An Oral History of Esker’s “Big Move”

A snapshot outside of Esker’s new U.S. headquarters, 1850 Deming Way, Middleton.

In late 2016, during that cold, dizzying, limbo-like stretch of days stranded between Christmas and the New Year, Esker’s U.S. headquarters was abuzz. Its new headquarters, that is. The company had just pulled off a successful relocation under an extremely tight deadline, moving from 1212 Deming Way, Madison, to 1850 Deming Way, Middleton. The plan that was months in the making had finally become real.

It was a significant step for the document automation solution provider; Esker was growing at an unprecedented rate and needed more real estate to accommodate its rapidly expanding employee base. The move was also an opportunity to inhabit a new space that could be constructed and designed to better embody its company culture — something more collaborative, lively and spacious.

Now, a little over a year later, with Esker happily settled into its new home and the stress and uncertainty of moving far in the rear-view mirror, it only seems fitting to share the story of how it all came together. This is the oral history of Esker’s “big move,” as told by those who experienced it firsthand.

Should we stay or should we go?

Back in 2015, with the lease on its old building set to expire the following year, Esker was faced with a decision: extend the lease for another three years or explore other sites to potentially move its U.S. headquarters.

Anne Donarski (controller): We had considered the possibility of just staying in our current building and remodeling, but liked the potential of going to a new space.

Steve Smith (managing director & U.S. COO): In the end, our old landlord wanted the entire building for one tenant, and we were really drawn to the idea of doing something different. Most people were itching for change.

Nikki Tracy (senior creative manager): Our old office didn’t reflect our personality or culture … it left a lot to be desired. We were ready for a change.

Becky Mender (sales manager): There was buzz that our lease would be coming due, and that we needed to make a decision. The property manager had been showing the building, but it wasn’t until they found a renter interested in the whole building that we had to get busy.

Jon Seaman (account executive): I had heard a rumor shortly before the announcement came that we were potentially moving.

Anne: We knew we wanted to stay in the area of our then-current-location. We also knew we needed more square footage. But that criteria limited the amount of viable spaces for us to consider.

Steve: Finding the right layout that also had opportunity for growth was critical in our decision. Also, we didn’t want to move more than three miles away from where we were because that would create further disruption.

Nikki: First and foremost, we needed SPACE. We are a growing company, so we knew we needed to choose a location that could grow with us.

Making the announcement

The decision was all but inevitable: Esker would not be renewing its lease. Although a new site hadn’t been officially chosen, employees at Esker’s Madison office were gathered together and informed of the company’s intent to move locations.

Matt Kulas (scrum master): Since we only knew that we were moving but didn’t know where, my initial reaction was, “Please let it be close to where we are now. I like my short commute.”

Sarah Joiner (mid-market account executive): My first impression was, “Cool, new is fun. But will I be able to keep my plants?”

Nikki: I was SO excited by the prospect of moving. I’d been at our old space for about nine years. It was a sea of cubes and everyone was so closed off from each other. I loved the idea of being in a more open space with a cooler vibe.

Renee Platto (digital marketing manager): Of course, I found out we were moving right after I got a window spot! I was pretty excited, though. The old office was really closed off and hard to meet new people.

Becky: I was just hoping the new building would offer everything we had access to at our current building — plenty of parking, lots of trees for shade in the summer and access to a gym.

Jon: I am a creature of habit, so I was a bit sad we would be moving because that is what I had come to know and call home for nearly five years.

Chris Graves (senior business alliance manager): I think everyone was excited. We needed more space and an interior that wasn’t such a dreary, beige cube farm.

Cheryl Stalowski (channel sales manager): I was hoping the new building was more retro and not so cube-like. And, that it was warmer.

Brittany Bezotte (database marketing coordinator): I just remember hoping that the new place was closer to home rather than farther away.

Joe Hanousek (customer experience manager): Better heating and cooling was No. 1 on my wish list for the new space. My old office was like an ice box — both in winter and summer.

Caitlyn Lewis (marketing manager): I thought it would be exciting; I had never been a part of an office move before. I was looking forward to an updated atmosphere and a new vibe.

Steve: I knew what I wanted, but it was more important for me to know what everyone else wanted as well. When the vast majority of the feedback was positive, it made the decision that much easier to make.

The old stomping grounds. A view of Esker’s previous U.S. headquarters, 1212 Deming Way, Madison.

Same street, new address

After a four-month search that included approximately 10 different sites, Esker found what looked to be an ideal location for its new home just a couple miles down the road. Timing, however, was not on the company’s side.

