We all know that jobs in FM vary considerably but then there are jobs like Richard Petrie's, whose role with BT Facilities Services takes him to the extremities of the British Isles. Jamie Harris reports.
24 September 2014
Meet Richard Petrie. After talking to him about his job you might mistake him for an explorer, photographer, or wildlife documentary-maker.
Although these aren't prerequisites for the role, he puts all of that knowledge to good use in his role as a facilities manager in rural Scotland. He is a long way from the cosy confines of Generic Workplace 2.0.
As area facilities manager for the Scottish Highlands and Islands at BT Facilities Services (BTFS), Petrie is responsible for 262 sites across northern and western Scotland - many of them unmanned - ranging from Shetland and Orkney to Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point on the British mainland.
Along with his team of six, Petrie maintains BT radio stations and small telephone and broadband connection exchanges across 15,000 square miles.
Out of the ordinary
The BTFS team follows strict cleaning and maintenance schedules, which cover all of its 7,000 sites, from large call centres to the BT Tower in London and BT Sport studios in Stratford, to small six-by-eight feet Hebrides Islands telephone exchange sites.
It may seem bizarre to place a fire exit sign in a small carbon fibre unit, but it is necessary to comply with health and safety regulations across all BT locations.
Manned sites will follow daily cleaning and regular maintenance routines, however, for unmanned sites cleaning and maintenance checks are scaled back to more appropriate levels. A member of Petrie's FM team will schedule visits to each site three or four times a year, depending on its footfall and usage.
Because of the locations of each exchange unit in Petrie's jurisdiction, travel will often take up large portions of the working day. Single-lane roads with few overtaking spots, coupled with tour coaches, caravans, and tourists who will "stop their car in the middle of the road to take photos", add time to journeys.
"It once took me an extra 90 minutes to reach Kilchoan, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, as the road was blocked by Highland cows," says Petrie. "No amount of revving, tooting, shouting or prodding (from a distance) would get them to move."
People based on mainland Scotland use small passenger aeroplanes to visit the Shetland and Orkney Isles. Even in August access is largely determined by the weather, which can make the job of getting back to the mainland arduous, or even impossible. Petrie has developed a local network of assistance if immediate access is necessary.
For many of the Western and Hebrides Isles, infrequent ferry scheduling means that the most efficient mode of transport is to privately hire a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) to make several island visits in one day.
To maximise the value of the RIB trips, work is aligned with BT Technology, Service and Operations (BT TS&O), and occasionally BT Openreach. BT TS&O is responsible for the engineering work on networking equipment located at each site. They will run planned maintenance and testing on the cabling, broadband and telephone equipment.
"I've costed up the possibility of purchasing an RIB for our island sites, but there just aren't enough trips to make it financially viable."
The two teams, BT TS&O and BTFS, try to align scheduled visits to the islands. Petrie manages the visits carefully, ensuring that he can join the technical team, splitting the cost between divisions.
Some of the sites serve small populations on each island. Soay, for example, has a population of two. Rumour has it that the residents are embroiled in a long-standing feud and refuse to speak to each other. Only one of the residents has a telephone. So Petrie will have to visit Soay twice a year, by RIB, to service a site that only serves one person.
Should Petrie manage to reach one of the islands, after bounding across fields of cows, sheep and other assorted farm animals, he carries out his planned maintenance routine. He checks on the security and safety of the structure of the building, planned technical maintenance and equipment testing, and cleaning the interior of each site.
Grounds maintenance is usually carried out across the area of the site, but for smaller islands, where sites may back on to public or private farmland, strimming in the vicinity of the building is more common.
"My team uses their best judgement at each site," says Petrie. "If we cut back the long grass too far the unit would stick out on an island hillside." It is more aesthetically pleasing, he says, if some of the sites blend in to the hillside a bit more.
Any faults discovered on the scheduled trip are logged, and a return trip is booked to fix any problems that cannot be resolved immediately. BTFS aim to complete all work in-house, but should the team encounter difficulties returning to complete repairs, Petrie is able to sub-contract out to local businesses.
Adapting the model
BTFS standardises the process of logging jobs and allocating FMs to sites across its portfolio. Petrie says he is working with the organisation's IT team to help factor in travel time to particularly the remote locations.
"On a map, one site may be 30 miles away but what isn't immediately obvious is that access might only be possible with a ferry, which might not visit every day, or the return flight or boat could take an additional few hours in the day. We are working to try and factor this into our system."
Among the obstacles Petrie must hurdle on a daily basis are - literally - obstacles. "I was up at a radio station, which is along miles of single-track road," Petrie recounts, "and on my way back down the hillside, a tree had fallen, blocking the road."
