complexity of the move. That's when you need to figure out how much space is needed and how the space should be configured to fit the office’s IT needs. Many commercial landlords will offer turnkey space planning solutions for smaller businesses, says Katz, former owner of Atlanta-based Peachtree Movers and founder of the International Office Moving Institute.

If your move involves IT professionals or an executive team in different cities, or realtors and landlords in other locations, collaborative hosted software may make the task easier, notes Andy Kill, spokesman for San Mateo, Calif-based Clarizen. “This hosted solution is scaled for small businesses and perfect for projects that have a lot of moving parts,” says Kill. Similar product lines are offered by Basecamp, @Task, and Microsoft’s enterprise-grade Project.

Move-specific software is also available that can help smaller businesses set timelines and focus on all the necessary steps that a move brings. iOfficeMove of San Jose, Calif., offers hosted software that can create custom timelines for all aspects of a move, including IT. Quality Software’s Office Moving Checklist, a non-hosted product, is another option.

Consider a relocation consultant

While many small moves don’t require outside help, relocation consultants can step in and help in businesses where the IT staff is already stretched thin. “Don’t expect your IT person to both do a move and do their regular job,” advises Blaine Berger, president of Longmont, Colo-based Electronic Oasis Consulting Inc, which specializes in IT relocation services and disaster recovery. Berger recommends that companies have their move plans evaluated by a consultant to see if extra services will be needed.

Moving tips from the experts

Once moving time arrives, experts offer the following tips on ensuring a safe IT move:

  • Take pictures. Photograph the back of every single computer and server to see where the cables go, advices Katz. Not all older computers have color-coded wires, he notes, so you may need these photos to put things back together at the new location.
  • Back it up. Back up all computers right before the move and test your computers’ restore functions. Store the backup off-site. Consider a hosted backup solution that will enable you to access your backup easily at your new location.
  • Wrap them right. Make sure your mover is wrapping your computers, keyboards and other electronics with two layers of anti-static bubble wrap to project the equipment from damage and dirt. "Blanket wrapping is for furniture… it does not absorb shock, and doesn’t keep sensitive equipment clean,” notes Katz.
  • Need security? Thieves will steal computers right off the street if they are left unattended next to a moving truck, notes Katz. Consider hiring security to supervise your move if needed.
  • Buy new phones and have them ready. Most companies purchase new telephones for their new offices for many reasons, from the complexity of moving existing systems to the cost involved, notes Berger. Katz adds that the phone and Internet systems should be set up before the office equipment arrives, perhaps days earlier, so everything is working when the furniture rolls in.
  • Keep e-mail running. Having your e-mail bounce around for days after your move is “embarrassing,” says Berger. Make sure you have a plan to keep your system afloat during the move.

With the right planning, your IT move can go off without a hitch -- and leave you free to enjoy your plush new offices.

SIDEBAR: Software to help IT during a move

Clarizen's hosted project management software can help keep team members connected across departments, geographies, and functions.

37 Signal's Basecamp is another Web-hosted project management solution that can keep your business up and running during a relocation -- and beyond.

iOfficeMove offers hosted software that can create timelines for all aspects of a move, including relocating IT.