Prioritising Employee Well-Being in the Workplace

Episode 15

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Laura Wright, Head of Workplace Solutions at Abri, talks about how successful people management strategies help to improve employee well-being in the office in a post-COVID world that has seen a shift in the way employees work from office-based to hybrid and remote working.


Lauren (Host): Well, first of all, Laura, thanks for joining us today. We really appreciate your time to talk to us about facilities and workplace management. I’m Lauren, our podcast organizer. As I mentioned in previous messages, we find that facilities teams are often underrated, which I’m sure you agree with.

Laura Wright (Guest): For sure!

Lauren: So hopefully with your podcast today, we’re going to further highlight the importance of FM to our audience. We do these podcasts to get insights from experts in the facilities management field and we learn a lot from their experience. And we understand Abri has over 35,000 homes and is head of workplace solutions. We know your insights today will be very helpful to our listeners. So with all that said, I will pass you over to our hosts, our Senior Research Analyst, Charlie and Head of Content, Ryan.

Charlie Green (Host): Thank you very much, Lauren. And thank you so much for chatting with us today, Laura. We really appreciate it and we know this podcast will be really good for our listeners. So we’ll start at the beginning. Can you touch on your journey from studying English lit and medieval studies, which I have to say is one of the most unique and coolest titles from us to serve on the podcast, head of workplace solutions at Abri.

Laura: Yeah, I guess it’s interesting that you picked up on that. I do have loads of people in FM. I did completely fall into it, as you can tell from what I studied. And what was happening was that I was doing my Masters in Medieval Studies, which is a really practical, you know, fully engineering-based subject. And I needed some money. So I got an agency job. working with JCI on the closure of BBC Bush House, which was an incredible project to be a part of, and my introduction to facilities management. But what was interesting was that I genuinely did actually find that my studying did help me.

So I was able to read through documentation incredibly quickly because I was just used to having to read through stuff and then finding out salient points. So when I was at BBC Bush House, I was having to read like documents about the Olympics and they were preventing us from collecting waste at certain times. And I was reading through these massive documents and finding out, okay, we can do it at this time, at this day, if we turn right. And that was helpful. But yeah, so I started off as an agency worker. And then I just found that I loved it, which was a total surprise to me.

But yeah, I really, really enjoyed it. And I just, I was made permanent. And then I was moved kind of from account to account by JCI and then CBRE, like gradually growing, obviously more senior, picking up different project work. And then my final account was this big technology blue chip and with JCI and CBRE, so in really in that facilities management, real estate world. Then I decided that I wanted to look elsewhere and maybe move outside of the industry directly and ended up at Abri Group where we’ve just gone through this big partnership which is a huge partnership between Radian and Yarlington housing groups and as part of that process I ended up becoming the head of Workplace Solutions and we went on that journey, we’re definitely on that journey from going from something that was very… housing associations can be a bit behind the times. So I was very much in that space with facilities management services. And it was like old school facilities, like people only cared about the tea, what tea bags were there, what the temperature is like, like that kind of stuff. And now we really are moving more into that workplace kind of forward-looking facilities management space.

That’s not to say I don’t love. the title of facilities management still, but that was to signify that change and kind of like we’re more strategic, we’re more open-minded and we’re looking forward into the future in a way that the service wasn’t before I had arrived. So yeah, that was kind of a whistle-stop tour of how I came to end up at Abrey.

Charlie: That’s a really fascinating journey and it’s really interesting because I studied psychology and forensic psychology and I ended up here and it’s the transferable skills you take from uni, so that’s really interesting and the title thing you spoke about as well, because as we mentioned, facilities is often underrated, so yeah, that’s really interesting.

Going back to your time at CBRE, we read that you’re responsible for managing a 155,000-square-foot building, which is absolutely incredible. I’d be really interested to know what the challenges involved in managing such a large space are.

