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20 July 2019
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A higher plane

Airbus UK’s project to re-shape its 118-acre aerospace engineering site and transform the working lives of the more than 4,000 people working there had the FM team at its heart, reports Martin Read.

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9 April 2015 | By Martin Read


Arriving through the gates at Airbus’s new aerospace park in Filton, Bristol, you’re greeted by Aeolus, a 10-tonne sculpture named after the keeper of the winds in Greek mythology.

And there’s no doubt that the winds of change have blown around this 12-acre complex. Aeolus was sited to mark the completion of Airbus’s £70 million investment in re-shaping its Filton site. It’s been quite a project, including careful refurbishment of the art deco Pegasus House (now a 400-capacity office block); construction of the entirely new four-storey Barnwell House (now home to more than 2,400 personnel); the refitting of other buildings and development of a new data centre, cycling facilities, shower blocks and more.

Airbus is a major employer in the South-West. Those working at its Filton site work in two broad areas – product development (design, manufacturing, research, development and testing) and business support (procurement, finance and customer service).

The open-plan, multi-atrium, four-storey Barnwell House is the most prominent of the buildings. But just across from it, Pegasus House was a much neglected art deco landmark, built in 1936 but badly damaged by fire and water having lain vacant since 1992. Its restoration and renovation, in line with the requirements of English Heritage, has made it as much a centrepiece of the park as its Barnwell big brother. The two buildings are the most obvious evidence of a transformational project that has changed the working lives of thousands.

The master plan

The move to reshape Filton and construct the Airbus Aerospace Park had several drivers including the need to invest in the future development of Airbus in the UK while at the same time protecting the heritage of the site.

But also key was the consolidation of 20 older units into one highly efficient and contemporary office block, Barnwell House, with all its concomitant communication and workgroup benefits.

Before this consolidation, Airbus’s engineering, design, customer and business support employees worked in a series of smaller permanent and prefabricated buildings spread across a large area. For an international business with teams often comprising British, French, German and Spanish nationals – with many coming together on short-term specialist project teams (known within Airbus as ‘plateaus’) – the situation was far from ideal.

FM’s involvement

Office accommodation that could be easily adaptable to requirements, that made maximum use of natural ventilation, and that had a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating, was the order of the day. Just as important as this revolution in the quality and capability of office space was the need to fundamentally change the workplace experience for employees – and it’s here that Filton’s FM team has had most impact. The project’s aim, in the words of Airbus’s UK head of Facility Management and Real Estate Lorraine Harvey, was to “shape the future for our employees at Filton by providing excellent new modern working facilities”.

The FM team has certainly helped to achieve that. Throughout a two-year move, it oversaw 5,000 moves and helped to ensure that staff were engaged and supported in fundamental changes to their working lives. Many employees had spent the previous 10 to 15 years in the same space – now they were being asked not just to relocate, but also to make big changes to existing working practice.

As construction and refitting went on, the site’s 20 buildings were gradually vacated and the workforce introduced to their new surroundings. “Closing down each building in line with the migration of people across the site was a very complex operation,” recalls Harvey.

Cultural change

“Part of the requirement was to change our working culture, and we did that by various means,” she adds. “We introduced hot-desking and a variety of meeting room options, from coffee pods, an informal area where people could have a coffee and a meeting, through to breakout ‘think tanks’ and formal meeting rooms for video conferences.

“There were a lot of initial concerns,” continues Harvey, “particularly about noise from phone calls and that sort of thing. So we had open forums where we could show people desk layouts so that they could see what a typical layout looked like and sit at their new desk.”

A huge benefit of the project has been the enabling of co-worker groups to be situated closer to each other.

Creating temporary space for ‘plateau’ team members and international guests from Airbus’s sites across Europe is considerably easier today.

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Airbus facts

FM team structure

Despite the consolidation project, the FM team today maintains 24,000 assets and 70 buildings. It consists of four key departments – general services; maintenance & energy; performance and improvement; and land and building.

Norland Managed Services became the prime service provider on site in November 2014, delivering both hard and soft services. In addition, Aramark provides catering across the six Starbucks and Costa branded coffee shops and main site canteen.

The FM team’s technical specialists now monitor the performance of building services equipment such as sprinklers and air conditioning systems, liaising with the relevant supplier to deal with any issues arising.

Lorraine Harvey explains that the focus for FM is now on management of its supply chain: “Our aim is to leverage best value out of the supply chain.” 

Supply chain and customer relationship management training has been introduced to drive the change in focus to one of customer expectation management and day-to-day supplier liaison.

“My job as site manager is to take the lead as customer relationship management,” says Paul Malfatti, the facilities site manager for Filton. “FM delivers delivers services on behalf of six operational functions – Procurement, HR, Finance, Engineering and Design, A400M Manufacturing and ICT”.

“We have a lot of intelligent engineers on site so, for example, they can work out the airflow in a building and use that to present an argument for having more air conditioning in their particular workspace. You can’t just fob them off!”

Most of the new facilities are for use by the firm’s office-bound population. But for workers in the A400M manufacturing facility at the other end of the Filton site, the FM team has been keen to avoid them feeling excluded from the new world.

