27 March 2015
If Chancellor George Osborne opening his red box to reveal the pre-election Budget didn't cause much of a stir in Westminster last Wednesday, then the insect canapés at the BIFM London region conference - taking place underneath the Treasury in the Churchill War Rooms - certainly did. Cathy Hayward reports.
The event, attended by more than 120 of the capital's facilities professionals, was served grasshopper, mealworm and crispy ants in a variety of delicious-looking canapés, as part of a talk arguing that insects are the next sustainable source of food protein.
"The massive expansion of the world's population means that we need to explore other options for protein in our diets," said Diana Spellman, managing director of catering procurement consultancy Partners in Purchasing.
"Bugs simply provide more bang for your buck than beef and are more sustainable as they produce less methane, more protein and require less space to live.
"While acknowledging that their price and scarcity in the UK together with the perception of eating insects was an issue, Spellman predicted that bugs had huge potential in staff restaurants from street food to fine dining.
About three-quarters of the delegates sampled the insects, which were sponsored by Sacla, while those who refrained had to face facts. "We already consume 0.5kg of insect fragments in food every year - that's a lot of bug!"
While Spellman's post-lunch session caused the biggest buzz in the audience, the event, which was sponsored by Principle Cleaning Services, BPR Group and Mayflower Washroom Services, heard from a number of speakers discussing a variety of issues facing FMs in the capital.
Jim Pines, senior facility manager at the US Embassy in London, opened the conference by talking about the embassy's relocation from Belgravia to a purpose-built facility in Nine Elms, Wandsworth, which demonstrates exceptional environmental leadership. Pines gave the audience a virtual walk-through the new embassy, which has carbon-neutral status, a self-sufficient water system, optimised daylight and occupant control of systems, LEED Platinum and BREEAM Outstanding.
Energy and environmental design issues have been balanced with the overall project goals of openness, diplomacy, functionality, security and value, explained Pines, who has worked in FM roles in US embassies and departments around the world including Afghanistan, El Salvador and Indonesia.
On a different scale, but from a board perspective, the conference heard from Owen Sharp, CEO of Prostate Cancer UK, about the charity's move from the outskirts of Hammersmith to smaller premises near London Bridge. The driver was to improve relationships, trust and cross-disciplinary working, create more visibility for the charity and improve recruitment and retention. Nobody has their own desk and everyone sits with different people every day, which has broken down silos and increased interaction between teams. Having a variety of different types of space allows people to choose the environment to suit their task. And the move has acted as a catalyst to establish a new identity for the charity, which has moved into the top 30 of UK charities for the first time. In addition almost half of the staff say they are more productive as a result of the new environment.
The challenge for businesses operating globally is the different cultures and customs, said Emma Thomas, head of HR, marketing and communications at JLL Integrated FM. In a wide-ranging presentation that looked at the workplace of tomorrow, Thomas described the challenges of working in Saudi (where she is expected to defer to a male colleague), the Ukraine and Syria (where people sometimes can't come to work because of street fighting and unrest), and in Nigeria, where Ebola remains a major threat and staff often need to be evacuated at short notice.
"Even working in France can be challenging because of negotiations with work councils and unions." And tomorrow's workforce will be ever more demanding.
"The biggest challenge for employers will be managing millennials," she said. "To be an employer of choice and succeed, you need to understand what they need, get the employment offer right, help them to grow and learn, provide feedback, set them free and let them advance faster, and then expect them to leave."
People were very much at the centre of Anthony Bennett's talk about the guest experience. Bennett, from bespoke hospitality provider Bennett Hay, offered tips on how to delight guests, using tools and techniques gleaned from the hospitality sector.
"The key to providing the ultimate guest experience is to look at where facilities staff interact with visitors and building occupants," Bennett told the audience. "By understanding what happens at each of these touch points, the facilities management team can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations."
Guests want a global, local and personalised experience. They want a trusted global brand. They want that brand to have a good cultural fit with its local environment, and they want to be treated as an individual and for the brand to recognise them and their specific needs whether that be a certain type of coffee or a preferred meeting room.
Also offering practical advice was Paul Barnard, detective superintendent at the City of London Police. With more than 25 years' experience policing the capital, including being first on the scene for some of London's major terrorist alerts, Barnard said that the nature of terrorism had changed in the past few years with coded warnings being replaced by surprise attacks. The current 'severe' threat level reflects terrorists' new approach, as demonstrated by the attack on Lee Rigby.
While setting out how the authorities managed such threats, he also urged facilities professionals to play their part. "Train your security guards to recognise the difference between an art student photographing their building and a criminal or terrorist scoping out a site. They could save lives and will also become more engaged in their job."
He discussed the importance of including invac as well as evac procedures, as well as employers playing a role in protecting vulnerable young people who may be at risk from extremist propaganda and radicalisation.
Finishing the day on a high was polar explorer Ben Saunders, who regaled the audience with exploits from his 11 polar adventures, including the news that he only changed his pants three times in his 108-day trek across Antarctica, following in Scott and Shackleton's footsteps.
"Nothing has ever gone completely right in my expeditions, there's always failure but it helps you to raise the bar. If you only do things in your comfort zone, then you won't develop self belief," he said, urging people to set their own goals and expectations. "No one else is the authority on your potential."
Many thanks are given to exhibitors who supported the event: contract cleaner Julius Rutherfoord, telephone answering service Moneypenny and FM recruiter PRS.