Laura: Um, yeah, really great question. And actually looking back now, I kind of think like, Oh, it didn’t feel that large at the time, but actually it is, it was quite a big space. So part of it was like mothballed and actually that is its own problem as well. So there was like maybe 20% was mothballed. So that was, that was a challenge. Also, that building was really, really like wide. So there was a huge flat roof. So my biggest problem in all seriousness there was the roof. and stopping the leaks coming in, that building leaked like nothing else that I’ve ever worked at. And part of it was also we had subtenants, so there was kind of this, there was kind of quite a few, there were maintenance issues going on, we had, it was really an incredible design, there used to be this path outside and we had SSE’s HV plant room literally in the centre of the building. So that was a great one for like fire risk and accessibility for SSE. So that was definitely a challenge.

But overall, normally, like in the best possible way, the staff and the colleagues that you’re working with are usually like the absolute best and also the hardest thing to kind of work with. But at that site, it was such a joy to work with people because they really love the building. They really wanted everything. to work out for the best. And so they were really engaged with kind of the facilities team, which is always really helpful. I mean, especially when the roof is leaking, right? So they were totally understanding about the fact that there were problems and like, if the wind blew the wrong way, we were gonna get issues and, you know, how we would work through that. So, yeah, I mean, I would one day like to manage a building of that size, but that’s like brand new, because I’m sure that would be, I mean, maybe that’d be too boring actually. but maybe just a little bit, a little bit less complicated.

Ryan (Host): It sounds like you were kept on your toes a lot, you know?

Laura: Oh yeah, for sure. Like in my second week, there was like the pump house. It didn’t set fire, but it started smoking randomly and we had to call in the fire brigade. And I just remember thinking like, what have I done? And that was the first time I’d been in charge of, totally in charge of hard services as well as soft services, but it all went fine. We managed to fix it. didn’t panic in that crisis and I got to call in the fire brigade. So, you know, win-win.

Charlie: It’s all character-building!

Laura: Yeah, exactly.

Charlie: Yeah, moving to the current day then, as head of workplace solutions, I’m sure your role entails understanding several psychological factors in the workplace, including employee happiness and wellbeing. First of all, could you talk us a little bit through what a typical day looks like in your role?

Laura: Yeah, that’s another great question that I’m sure that similar to other people, there’s sort of no typical day, right? But I guess like a lot of it would involve that stakeholder management piece and kind of talking to our colleagues and understanding what’s going on. And trying to understand where they are. So a lot of my time I try to spend a lot of my time understanding the strategy and also the functional strategies of everything else that my colleagues and other sub-departments are doing. Because housing is such a big, like we literally cover everything in the housing provider space. So that’s social housing, that’s building new homes, that’s leasehold, like the whole thing, like community involvement, everything. So really trying to understand what our colleagues are doing. And for me, that means being quite visible in the business. So I try to get out and be on the site.

So a typical day will be; I have a couple of days maybe working from home where I get to get my head down and do some work, but a different type of work. But then when I’m in the offices, I’m kind of talking to people, basically. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Like really lazy. But actually, I’m trying to understand what they’re doing. I’m trying to get involved in projects. I’m trying to understand where their strategies are going, what their pain points are, what’s preventing them from doing what they need to do for our customers. And spending a lot of time with my team trying to upskill. kind of them so that their understanding of the strategies and things like that as well as there because, you know, we are housing. So we’ve got a real domestic property focus.

And you mentioned how many homes you’ve got, you know, that’s an enormous amount of homes. So a lot of our systems and processes and compliance is really very focused on the domestic. So I need to be quite strong in trying to make sure that my team then understands like, this is what housing does, and it’s great. And that’s the core part of our business. But also you need to be aware that this is the difference in FM and this is how we fit in. And yeah, that’s so yeah, training my team, I guess, training and upskilling and empowering my team is a key part of it. And then just like chatting people understand their strategies, trying to get out there and talk to people in the business. And of course, like. I’m always like got little projects on the go, like you said, well-being so. sustainability, those kind of sub-things like dipping in and out of the different things that we need to do. So I don’t think that described it well at all.

Charlie: Yeah, it’s really fascinating. And you touched on well-being as well. I was just curious, how important do you feel employee well-being is in the workplace? And how do you ensure the well-being of occupants in your role?

