NATO move

Case Study: NATO

Government and Council

One of Europe’s most prestigious and complex office relocations was successfully completed earlier this year by a consortium led by Pickfords Business Solutions.

The challenge was to relocate the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) headquarters in Brussels to its brand new, highly secure, 254,000 square meter facility, located just across the road in the city. After residing for more than fifty years in a temporary complex, the delegations and embassies that work together at NATO headquarters were ready to take up official residence when the new building was completed by June 2018. 

 NATO Headquarters operates as a multi- tenant facility hosting 47 independent entities, 29 national embassies and NATO’s staff elements in separate offices. Over the years, NATO evolved from hosing 12 Allied delegations to 29 Allies, 19 partner delegations and multiple NATO staff elements and had outgrown its original building..

The striking design for the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization Headquarters suggests the fingers of two hands interlaced in a symbolic clasp of unity and protection. The main building provides each Allied nation with embassy-level security while offering common spaces where delegates and staff meet and work Flexible office layouts and shared amenities bring together the 29 NATO Allies, staff, partner nations, media and visitors.

The 42-hectare campus includes 254,000 square meters of office and conference spaces as well as media and commercial facilities. The structure and organization of the main building were designed around the needs of the entities that work there with a focus on sustainability incorporating chilled slabs, natural ventilation, geothermal energy, green roof and rain-water capture. By contrast, the previous building evolved over more than 50 years to comprise almost 20% of the total surface as temporary building and was past its useable life and unsuited for purpose.

The NATO Allies agreed in 1999 to build a new headquarters for the organization in Brussels, Belgium. Ground was broken in the Fall of 2010 and the building was handed over to NATO by Belgium, who managed the construction project on NATO’s behalf, in May 2017 during a special meeting of a the NATO Head of State and/or Government.

The relocation was to be the most visible element of a multi-year project and was expected to be a huge undertaking, not only because of the sheer size and complexity of the move itself, but also due to the stringent security and safety requirements.

NATO started the planning for the transition and the move to the new NATO HQ in 2011. In 2013 a leading global consultancy was retained to develop the relocation strategy and create the subsequent Request for Proposal (RFP) to establish a removals contractor. This challenge was sent out to the business moving market to identify a contractor that had the capabilities to plan, manage and execute a move of this scale and complexity.

The move

It was clear, from the site visit that the sheer scale of the buildings presented real challenges to the moving teams. Pickfords needed to move 4,200 staff, 19 linear km of documents, some of them highly classified, more than 200 safes, ICT equipment, printing equipment, valuable artwork and technical workshop equipment. This was simply not going to be like any other “office move”.

A joint team was organized, with security cleared staff, from The Office Moving Alliance , members which included Pickfords in the UK, Mondial in Holland and AMT in France .

After a very robust due diligence process followed by a “best and final” offer, the contract was awarded to Pickfords and its team members and the extensive project planning phase began.

The challenges

The biggest challenge was the planning and execution of a move that that allowed NATO to continue its work unimpeded during the transition, even in the event of an international crisis. In other words, the relocation itself had to be perfect in everyway, given NATO’s 24/7 defence and deterrence mandate as enshrined in the North Atlantic Treaty.

From the very outset, it was made very clear that regardless of the number of people involved, the number of consultations and meetings it would take, through to the environmental disposal of any unwanted furniture there was to be no disruption to NATO business during this time

Cultural differences

The NATO Headquarters is a unique campus where both NATO Allied and NATO Partner national delegations work alongside with NATO staff organizations. NATO established the joint NATO Headquarters Project Office and Transition Office (HQPO/TO) to, manage, integrate and deliver the move process. 

While NATO staff organizations were, by mandate, to be moved by the Pickfords lead team, national delegations had a choice to select other providers if they wanted to do so. One of the early objectives of the planning process was to ensure that as many national delegations as possible would use the services of the Pickfords, Mondial, AMT team mainly for reasons of efficiency and security. 

Consultations with all delegations resulted in the conclusion that Pickfords, Mondial and AMT would be able to successfully deliver on the requirements of the individual national delegations. The team was able to embrace and deliver not only the different national requirements but also demonstrate that specific national and cultural needs would be met during the move. Consequently, only two of the NATO member national delegations chose a different provider.



The solution

A six person project management team was assigned to the project which included the most experienced and seasoned personnel from AMT, Mondial and Pickfords. The meticulous planning phases took more than a year and a half to complete.

After the initial consultations with each department, a number of move champions within each respective NATO department or delegation were nominated to become the single points of contact for each entity. Working in collaboration with the HQPO/TO team plus the respective project managers, it was important to ensure every detail had been covered.  As “M-day” approached, the frequency and depth of the coordination and planning increased.

A variety of topics were included in this process - from the most basic elements, like how to pack the crates – through to the more complex aspects of how to manage security and access. It was also agreed during the planning process that a centralised and physical helpdesk should be set up onsite to answer any questions the members. A back office function was available by phone and email while a “Welcome Desk” was set up in the middle of the atrium of the new NATO HQ.

The move execution was led by a Senior Project Management Team from Pickfords that included, Clive Johnson, Robin Standley and John Worsfold, who between them can count on a combined business moving experience of nearly one hundred years.

The move execution phase started on 19 March 2018 and was planned to be completed on 14 June 2018. Pickfords deployed a workforceof 40 together with six quality champions to audit the work in progress to ensure the quality of move execution was applied at the highest level.  

Pickfords provided five specialist vehicles from the UK, an electronic hoist to gain access to the higher floors from the outside, plus, numerous other pieces of ancillary equipment and grounds and building protection.  Over 8,000 crates were delivered on a scheduled rotation which enabled the packing, moving and un-packing during the move programme. In total there were more than 42, 000 individual crate movements.


Ultimately, the move of Nato Headquarters and 4,200 people went smoothly and without a break in NATO’s ability to continue its mission. The move was executed without any health and safety or security incidents and with no loss of material. During the move the execution had to be adjusted as NATO held two Ministerial level meetings and a meeting of the NATO Chiefs of Defence, while at the same time dealing with an international crisis in April 2018. The move planning and execution was delivered on-budget and was completed one day ahead of schedule. 

The Director of the NATO Headquarters Project and Transition Office, Bogdan Lazaroae, described the move project as a “once in a generation endeavour that was smoother than anticipated, executed at a level of quality. The move exceeded the already high quality incorporated in the planning and was a testimony to the experience and professionalism of both the Pickfords/Mondial/AMT team and the NATO staff. The quality and success of the move was universally recognized and praised across the Organization by the Secretary General and the national delegations.”

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