Fall 2023

A Moving Experience

Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services

As a child, I moved every three to four years. I lived in six different houses that I can remember and I’m told there were several apartments before the houses. I attended a total of nine different K-12 schools. In college, as expected, I moved eight times, back and forth each year until graduation and then into a rental until we could save enough money for a down payment on a place of our own. Once we bought our house, I swore I would never move again, and true to my word, we still live in the house we bought 33 years ago.

Despite not relocating myself, I still have not been immune to the rigors of moving. With two children, I have helped move each one to college and back every year, to their first condos they bought while single, back to my house with their spouses in tow (while waiting for homes to be built), and then to their (hopefully) forever homes (so far so good). And although I have not changed my address, my personal belongings have had to be packed and moved to temporary locations during two significant renovations to the house, the latest one occurring over (a painfully slow) 18 months.

Then there are the office moves. Since starting my full-time career, I’ve been fortunate to work at only three companies, spending the vast majority of my time (almost 25 years) here at Comtech and CIDM. Nevertheless, I do not have enough digits to count the number of different offices or cubicles I’ve moved into and out of. You would think having now reached the president’s office, I’d have no more of these moves until my (seemingly distant) retirement, but in just a few months, we’re relocating to smaller office space in recognition of the fact that we work at home the majority of the week.

Moving has its pros and cons. It is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. It can be renewing, but also mentally and physically exhausting. In the grand scheme of things, moving is something that, while I don’t necessarily avoid it, I also don’t want to do often. I enjoy stability and the comfort of knowing where all my things go (even if they aren’t always in those places). I like to be able to walk through the house in the dark and know I won’t stub my toe even though I can’t see where I’m going. I like being able to plan my Saturday around the fact that it will take exactly 68 minutes for my Roomba to vacuum the main floor. I find it helpful at the store to remember that if I want a new set of dishes, I must get rid of an old set because the cabinets can’t accommodate any more.

Some might mistake my reluctance to move as a fear of change. I would argue it’s not the change that I’m afraid of or even resistant to…it’s the vast amount of work that’s required to do it. Once it’s done, I’m happy with the result and when my muscles have recovered and I’m well-rested once again I can look back and say it was all worth it. When a move is on the horizon, it’s a matter of mentally preparing myself to get through it, to acknowledge the work ahead, but to also imagine the improvement waiting on the other side.

Given my distaste for moving, it’s ironic that I’m essentially in the moving business—the vast majority of Comtech’s consulting projects center around helping companies move—to a new standard, process, or tool. However, I believe my experiences in moving directly transfer to my consulting in this area. It’s my job to help my clients prepare, get through the hard work, and enjoy the improvements waiting on the other side.

I find it interesting that, at first, the downsides of a move are not really a consideration. There’s a benefit to be had and all focus is on that benefit. A new house will give us enough bedrooms for everyone, a backyard for the children to play in, a large kitchen for entertaining. A new tool will increase our capacity, lower our costs, make it easier to reuse content. We’ll do anything to make the move; it will all be worth it.

The frustration early on comes from the things keeping you from your goal, not on what will happen once everything aligns so you can reach it. It can take years to save up the down payment; housing prices and interest rates may rise keeping that goal always just out of reach. Profits are low and there are restrictions on spending; management doesn’t prioritize documentation projects. During that time, no one really thinks of the adjustments and effort that will be required to actually make the move once the obstacles are overcome. There’s no resistance or fear, just excitement about the possibilities and impatience with the things that stand in our way.

It’s only when the move becomes the reality that the focus shifts and the realization sets in that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

When moving, there are a lot of decisions to be made. You have the opportunity to clean house, to get rid of things you don’t want or need anymore. On the other hand, there’s an emotional toll of shedding the past and the temptation is to just move everything and deal with it later. How many of you have a box somewhere that you’ve moved over and over, but that you’ve never opened since it was first packed? I found several of those when we recently went through my mother-in-law’s house after her passing.

When moving to a new tool, you have similar temptations: “Let’s just move everything; you never know when we might need that content.” However, it’s a great time to clean house – what content must come with you and what can be left behind? What are you still actively working on and supporting and what haven’t you touched for years? What are you holding on to for sentimentality’s sake only, and will anyone in the future be glad you made this decision? That box of every birthday card you’ve ever received might hold a lot of sentimental memories, but do you yourself ever go back and read them, let alone do you imagine your children doing so when you are gone?

Further these decisions often have a cost, in your own time and effort or financially. Each box you move must be physically carried, by you or that expensive mover you’ve hired. Each item you move to the new system must be converted, by you or a vendor you’ve contracted. Old content may not conform to current writing styles and will need extensive rework to ever be used again.

Often, the reality is that moving to a new house leads to a phenomenon of being “house poor” for a while. You’ve depleted your savings on the down payment; you pushed the boundaries on your mortgage payment. No more Starbucks for a while as you adjust; a few “stay-cations” instead of a trip to Disney. Similarly, a new tool might have pushed the limits of the department budget and the time demands on your staff. Can you really afford to bring the things you don’t need?

Even when you move only the necessities, moving takes time – yours and others. It requires the coordination of a lot of people. You call in favors; trade beer and pizza for a few hours of heavy lifting; hire experts. You arrange the exact day and time for utilities to transfer, for deliveries to be made, for the window shades to be installed, and so on. It’s an intricate dance that you hope and pray works out so you aren’t sleeping on the floor in an empty room exposed to all the neighbors with no internet with which to post your hardships to social media.

Moving to a new system also takes time and coordination…often more than you anticipated. Realistically, not very many companies can implement a new CCMS in under six months, yet it’s a common expectation. It requires the involvement of a lot of people. Your team needs time built into their schedule to make the move, to train, and to adjust to the new paradigm (Hint: the new system will save you time, but not in the first few months of ramping up). In most cases, you need to coordinate experts – your tool vendor, your implementation partner, your conversion house – and hope and pray that the project was scoped correctly and they all meet their deadlines. You need to understand the dependencies of each. It’s not very useful to have the internet turned on if you have no power for the router. Similarly, how will you test your stylesheets if you have no content converted?

Nevertheless, the wait, the effort, the cost, are all typically offset by the excitement and renewal of the new situation once you’re settled. You remember what motivated you to start the process in the first place. You begin to realize the benefits – you have a home office instead of working at the dining room table, you can turn on the air conditioning when it gets hot, you experience snow for the first time! Your mental models of where things belong reset and you don’t need the sticky notes on the cabinets to find your cereal bowls anymore. Things feel like home again.

Moving is both exhausting and exhilarating, traumatic and renewing, difficult and rewarding. But with careful planning and good friends, there’s no reason to fear it. You’ll get through it and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner (forgetting, of course, by then all the work it took to get the approvals in the first place). You’re ultimately glad you did it, but you aren’t in a hurry to do it again. And, in my opinion, that’s as it should be.

photo of a before, during, after kitchen remodelBefore, during, and after the kitchen remodel


About the Author:

Dawn Stevens is CIDM’s Director and President of Comtech Services. She has over 30 years of practical experience in virtually every role within a documentation and training department including project management, instructional design, writing, editing, and multimedia programming.