Laura: Yeah, that’s, yeah, it is. I think it’s really important on a personal level. In a professional level, I’ve also seen what can be unlocked when you have, when you’re allowed to focus on well-being. So being truly honest, people, you know, in facilities management, you can be just expected to get on and look at the compliance activity and not ever have a wellbeing overlay on that. But I think really that’s a missed opportunity. You can absolutely. consider your colleagues and colleague well-being as part of everything that you’re involved in. It really should be an overlay that is on top of everything really. So even if it’s things that are compliance related, it’s like, how do you make this as smooth as possible? Like this is something that needs to happen. How do you make this as smooth as possible for your team? How do you make that as smooth as possible for other people in the business? You can’t always do that, but then you can go back and do something maybe later on. But we have a real focus on wellbeing and specifically, we are targeting at the moment our activity towards like inclusive workplaces and trying to become more inclusive in general.

And this is the beginning of a journey, but what that’s meant is that I’ve got really close to our kind of HR department, which is called People and Organizational Development. I’m very close with the other heads of we talk quite regularly. We do projects together quite a lot. One of them recently has been around accessibility audits and accessibility panels and how colleagues who are coming into the business new with accessibility needs or who are coming, who are throughout their life cycle, because any of us can have a change that requires us to have an accessibility requirement, right. And we ran that. So my department owned that. So that wasn’t a HR thing, although they will probably end up owning the process. So I’ve had audits done in all of my workplaces to see what we can, what we can change, what we can do. We’re really open and eager to listen to colleagues’ feedback on things.

Um, but now we also have like a really nice wraparound process. That’s like if a colleague needs an accessibility requirement that isn’t in place and is complicated. So like a line manager can’t just go, right? I can order some headphones for that. But it’s like a good example is we’ve had somebody who is not a guide dog. It’s a dog that helps somebody feel less anxious in the workplace. But that has kind of come into some conflict with some people who are very scared of dogs and also some people who are very allergic. So we’ve had like this panel wrap around it to try and work out what’s the best way forward and it really pulls on that expertise from across the business in a. positive way to make that happen in a way that works. So, yeah, it’s, again, it’s like that going back to chatting thing, it’s getting involved, it’s understanding what’s everyone doing, health and safety needs to be involved in that, HR needs to be involved in that, my cleaners need to know what they’re doing about that, and how, you know, how do we make that a reality? And then, yeah, we just try and do that with almost everything we do really. It doesn’t always work. And like I said, it’s the beginning of a journey, but I think by having that focus in mind, you can make improvements and then you can continue on that journey.

Like I said, if I could have a brand new building, fully accessible, like that would be perfect. But the reality is I’m working sometimes with some old stock and also we’re a social, you know, we’re a social housing provider. I can’t just spend money on everything that I want as much as I would love to. You have to be really practical and pragmatic about like what are the… things that our colleagues right now need. What can I build in and give finance as well an idea of what that looks like so that then they’re not surprised when I’m like, like I literally want 30K a year every year for the next 10 years, thank you very much.

But they’re kind of on board with that because it’s already gone to the EDI committee, the exec are already into that, they know that I’m gonna be asking for that. And so they’re like primed hopefully to sign that off every year when budget setting comes.

Charlie: Wow. Yeah. That’s an amazing few initiatives you’ve got going on, especially with the accessibility. That’s, that’s really fascinating. And I guess you’ve kind of touched on it, but again, I’d be interested to know what people management strategies have you found to be the most successful in the workplace.

Laura: Yeah, so that is, it’s really interesting because you do have to be so aware of what’s going on with, like, not just it’s like people management strategies, but also like change management strategies, kind of like that whole gamut of what people feel and how they look and how they look, how they exist in the workplace. Sorry, while I was trying to… explain there. And I think we’ve been doing a lot of work around psychological safety recently in Abri. So both psychological safety within my own team, but also wider in Abri kind of so that people give that feedback and feel comfortable talking about things. But for me, the main thing that I think has worked throughout my career has been just to see people as individuals and understand them on a one-on-one human way and really acknowledge the fact like this isn’t in any management speak at all. So apologies about that. But understand that they are different from yourself and that’s okay. And we all think in different ways and that’s normal and that should be embraced.

