Chiswick Park in West London continues to win awards for the way its estates management team focuses solely on the needs of 'guests'. Today, 10 years after FM World's first visit, what impresses is how the team is helping workers take control of their lives beyond the workplace, as Martin Read reports.
16 July 2015 | By Martin Read
Chiswick Park ran away with the BIFM’s Excellence in Customer Service award in 2013 and still regularly appears in the list of top 50 UK companies in the 'Great Places to Work' survey. It's easy to see why.
The bright, expansive site with a lake at its centre would be, on a hot summer's day, a destination for anyone seeking to take time out from work. Except it's a thoroughly modern business park - one where ensuring the enjoyment of work is the full-time mission of the 140 yellow-clad estates management personnel.
The park, designed by architect Richard Rogers, opened in 2000. When this magazine first visited the site in 2005 it was only half-constructed (although functional). By the end of this year Building 7, the 334,000 sq ft final new structure in the park's phased construction, opens its doors. Since 2010, the number of workers housed on site has expanded 45 per cent as the 45 big-brand tenants employing upwards of 8,000 staff continue to be recipients of the many and various programmes and services delivered by the on-site facilities and estate management team, named Enjoy-Work (to define the team's approach to customer service).
On the grass banks that lead down to the lake, herons, fish, ducks and herons can be seen all day. Workers use of the deckchairs, picnic blankets and even bean bags that the team places strategically about the site. Guests kick back and make the most of the environment.
The story here is in the constant reinvention of the estate management team's service to maintain the link between a great working environment and its tenants' business success. It's in the detail behind the service making that enjoyment possible and giving tenants the necessary competitive edge to attract and retain employees.
In its early days the park was seen - and sold - as a media hub. Companies like Paramount, Vue and Disney remain as tenants, but alongside these and other media giants are five of the world's largest oil companies, including Halliburton, Tullow Oil and Baker Hughes. (Chancellor George Osborne called Chiswick Park as the UK's biggest hub for oil and gas outside of Aberdeen.)
Besides 'big oil' there's jewellery firm Swarovski, drinks manufacturer Pernod Ricard, estate agency Foxton's and coffee giant Starbucks. The common theme is of international brands happy to spend to provide the best for their employees.
"The landlords have been very clever in diversifying the portfolio of companies based here," says Chiswick Park's head of brand Gemma McNeilis, who points out how the competitive market for engineers and other professionals is driving the demand for such a high quality and multi-faceted workplace. It's about avoiding the expense of recruitment wherever possible.
It's the quest to help guests in their out-of-hours lives that McNeilis and chief executive Graham White see as an important USP for Chiswick Park. McNeilis runs a team with four other marketing professionals directly employed by Enjoy-Work. This, she says, shows the commitment of the facilities operation to constantly reinventing its events and services offer. It shows in the small touches; umbrellas are available in baskets by the entrances to each of the buildings, but so too are guitars should anyone fancy making music down by the lakeside.
Today, there's a big focus on helping workers to 'reclaim their weekend' by bringing on-site services such as dry cleaning, grocery delivery and car maintenance - things that would otherwise eat into evenings and weekends. Perhaps it's through cycling that we can see the breadth of this service; as well as offering bikes for guests to use on and off site, they can have their own bikes maintained; attend out-of-hours cycle maintenance workshops; and take part in actual cycling trips organised for before and after-hours.
There are evening classes, lunchtime workshops, clubs for running, photography and books, and training classes covering everything from fire awareness to first aid. What's more, there is a weekly sports programme on Wednesdays. Most of Enjoy-Work's programmes and services are free, their cost absorbed in the service charge - a cost that has been cut in recent years.
A key part of the service is the Chiswick Park One Card, a discount scheme that sees Enjoy-Work partner with a variety of local companies, restaurants, hairdressers, retailers and others. McNeilis and her team drive the idea of local engagement further, linking it to ever-broadening guest requirements. Take the tie-up with a local pharmacy, which will contact your doctor, obtain your prescription medicine, process it and then have it brought by cycle to the park on the same day.
An activities programme for the year ahead is published each December. Some have become fixed highlights, in particular those at Christmas and the annual fireworks display. (Between 3,000 and 4,000 people turn up to the fireworks, including many local residents.) But there's a huge variety of events, each of which is communicated to guests by email and electronic screens at reception desks and in lifts.
There's also a summer season that lasts six weeks with a special event at the end of week. These vary from orchestra performances and dance classes through to, on our visit, a zip-wire between buildings - occasioning shrieks as each brave soul whizzes past.