Anne: We had a very fast turnaround once we decided against staying in our current building. Neither Steve, Nikki or I had ever done a project like this before, so it was a bit overwhelming.

Steve: We needed to move quickly because the new building had another interested party. At one point, we actually lost out but negotiations with the other party fell apart. That caused us to accelerate our discussions.

Nikki: It was a very quick process (quicker than we would have liked, to be honest). The construction, the office design, ordering furniture … I had never been involved in a project like this and the amount of details and decisions were unreal.

Steve: Before we finalized the agreement, I asked all the managers to come to the new site and provide feedback — even though the office looked terrible at that point. What really sold them on it was being able to walk through the space of the company occupying the other side of the same building. That gave everyone a better feel for what it could look like after it was completed.

Ben Braun (director, services for the Americas): I saw the space before the remodel. It wasn’t a great first impression — there was a lot of trust that magic would have to be worked.

Joe: My first impression was from a tour during the remodeling phase. I was looking forward to the new space, but also had a little trepidation since the best you could do was visualize what it would be like when it was completed.

Becky: When we were first brought over, construction was still going on. It was so hard to picture where everyone would be when it was finalized!

Renee: We were able to come here while it was under construction. It seemed very open and industrial but it was kind of hard to visualize the space.

Jon: The first time I saw the new location they were still a few weeks away from finishing. It had a lot of potential but it didn’t look like it would be close to being done by the time we were supposed to move in.

Nikki: It didn’t feel like it was possible to get it done on time. It’s amazing how quickly everything ended up coming together at the end.

Chris: I didn’t have any strong feelings one way or the other. However, once the plans for the space were revealed, the prospect of this being our new office was quite exciting.

Anne: I think it was well received. We only moved a mile down the road, so I don’t think that was an issue. Most people were excited about the change.

Pictured left: Steve, Nikki and Anne during the “demo” phase. Pictured right: Images of the new building under construction.

Moving out, moving in

After a whirlwind of planning, conceptualizing and negotiating, it was time to move. Esker needed to be out of 1212 Deming Way and relocated to 1850 Deming Way by January 2017. In order for everything to work according to plan, a full team effort was needed.

I hate moving … I actually considered hiring staff to pack my things.

Matt: Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about any of the details. Anne and the others did all the heavy lifting and told us where to be and when. It was a great way to start the new year being in the new spot.

Brittany: I’m not good with suspense. After hearing about how amazing the new office was, I just wanted to see it!

Jon: Moving day was very chaotic and making sure everything was cleaned out, put in the proper crates and stickered made for a pressure-packed day before leaving for a few days off.

Becky: After being here for nine years, I had accumulated a lot of stuff … meeting notes, chotskies, pictures, snacks. We were limited to only a couple of boxes, so I ended up having to take a lot of stuff home!

Renee: There was a lot of organization that needed to happen with the correct label on your boxes and monitors.

Joe: The move was tricky because there were a number of customer year-end activities that had to be completed and, at the same time, we had to pack up all our stuff. But in hindsight, it was probably the best time to do it.

Ben: It was smooth. I don’t think the holidays affected it too much.

Caitlyn: There wasn’t much pressure from my end. I think the transition was really smooth and we had great communication.

Steve: Actually, moving during the holidays helped because it’s a slow time of year for us and it gave us more opportunity to focus on the move. There was a short period where it would not be easy working from either office, but with so many people away on vacation it did not cause considerable disruption.

Anne: In many ways it helped that we moved when we did. We used the days off to get things as organized as possible before people started coming to the office. By the time people returned after the holidays, we were relatively settled.

Nikki: Many employees were going to be out over the holidays and other businesses tend to not do business, so in some ways it was perfect timing to get everything transitioned. New year, new space.

Images of the new building’s modern, spacious interior shortly after move-in.

Adjusting to change

The hardest part was over. Everything and, more importantly, everyone at Esker had been successfully moved over to the new location. Now came the exciting yet always-awkward adjustment period …

Steve: With the schedule being so tight, there were a few items that the builder had to complete after we moved in, which made for some noisy days in the office.

Anne: It was COLD! We had a lot of issues with our heat those first few weeks.

Chris: The only big challenge was dressing for how the HVAC system decided to act on a particular day. Some days the office was quite comfortable, and others employees were working in winter hats and jackets.

Cheryl: I couldn’t find the conference rooms to save my life and — being at the old office for 11 years — I even drove there a few times forgetting it was now 1850 and not 1212.

Nikki: There were some growing pains, sure, but overall people really seemed to love the new space.

Renee: Safe to say I didn’t miss the old office. The only thing I had to get used to was the new keycard. The door by marketing opened 15 minutes later than the front doors and everyone seemed to forget that. I wanted to start charging a fee for opening the door for people that were locked out!