So where I might not be very good at something, there’s almost certainly somebody in my team is amazing at that. And it’s almost certain that somebody in the business is amazing at that. And I think that seeing people as individuals and empowering them is really, really important to me personally. And I guess as well, alongside that, is setting expectations very clearly so that you can kind of show people what they need to be doing and sometimes how. So like slipping from that, like training, instructing to mentoring, to coaching where necessary and knowing how to kind of slip between those different. hats is really, really important. But yeah, I think understanding people as individuals is really important. Because I want to be known, you know, I want to be known and seen. Of course, other people want, well, maybe if they’re trying to hide under the radar or something, but people want to, they want to come into work generally and do a great job. And seeing that and appreciating it in somebody else really pays back dividends, I think.

Ryan: And obviously, it’s tied in with employee wellbeing, but the COVID pandemic, obviously it hit commercial buildings hard, changing how people work and affecting their mental health. What was your experience at the time with people staying away from the office is and how challenging was it to provide a safe environment when they returned?

Laura: Yeah, it was a really difficult time. So it personally for me, I it was the busiest time I’ve ever had in my working career, easily. But at the same time, I also had a two-year-old. So it was, he was at home. And so that was really, really hard. And my husband got very sick from COVID fairly early on and he was in bed for three months, essentially. And it was, so on a personal level, I found it very difficult. And on a professional level, it was very difficult, but also really exciting. That sounds terrible kind of looking back now, but it really helped cut out a lot of the noise from our team that was like, we’ve been talking about, we’re on this large geography. So we’re across from Windsor to kind of the West country.

And before the pandemic, we’ve been talking about trying to get together as a team more, trying to meet more regularly, and they couldn’t understand why. And the pandemic happened and they suddenly understood why. They understood why, they want to spend time together. And we really grew as a team, I think, and relied on one another. And we’re a really strong team and I’m incredibly proud of the work that my team did because, you know, same as facilities management, professionals everywhere, we were still in. it wasn’t, we couldn’t just muffle those buildings and then shut the door and pretend it wasn’t there, like we had to make sure that all of the compliance checks were still happening, so people were still out on the, I remember we had like the letters to hand over to the police in case we need, we were stopped, and that’s really weird to look back and think about, but it did help like drop a lot of the noise, like nobody was asking me about tea bags then, and that was great, like it was all about compliance, handbooks, how are we going to do this? What’s the resourcing? What’s the business continuity plan? Like dusting all of that off and just, you know, we’d already done that a bit before, but like just reviewing and checking all the time.

So it was a really exciting period, but you had to make sure that the team were okay on a personal level as well. We’ve really spent a lot of time. I think it was so easy to flip into doing incredibly long hours just by accident. And we did spend a lot of time as Abri, but also in my department, to be like, this is not necessary. You don’t need to do this. You need to look after yourself, do what you feel comfortable with. Like, here are the basic things of what we need to achieve as a department. And let’s talk about the other stuff if it’s, if it’s a problem for you. And then we were really lucky as well. So when we started to get more of that return back into the office, throughout the pandemic, we did have people coming in. And exactly like you’ve mentioned, it’s employee wellbeing.

Some people did not have the correct setup at home. There were, there are many reasons that people needed to be back in the office. Um, and so we did have people back in fairly early. Um, we were really lucky with our health and safety team who had some great advice. Um, we, the finance, our finance team immediately approved any requests, basically that were pandemic related. Um, and we were able to kind of put in. All of the, you know, the enhanced cleaning services, we’ve got like new, like clean your own desk stations that are still out there. People still use them and the one way systems and that distance from one another. And it was about we did it slowly. So we started off with one site and then we do I say slowly. It was like a sprint. So we do like one site, take two weeks, do the other site, so we were just rolling constantly to make sure that they were, we were opening what was needed for the business, but that we weren’t doing it to a detriment of ourselves as well. So we found out that most projects we can actually do with two weeks run up if we really need to, and we can drop all this stuff. Um, but yeah, the legacy of that is interesting because the expectations of people coming back to the office is very different following that.