Individual guests can propose new events, while at a corporate level tenant organisations often run their own, particularly where charity fundraising is concerned.
The team's success in helping their tenants' staff retention rates has the unintended consequence of putting more pressure on Enjoy-Work's creative faculties. McNeilis says: "We make our own job harder because if more people are staying longer, then they'll have seen so many of our successful events. So we need to be more creative for them."
Consider, too, the impact of the hospitality-first culture on the park's service suppliers. McNeilis has calculated that a fifth of the current Enjoy-Work team - inclusive of all those employed by the outsourced providers - have worked on the site for at least five years. JPC, fresh to the park when FM World visited in 2005, is still the contract cleaner today. "For a firm to keep a cleaning contract for that length of time is exceptional," says White.
It's a classic lean FM model, with about 15 personnel directly employed by Enjoy-Work and the remaining 140 through service providers. There's a dedicated fabric / M&E manager because of the need to take a holistic view of the estate as it gets older, but as McNeilis points out "not many other estates would have a five-person brand team".
Each of Enjoy-Work's facilities service partners - from JPC Cleaning Services (now in its ninth year as a contractor) to landscape maintenance firm Nurture Landscapes - has its new recruits, irrespective of position, interviewed separately by the Enjoy-Work team. The aim is to make sure of their fit in terms of hospitality.
Maintenance is key. "When new visitors arrive here they can't believe the site is now 15 years old," says White. "But that impression can easily slip."
White explains that the FM team cleans the roofs of the buildings. "We can spend the best part of three weeks doing that, but to go to that level I think is fantastic."
It demonstrates, says White, that there's a literally top-down approach to maintaining the facilities.
Service culture and attitude is so important that Graham White was appointed because of it. The former Center Parcs operations director was invited by landlords the Blackstone Group to re-energise Chiswick Park's approach to bring hospitality to the fore.
The sense of community that Enjoy-Work is engendering sees tenants inviting guests from other tenants to help out, for example, Pernod Ricard testing new drinks products on the park's captive audience. International SOS, based in Building 4, have a relationship with the London Air Ambulance and recently got staff on site to provide resuscitation demonstrations - and got guests involved in the demonstrations.
This sense of community has taken years to be reflected in the annual guest survey. In recent years, guests have begun to note just how much they feel part of something more than just a workplace.
Local residents are also involved, extending community further. One particular gentleman on a mobility scooter comes to most events and has been doing so for years. Local involvement also includes schoolchildren - 200 a year come through the park on a work experience programme. The park's service providers are obliged to take part in these community programmes and instigate environmental improvements, says McNeilis, but on top of that guests too are encouraged to volunteer their services to the students. She talks of staff at Foxton's and Starbucks helping children with their interviewing skills and networking workshops. To make it as easy as possible for guests to volunteer their time, Enjoy-Work brings the students on site.
As regards formal networks, the tenants' various FMs meet monthly to be updated on park projects, building and estates maintenance. There's also a forum of HR managers that meets once a quarter to pick up on the latest legal developments and other issues. On our visit, the group was gearing up for a session on feelings and emotions in the workplace.
There's also a forum for security on the park, with tenants' security teams coming together with Enjoy-Work's. The Metropolitan Police and Counter Terrorism Unit are examples of organisations that have come in to present.
Another forum is for the park's sustainability professionals. Tenants' attitude to sustainability varies, but all have a presence. It's here that Enjoy-Work updates tenants on initiatives such as the switch to LED lighting, where the cost of doing so within each building is calculated and presented on tenants' behalf by Enjoy-Work's dedicated engineering manager. Projects such as this are developed so that tenants have the option of benefiting from the economies of scale accruing from others' involvement.
Says McNeilis: "Through our engineering manager, we're able to calculate what the cost will be in changing to LED in a 10,000 sq ft demised space, and the length of time on payback."
So what next for the Enjoy-Work team?
"Certainly the focus on health and wellbeing has grown," says McNeilis. "We've seen an increased demand for our sports programme; physical activity in general has grown and we've a gym on site."
"But now we're also looking more to mental wellbeing - to reflexology, meditation workshops, and yoga, for example."
Keeping up the pace requires McNeilis' brand team to be outward-looking, keeping up with what's fashionable and what people are interested in. "And that's about having a team creative enough to find those opportunities and then work with the right partner to deliver them," she says.
At a time of a keen focus on the nation's poor business productivity performance, Chiswick Park can point to the 95 per cent of guests in its annual customer survey who agree with the statement 'that Enjoy-Work's environment and ethos enhances their productivity'. Facilities equating to better productivity? Perhaps the park's next event should celebrate that.