Jon: The openness and close proximities to my colleagues and new cube area took a while to get used to.

Ben: It took me a few tries to figure out my favorite way to the new office.

Becky: The office was a little cold, as they were trying to get the heat adjusted to the perfect temp.

Joe: It took a couple of weeks, but I quickly realized having my teammates close was much nicer than in the old space where they were so far away … much more convenient to collaborate.

Brittany: I repeatedly walked to the wrong door and had to go back to the front door. I had a pretty entertaining wipe out while rushing to the front door in the cold and hit an icy patch on the sidewalk. You’re welcome for the entertainment to whoever witnessed that.

Sarah: I sent a Secret Santa present to our old office this year. L

Nikki: One time I went to the other building, parked, opened my door and then it dawned on me — this wasn’t our building anymore. And this was after we had been in the new place for a few months already. It wasn’t my finest moment.

Joe: We were in the new space three months before someone informed me that I could get hot water for my tea from the water dispensers located around the office instead of from the coffee machines in the café — embarrassingly, it was Steve who explained it to me.

Steve: It was definitely hectic those first few weeks, but there also was a lot of energy in the building. It was fun watching people bring family members in to show off the new office. I never really saw that at our old location.

Top left and bottom right: The café/gathering area. Top right: Wall art. Bottom left: The game room.

365-ish days later

In just a little over a year, Esker has made great strides in customizing 1850 Deming Way to its unique needs and personality. What started out as a space with little more than “potential” has now become home.

Steve: It’s still a work in progress, but we’ve come a long way. We had nothing on any of the walls, and now there is art that brings some color and fun to the building. We added the patio this summer, too, which gives everyone a place to hangout outside when the weather is nice.

Nikki: I love that it has brought our team together more. Adding in a game room and a large café with a lounge area and booths, getting every employee a standing desk, adding in “phone booths” for privacy when needed — those were all decisions to try and improve employee experience and allow people to interact more easily.

Anne: We’re still making tweaks; things like adding more window tinting, hooks in the restrooms, artwork throughout the suite and, now, even looking to add more cubes to accommodate growth.

Cheryl: Look around … what a place! I love the energy the building invites.

Ben: It feels like home.

Sarah: The positive energy has continued to grow as the staff grows.

Jon: It has changed a lot over the first year. Every few weeks it seems something new and fun is done to make it an even better place to come to work.

Renee: It’s become a lot homier. I think people are settling in really well. Also, the discovery of all the walking paths around the office are awesome.

Steve: I like that when I look out from my office, I can see all the way to the other end of the building. Our old office seemed dead at times, but this one has life.

Becky: I think everyone has settled in to the change, and being in a more open, collaborative environment. A lot of people take advantage of the ping-pong table as well, which is really good to see!

Nikki: We’re just a block or so from Greenway Station, so it’s wonderful to be able to walk to lunch or for a coffee. We are right next to some awesome walking trails, so it’s a great way to take a break on a sunny day. Love it.

Matt: I had really only considered the old office as only a place to get stuff done. Now, we have an atmosphere that actually makes you want to be at the office. The layout is open, the café is a great place to socialize with coworkers, and the ping-pong room has generated a life of its own.

Caitlyn: I love that it’s more modern and that I can work in the café or outside. It’s just nice to be able to have a space other than your desk. 

Anne: It’s great seeing so many people take advantage of their stand-up desks, which helps create a healthier environment. I anticipate we will always be adding little things here and there to make our office even better.

Brittany: I’ve learned to love the open concept. I can’t imagine working in a cubicle again.

Chris: It’s not hard to appreciate what Esker has provided for their employees.

Joe: I like trains, so my favorite thing about the new location is watching the freight trains go by once or twice a day.

Renee: I love having different places to work than just your desk. I especially enjoy the patio — weather permitting — for some fresh air.

Jon: I hope it continues to be a fun place to come to work and one that I am proud to bring customers or family members into and show them where I work.

Steve: We’ll always make changes as our company evolves and find other ways to utilize the space. I really rely a lot on what our employees feel we need — there are a number of items around the building that would not be here if it wasn’t for the ideas of our employees. That’s the number one goal — create an environment that is at great place to work at!

Dan Rogney

As Esker’s Senior Copywriter, Dan plays a central role in creating thought-provoking marketing content designed to educate and engage audiences on the benefits of document process automation. When he’s not writing, you’re likely to find him poring over a good book, shamelessly playing with his daughter’s toys, or Googling the best ways to remove cat hair from clothing.

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