And also we’re looking back as a team and going, gosh, This might be busy right now, but it’s not as busy as a pandemic. I don’t know why we’re taking this so seriously. And actually it’s been quite a good check to kind of look back and be like, there was a reason then. Like, let’s take a step back. And that’s helped with people as well, because they knew that Abri was there, and we were all there to support them during that time. And then I hope that feeling will last. You know, be re-emphasised, but it will last because It really is important to look after your colleagues and make sure that they are in the best possible place to do what your business needs to do.

Ryan: Yeah, and it’s just incredible hearing the journey you went on and obviously the added personal layer for you as well. Just keeping with things at your workplace, obviously, we hope it never happens again, but are you confident you’ve future-proofed the workplace for pandemic-like scenarios? You know, we, we don’t, we don’t want them, but that has future-proofing have to be there.

Laura: Yeah, I mean, as much as is possible, I think it’s definitely taken us so the thing that has the long-lasting impact of us looking as we could turn a lot of that on immediately if we needed to for a similar style pandemic. Obviously, you don’t know what type of pandemic would be coming, but flu like a flu style one was due wasn’t it sounds really weird, but like it was expected in some ways. The interesting bit that we’re looking at now is HSE kind of beginning to be a bit hotter on that ventilation and the rate of airflow in offices. We’ve still got rooms that are shut that have no ventilation at all. So we’ve got a rolling project now to go in and fix all of those areas with no ventilation. So I would say yes. But almost with that caveat, knowing that our ventilation standard is not where it wants to be. And we’re working now to get all of our workplaces up to like SIBC’s recommended levels so that then we’d feel a lot more confident about any similar kind of pandemic in the future.

Ryan: Obviously there’s a lot of compliance and laws involved with the facilities management. So we all took the time to read your government business magazine on how the office setting is evolving. And I’d highly recommend it to anyone, you know, for our listeners. It’s a fantastic read. In the article you mentioned your colleagues at Abri, they want meaningful connections and spaces to support to the best of their abilities. How have you and your team gone about driving that community feel and connection in the workplace?

Laura: Yeah, so we, we recognise, it’s really kind of you to read that. Sometimes I’m just like waffling on. We’ve really focused on that, that thing that I was talking about before about under trying to understand our colleagues and understanding what they need. So we out of necessity, and the size of Abri, it can like any business, I guess it’s not Abri, but it’s really easy to fall into siloed working. It really, really is. And we spent a lot of time trying to work out what are those touchpoints that would help break down those silos. So we have a lot of project works, project boards across Abri that kind of touch on all of the relevant departments that bring everybody in. But we also started creating these spaces. They’re on every floor. It was very old-fashioned, so we would have like just desks and cupboards everywhere, like literally everywhere. And there would be nowhere apart from maybe a breakout area for lunch, but there would be nowhere to sit down and kind of like work on something in a, in like, um, a space together that was out in the open, wasn’t a meeting room, people could drop by.

So we worked with interaction during the pandemic who helped us do the space. planning and they had a workplace psychologist involved in that which was something that we put into the into the specification. We definitely wanted that understanding to be a part of our space planning. But mostly it’s really just listening and talking to colleagues and what’s really interesting is, and I remember we were talking about it at the time, so do you think we’re going to need less space because people aren’t utilizing it and I was like, I don’t know I think that we might need the same amount of space but just in different ways, like less desks. And something that’s really happened since people have come back is that we’re still listening, we’re still trying to listen and change and learn all the time.

