Kevin Stanley explores how two BIFM finalists are raising engagement with collaborative fit-outs.
04 December 2017 | Kevin Stanley
There are many benefits to a business having the right office space, from improved health and well-being to increased productivity and the ability to attract and retain talented people. These reasons, plus the fact that an office space can also reflect the values and goals of the business, are some of the drivers of office fit-out projects.
In the new Impact on Employee Experience category of the BIFM Awards, PPL and Bennett Hay both undertook challenging workplace change projects. As with all facilities matters, the crucial first step lies in understanding the needs and aspirations of the organisation itself and the stakeholders involved in, or affected by, facilities issues. Fit-out projects must satisfy not only immediate requirements for more or less space, cost, or effectiveness, but must also anticipate the organisation's needs and shifting environment.
PPL was nominated for creating Oasis, a multipurpose communal area for staff that now offers a place for impromptu meetings, brainstorming, quiet working, eating lunch and even staff parties, music gigs, yoga, staff quizzes and the Wellbeing Week fitness challenges.
Principal designer and contractor Peldon Rose was chosen to carry out viability studies and design, based on feedback received from employees. The initial project plans didn't include anywhere for the workforce to engage with each other informally.
"There was nowhere for employees to relax, have fun, or to have a place for quiet work or contemplation," says Dan Naish, facilities manager (project manager) at PPL. The designers were tasked with the creation of a space for these activities with the ability to adapt over time.
"As we engaged our employees in the original decisions it was important to maintain their engagement throughout the project. We worked with heads of departments and their teams to understand their needs, ask for ideas and establish what they needed, not only for their teams but also the people we work with," he says.
It was vital from the start to not rely solely on the designers to consider how areas would be accessed and to check even the small details. "It's great to have new kit installed but as a facilities manager you've got to make sure you can service it easily.
There needs to be an element of practicality built into the design process," he says. "Make sure you speak with your employees to find out what they actually need.
"Not every office needs a slide or table tennis tables, but they do need places to work that are engaging and welcoming. It pays to understand every minute aspect of the project, from the contract itself to the maintenance regimes that will need to be added to the PPM (planned preventative maintenance) schedule," says Naish. "Don't be afraid to question the principal designers or contractors throughout the process. You have to operate in the building long after they've gone and although they'll be on hand for any initial snagging issues, the more you can document and communicate with them while they're on site the better off you'll be in the long term."
Staff feedback revealed that 99 per cent of employees thought the standard of the new Oasis area was "good" or above, and 85 per cent of employees said they were "satisfied with the environment they work in".
Sarah Mitchell, PPL's head of member services, says: "The space is light and airy, has a nice flow and is large without making smaller events seem sparse. Clients have commented that they like the look and feel of the room. It helps develop PPL's image of a music-focused, current and dynamic organisation. It is flexible enough to be able to host different kinds of events, from more formal presentations to networking events, through to live performances, all with the ability to have background music if required. The multiple screens are helpful for larger presentations in particular."
Clear strategic thinking
"Event attendees thought the space looked great and it worked perfectly for the seminar and the drinks afterwards," says Camilla Waite, head of legal and business affairs. Gemma Gallagher, head of IT operations, adds: "It's not often you have such a large, well-kitted out and welcoming space to use at work. We were one of the first [groups] to use it for our technology communication session. It was bright and welcoming and everyone had a seat and a coffee. The facilities team have always been on hand to help with the setup as well as the tidying up."
Martin Pickard, lead judge of the BIFM Awards, says: "In their submission the PPL team made the strategic thinking behind the project very clear. There was a direct and obvious link between the business strategy and the design of the project. They also gave us real evidence of positive impact on the employees affected.
"Although small-scale compared to other projects, this was a well-executed project where an enthusiastic and committed team used good practice FM techniques to achieve an outcome that directly benefited their business and its employees," explains Pickard.
Bennett Hay was nominated for its work in transitioning property group Landsec from eight floors at the Strand to one floor at 100 Victoria Street - a project that involved months of planning and collaboration. Landsec surveyed employees before the move to find out what they wanted from the new office space and addressed each one of the suggested list of requirements for the new space.
The new workspace provided increased opportunities for social interaction and the collaborative working nature of the space lends itself to informal meetings, working spaces and drop-in zones. The activity-based working (ABW) space was set up to ensure active working, promoting movement around the office. It was clear that many employees were looking for flexibility, better places to carry out varying activities and a workspace that both stimulated them and provided sufficient spaces to carry out focused tasks. Above all, staff needed to be around one another.
The main challenge was to educate employees in agile working practices, which meant that change management played a huge role in the strategy.
A 'one company' feel
Bennett Hay and a combined service team of 30 people began by mapping out the 120 touch-points throughout 80-100 Victoria Street, allowing for the different entrances and different stakeholders that needed looking after in different ways. This systematic approach to the guest and employee experience has provided valuable insights into the facilities and service performance and helped create a bespoke experience for all the different employees in the building and accommodate all tastes.
As a result of the programme, the post-occupancy survey conducted in March 2017 by Leesman saw a 37 per cent increase in employees who believed the workplace enables them to work productively, compared with the pre-occupancy survey conducted at the previous office. In addition to this, 93 per cent of employees now believe the workplace creates an enjoyable environment to work in, compared with the pre-occupancy 45 per cent. With the implementation of new technologies and spaces enabling total agility, employees are able to work on one floor, giving the site a real 'one company' feel.
The Landsec move and achievement of the WELL Building Standard has created a benchmark for the business in leading the way in several areas of workplace well-being.
"Due to the very detailed nature of the standard we went through a process of considering every item we serve in terms of food and drink and how this could positively or negatively affect our customers. Whether they are being sustained by our food and drink offer throughout the day in the collaborative areas or whether they are having a working lunch with a client in a meeting room. All of our offering now has full nutritional data attached to our menus with a colour-coded system aiding customers to make informed choices, keeping them energised throughout the working day," says Anthony Bennett, co-owner of Bennett Hay.
Any company considering a similar project would be well advised to ensure continuous engagement of employees from the earliest planning stages to create a successful collaborative space.
"Allowing time for testing the space prior to everyone moving in also provided key learning and opportunities to refine the experience," says Bennett. "Ensuring flexibility is built into all aspects of the project from design through to layout and offering was key. Knowing that space may need to change and adapt to the changing needs of the organisation and the people using the space was also an important part of the thinking that went into the space. By enabling an open dialogue post-go live during the first year of occupation has also enabled continual development and refinement of the space," he adds.
Highlighting some of the reasons for its success in this awards category, Pickard says: "The Bennett Hay/Landsec award submission was a compelling case study of a workplace project by a property company focused on improving the working experience of its own employees in a new head office. The creation of a transformational environment was underpinned by leadership commitment and excellent cross-functional working. The use of external standards to benchmark impact was well planned and effective."