Petrie is qualified to operate a tree cutter and was able to clear the road alone. The nature of the work carried out by Petrie and his team - alone and in remote locations - means that the team's operation differs from the rest of the organisation. BTFS is broadly split into three divisions: hard, soft and client services. Although it is sensible for services to be managed by specialists in most of the country, in Petrie's region the services are not so neatly categorised. The challenges of rural Scotland have resulted in more emphasis on multi-skilled workers.
"It just wouldn't make sense for us to employ a cleaner, grounds maintenance staff, health and safety staff for each of the sites," he says."The added cost of taking three or four staff to one site would be too much."
Petrie's team, regardless of their specialist areas, are trained to complete additional work such as cleaning and grounds maintenance. Members of the team have varied backgrounds. David Rendall, who covers sites on the Orkney Isles, spent 30 years working as a lighthouse keeper. Billy Adamson, responsible for the Shetland Isles, was previously a BT exchange engineer, maintaining the hardware kept at the sites where he now manages the facilities.
A home from home
Petrie speaks enthusiastically about the local area. A graduate in stills photography and video production, he is able to take that passion in his life to work.
"When you are travelling on the RIB, the bounce and the swell [of the water] means that you can't really get on with paperwork," says Petrie, long-lens camera in hand. Sea eagles, seals and dolphins are among the wildlife captured on camera, as well as some spectacular scenery.
Originally from Dundee, Petrie had moved south for work, before family and the stunning Scottish outdoors lured him back.
"I found myself looking after new store communications and construction at the Tesco head office in Cheshunt, which gave me a solid grounding in construction and property legislation."
After returning to Scotland, he took a career sabbatical to study construction. "This led on to ecology and arboriculture, giving me a good footing in the grounds maintenance aspect of FM."
He began his current role over four years ago with Monteray, before the birth of BTFS and the process of bringing the FM services back in-house. Monteray ran BT's estate for 12 years before BT acquired the company in 2012. BTFS now operates as a wholly owned subsidiary, which also offers FM services to other organisations. (See FM World, 17 October 2013). This had an immediate effect on staff.
"It was an overnight transformation," says Petrie. "All of a sudden, wearing BTFS uniform and logos branded on vans, you really felt a part of the business."
With such a small team and so much ground to cover, it is important to keep on top of remote and lone working.
"I will be in touch with each individual most days, and I insist on holding a conference call once a fortnight. For times when the weather could pose problems, that escalates to daily," says Petrie.
Richard manages the team remotely. "With the geography putting so much distance between us there has to be a great deal of trust. We all manage own daily workload."
Petrie is proud of his team's work. Despite operating in the far reaches of the British Isles, they have not gone unnoticed.
"The BTFS senior management team has made trips to see teams across the country. When they flew up to see my team, it was almost one to one. It was great for my team, as they really did feel valued and connected to the company."
For Petrie, a day at work can be exhausting. Endless travel, unexpected complications and gruelling weather can make for a taxing week. But he thrives on the unique challenges. It's not for everyone, but his unbridled enthusiasm could convince even the most urban of foxes that the rural way of life is compelling.
Keeping the lines open
Shetland (52 sites), Orkney (44), Outer Hebrides (54), Inner Hebrides (6), Mainland (106)
Types of site:
45 radio stations, 8 telephone exchanges (over 20,000 sq ft), 4 engineering centres, 205 small exchanges
- Richard Petrie, area FM for Scottish Highlands & Islands
- David Rendall - Orkney Isles
- Billy Adamson - Shetland Isles
- Neil Robertson - Western Isles
- Ronnie Cameron - Cleaning and grounds at remote mainland sites
- Steve Aburrow - Remote mainland sites for planned and reactive maintenance
Works conducted by BTFS for BT include:
- Cleaning and waste management
- Grounds maintenance including specialised tree work
- Energy management
- Reprographics and mailroom
- Security, front-of-house and 24-hour helpdesk
- Technical planned and reactive maintenance including gas, oil and electric heating, BMS, air con, plumbing, L8 compliance, lifts, water testing, LCR
- Equipment testing including PFE, lifting equipment, eyebolts, roof risk, PAT, fire risk assessments
- Health and safety & workplace consultancy
- Projects and construction
A day in the life
trie's job is extremely varied, but a typical day on the mainland might look something like this:
07.30 - Check job queues and e-mails. Go to first site
08.00 - Phone the team to discuss the day ahead
08.35 - Arrive at first site to complete annual building inspections, fire-risk assessments, environmental audit and any other planned tasks scheduled for that site
09.50 - Travel to next site on the scheduled list
10.45 - Arrive at second site for similar set of routines
12.00 - Leave second site and travel to third location
12.30 - Arrive at third site to provide escorted access to a restricted roof space for a third party company
14.00 - Meet a team member at a fourth site to discuss a reactive job that is proving unusually complicated
15.00 - Leave fourth site having agreed on plans
16.00 - Back to office to do admin work, order supplies and schedule priority tasks
17.30-18.00 - Leave office to travel home