They really want more meeting rooms and like really big ones because they want to have massive team meetings all the time. And that’s great because that’s really what we’re like people are going about their works, they’re out in their communities, they’re coming back, they’re having team meetings, across departmental meetings and… to be fair, that can’t necessarily happen around a big table in the open office. So it’s then like, okay, so that’s a bit more money, that’s a bit more planning. How does that look? How do we start making those kinds of changes? But I’d say it really goes back to that, that listening to your colleagues and understanding where they are with their processes, where they are with their strategies and what’s really interesting is understanding where their strategy says one thing, but the colleagues who were doing it. are in a completely different place because that happens a lot. So you know that they’re probably going to end up in this other place further down the line and you’re kind of like, right. So I have to work on the now, but also with one eye to the future. Um, and that’s a really nice tricky balancing act for FM’s to try and wrap around and understand what’s going on.

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, the community areas, you know, they’re great for bringing everyone together and it’s sort of like you get away from that work atmosphere, essentially, and then bring it back to, you know, how you feel as a person. Um, I kind of, I guess in this kind of links with the, um, protocols you have with COVID, but you also mentioned in the article about installing a desk booking app and a parking app. Um, again, was this provoked by the pandemic and was the challenges in setting it up and is it still running?

Laura: Yeah. Parking is like my number. You know that one topic that people like in the business ask you about all the time. Parking is that one for me. We do still have a parking app in place, and we’re really lucky actually. Our IT team managed to build it. They look at all the requirements that we had and they were like, should we go out for this or can we can we make it in-house and they managed to make it like pretty. easily and quickly and you know then it’s like fully integrated with Office 365, it’s fully compliant to our GDPR requirements and data protection all that good stuff and it was free so that was great but parking continues to be a challenge. The app itself is golden but the is that people’s interaction with the app can be problematic so we still get we have less Um, um, people’s not always a very small minority, but people’s values and behaviours kind of like parking where other people are booked and all the rest of it is tricky. I think that all the parking app is definitely here to stay.

The desk booking one is kind of, it’s a different and interesting problem. It was hugely useful during the pandemic. People don’t seem to like using them. So some teams will really use it and like book all their spaces and then other people just won’t bother and rock up. And that’s causing us some conflict. So it’s that it’s in that space where it’s like, you can’t act your way out of a problem. This is a behaviour thing, but how can you better leverage like software and app, but a system to help support better behaviour that is more supportive of your colleagues’ requirements? So we’re just going through that kind of process now. That again was one that we’d built in-house. 50-50 with it, the app’s really great, but I think that some of the other stuff that’s out there might give us some better, would help encourage those kind of behaviours in a better way because you can see who else has booked, you can see where they’re sitting, you can do the block booking kind of stuff, which some of it’s possible throughout the in-house app, but not in the same. visual easy way that colleagues might need. Yeah, so that conflict between, I guess, we say like the app versus the behaviour, and we’re still trying to navigate our way through how to better support people with that.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s fantastic. From a behavioural point of view, it’s very ingrained in us people with cars to barge out the way, find your parking space and you’re done. You know, I think it relates everywhere.

Laura: Yeah, exactly.

Lauren: Laura, I’m really interested to know, we touched on earlier, the sort of an important aspect of this podcast is to drive appreciation for facilities teams. From what you’ve been saying about your work throughout COVID, I think it’s clear that it’s invaluable what you bring, but from your point of view, what value do you think workplace managers bring to a facility which might otherwise go unnoticed?

Laura: Oh, yeah, no, so much. I think like facilities management, facilities managers have so much to offer to the business, they already have an incredible amount of skill sets that in many places are under recognised, and underutilised by the business. And a lot of those are to do with stakeholder management, they probably know everyone in the business from the cleaners, the receptionist, right the way up to the CEOs. You know, that kind of skill is really important. And sometimes we don’t recognize it within ourselves in FM. But that is something that’s really key. That ability to speak to everybody and kind of get to know what’s going on.