“Certainly that was one of the challenges at the beginning,” says Harvey. “It’s our job to deliver a universal standard across the site, whether in the old or the new facilities. So we do a lot of work with our catering provider Aramark to provide pop-up barbecues and various themed events, essentially taking the service to the customer.”

FM’s role today

Different types of worker require different services, with the vending machines and a cafe in Avon House close to the manufacturing unit. 

“Our challenge is to continually develop that end of the site; it’s FM’s responsibility to make sure that all of customers are happy, wherever they work,” says Harvey.

The reshaping project has certainly helped to raise the profile of the FM team. Each of the buildings has someone designated as a building custodian (in the two main offices there are custodians for each floor), and these custodians liaise with the FM team.

“I meet with Filton’s senior leadership once a month to discuss master-planning and corporate issues,” says Malfatti, “while other members of the FM team meet with our building custodians about their day-to-day concerns. At an individual building level, the custodians are our customers. It’s an excellent source of information that helps us manage our suppliers.”

Remaining high on the agenda is team-to-customer communication, through the Airbus TV channel broadcasting across the site, the regular site magazine and strategically positioned signage and pop-up banners.

Malfatti shows me an insert into the site magazine explaining what the FM team is doing that month. 

“This is what has driven our profile on site,” he says. And indeed, the team’s communications have made a huge difference.

“We don’t just run the graphics department – we’re probably its biggest customers,” says Malfatti. “If we’ve just conducted an office move, we’ll put up a pop-up poster in that area explaining what we’ve just done. Similarly, we’ve just adapted some lobbies where draughts were coming in, putting up notices explaining ‘we will be working here shortly, this is what we’re doing, this is why we are doing it’.

“Feedback from communicating in this way has been excellent because our customers know what is going on, if there is going to be some banging and knocking, for example – and they can tailor their day to suit. Also, there’s an educational aim; if we’re cleaning up a coffee spill we’ll position a pop-up that says ‘if you spill your coffee that’s fine, but you need to let us know – so here’s the number to ring’.”

The twin effects of this planning and communication have made the FM department far more visible. “When winter is coming and heating set to the standard 19 degrees, we’ll put up signs explaining that this is the case and suggesting workers wear extra layers if necessary. It prevents all sorts of complaints and helps us achieve our energy targets.”

The FM team also promotes its activities in a newsletter, and it has also introduced an annual report telling Filton customers what it has done on their behalf.

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Current situation

Between them, Norland Managed Services and Aramark have over 100 people on site. 

Norland provides M&E, building fabric, cleaning, waste management, transportation, mailroom and grounds maintenance services for the main site. Aramark provides catering and concierge.

As well as settling the service down, the FM team hopes that 2015 will see a significant expansion in its delivery of concierge services.

“Through Aramark we’re now offering flower delivery, tailoring, shoe repairs and dry cleaning,” says Malfatti, “but we’re also looking at any other elements that we think of that can improve a person’s day in the office.”

With prospective Christmas markets, bike repair service and online parcel storage facilities being discussed, ‘concierge’ is perhaps too limiting a term for what the FM team has in mind.

“Think of it as a ‘Life At Filton’ brand,” suggests Malfatti. 

“We’ve been talking about having cook chilled food (lasaganes, pizza, etc) delivered so that they can take-out in the evening, helping people to plan their evenings while on site. And this is where our focus on supply chain is moving. Soon, we hope to offer a service by which users will send a text to have coffees delivered directly to them in their meetings.” 

The FM team is also in charge of the Filton site’s travel plan and has implemented a huge cycle-to-work scheme. The team is in charge of the cycle storage and shower block, facilities that have led to a surge in cyclists among the Filton workforce. 

Additional services being considered are the vending of cycle repair and personal grooming kits.

Responsibility for maintaining the site’s car parks also sits with FM. The challenge of reducing parking in line with local planning requirements is a constant challenge.

The future

“We’re in a good state now,” says Harvey. The Airbus global FM team is introducing a bespoke CAFM system, dubbed AFMIS (Airbus FM Information System). The helpdesk module, MyFM, is being trialled in Toulouse.

“Our focus is on CRM, SCM and AFMIS – so it’s back to the day job! We know what we’ve got, we know our customer, we know our supplier – it’s now a case of ensuring that they maintain the standards we expect.

“And we’re still concentrating on the people element. Our employees have gone from working in pre-fabs to using world-class facilities.”

The pressure on FM to perform may be different, but it’s no less acute. “We have six customer functions, each with different teams, different channels into central teams and different objectives. We also have our blue-collar environment where expectations are different. We face many different kinds of pressure, but the team always meet the challenge!

“The next big thing for us is to masterplan the future,” says Harvey. 

“Ten years ago, people sat down with a blank piece of paper and drew the plan for Airbus aerospace park. Now it’s time for me and the team, with the direction of Filton leaders, to work out what we should do next.”

The level of change at Filton, and FM’s role in managing it, has been extraordinary. 

Malfatti’s plans for a ‘Life at Filton’ brand illustrates the level of ambition for a team that started this project only three years ago. 

Clearly, the winds of change are still blowing.   

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