I think it can be very easy to get stuck in a space in FM where you’re only looking at the compliance side of things. But that is, again, really key. If you don’t do that, there’s risk there for the business. And that’s really important. So you’re providing that assurance to the business. You are keeping people safe. And I always think, I guess, because of my background in English literature, right? Is that facilities management is a bit like the theatre. We’re not, we’re stage management. We’re not the show, but without us, the show wouldn’t happen. Like, how could you do it without all of those people behind the scenes sorting it out? And yeah, I think that those skills around the assurance, the compliance, those people skills, they’re incredible. And I think when they are valued by an organization, they can really see what that opens up. And I’m really grateful to work at Abri because they have recognized that is the contribution that we can make when we’re able to do that. And part of that is through making it clearer where we are aligned to the strategy.

So saying you wanted us to do more around inclusive communities, look what we are doing about our own internal ABRI inclusive community. And sometimes it’s about, I find it really hard, but it’s about blowing your own trumpet, right? And saying like, look what I do, look what my team can do. And recognizing the things that you do day to day, are not things that other people can do day to day. Not anybody could have sorted out the stuff. facilities management teams are incredible, totally right about the pandemic. Different types of teams would have just not been able to have followed that reactive but also forward-thinking, making sure they’re aware of the compliance and doing that all at an incredible pace. Those are real skills, so it’s a really exciting industry and I do think it is underappreciated but I do feel like change is happening and we’re seeing more and more acknowledgement that facilities management has something to say that’s really important to hear.

Lauren: You mentioned about shouting about the achievements that facilities teams have been able to make. What else do you think about driving appreciation in the workplace, especially with top management, knowing that you’re doing the great work that you’re doing? Do you find challenges doing that, or how would you drive that appreciation?

Laura: What’s interesting to me is that whenever I get ready to present something to people really senior, I always kind of think like, maybe this reflects more on me than it does on anyone else. But I always think like, oh, that’s not really a lot, is it? Like, I’m, and then I present it and they’re like, wow, you know, that’s, that’s incredible. Look at what you’ve done. It’s really practical. Like, I’ll give you an example of that. So we have, I’ve mentioned Inclusive EDI, which is a really big part of our strategy.

So I presented to the EDI committee, Workplace Solutions and EDI what we’re doing, the feedback following that. And I thought, gosh, we’re not as far along on this journey as I hoped. But you know, when I was gathering it, I was like, oh, look, I still have this plan and I’m only midway three parts of it and I’ve only done this. And they came back and they just said, you know what Laura, this is incredible. You have done stuff. The rest of our debris is still in data collection. you’ve just gone out there and started doing things that are making a tangible difference to your colleagues’ lives. And that was an incredible moment for me as a leader to like, I’m always really proud of my team, but to reflect on the fact that actually it’s so easy when you’re caught in the moment and you’re doing so much day to day that actually you are achieving things that maybe you don’t know about.

And I guess the thing that worked for that as well was that I bang on about this all the time, but I knew that it was part of Abri strategy. about inclusive communities. So we have other things that are in our strategy. And I would really suggest that, you know, if you’re a facilities manager, it’s always great to know what the strategies of your business because if you can directly point to that thing, and say, I am contributing to this, and here is how top, you know, senior leaders will listen, because that’s what they want to hear, you know, that is what that’s what they’re wanting to do. So anytime that I say I am contributing to number six, creating a great place to work by creating collaborative spaces that people can access. They love that stuff. And it’s it makes it easier. And I think that is a skill maybe in FM that we need to stretch a bit more. That’s like how to report in a coherent, concise way. Yeah, sure. They love the compliance bits of it. They do want to hear like, you know, 100 out of 100. 100% compliance for gas boiler servicing. Great, fine. But there’s that, you’ve got to learn how to do that qualitative bit alongside that to then shout about it and kind of, you know, this is a success and here’s how I contribute to your strategy, to our strategy and this is what we’re doing together. They love that stuff.

Charlie: That’s fantastic. You’ve given us some really, really good answers. This has been a really good podcast and I thought we’d kind of finish up with a little bit of tech talk and tools. So a lot of the FM experts we’ve spoken to in previous podcasts seem to find a good balance between using tools like software and spreadsheets. Could you maybe talk us through some of the tools that you use to manage the workplace and how they help your role?

Laura: Yeah, that’s, yeah, that’s a really interesting question. And the reason it’s interesting because I was talking with some of my network about this recently, because moving from somewhere like CBRE and JCI, we had incredible software that was really specific to facilities management, that was very, very helpful, that I miss, because when you work in housing, rightly, everything is geared towards domestic properties. So we use a big platform.

So instead of a CAFM system or similar, an integrated FM, whatever they call that, IWMS, we use open housing, which clues in the title is a housing system, but it’s still an asset management system. Working with that, that’s completely optimized and rightly for a housing association, but it’s really, really frustrating as a facilities management person to be like, Yeah, but our asbestos stuff, our asbestos compliance doesn’t work in quite the same way. So it’s not flagging it quite correctly in here. That being said, it still does a lot of it that is very, very good. And actually having something that’s integrated and the rest of the business needs is also really helpful. So then we’re all singing off the same spreadsheet, but singing off the same spreadsheet. But that does mean that alongside that, I do need spreadsheets, which, and I love Excel but in some cases, they are absolutely a necessary evil.

I would prefer that information to be on a CAFM system in certain circumstances. But we make it work and it’s kind of, it’s what’s needed really, but I think we haven’t quite fully utilized and understood. So we’re on, I mentioned it before Office 365 and SharePoint and how that… can be utilised. I think we’re only just the beginning of unlocking what that can do for us because we’ve got some, we’ve made some really people, we were listening a new SharePoint, might just think, oh my gosh, you’re so behind the times.

But we, you know, we’ve got things where now we’ve got our risk assessments in a specific library, and they’ve got the annual review date that then flags it directly to us four weeks before those reviews are due. So, we can’t put that on the, on open housing. you know, how can we build our SharePoint to better help us with that knowledge, to build up that knowledge and make sure that information is there and also accessible for the team. So what’s cool about SharePoint is that we’ve got that library, but then there’s like a little page ahead of that for our colleagues, especially if they’re new or they need a refresher that’s like, this is what a risk assessment is. This is the role of workplace solutions. This is how it works. And that’s a lot easier for them to read and pass and understand. And then that combined with it having like the prompts within the system to say like, hey, update me. It’s nearly been a year. That’s really good. We’re really at the start of that journey, I think to make that work. But it does seem to be something that has a lot of opportunity for us to explore even more.

Charlie: That’s some really interesting insights into that. Yeah, really, really interesting. And finally, a growing theme throughout the FM world is the adoption of connected technologies, IoT power technologies and stuff like that. What’s your take on these technologies for facilities management? And do you deploy any at Abri and does it help your role at all?

Laura: I would like, I think IOT is incredible. And I’ve seen a lot of places where, where sort of maybe when it was more in its infancy and it was so helpful and opens up that like data, they helps you make data-driven decisions, help you understand what’s happening in the real here and now. We do not, we do not have anything like that at Abri, but that doesn’t mean that we wait, that’s certainly something that I would love to look at. and want to do going forward. And sort of we’re planning, we’re trying to future-proof now, right? So we’ve got a new BMS system that’s coming in and it can do some of that stuff. I’m not gonna get it in the first time round, but I’m trying to build everything so that I can bolt these things on later down the line. I mean, we literally count heads with like a clicker still, and that’s horrific.

So, I would really like to not be doing that. I think there’s a good business case. It’s just really, really hard sometimes to make that a reality, but that one is coming for sure. But yeah, IoT, I think, has the potential to really help make those spaces in your workplace be of a better, you know, thermal comfort, all sorts of things. It’s really exciting, and I saw some really interesting stuff about water management and reducing… you know, the leaks in the system using IoT and think like, wow, that’s, that’s incredible. And leak detection and Legionella risk and all the rest of it. Think, wow, you know, that this stuff is really going to help make our workplaces safer and save money and reduce our carbon consumption. So it’s really, really exciting. And yeah, I wish I was more of the cutting edge of things, but I’m probably just going to be lagging behind very slightly.

Charlie: Yeah, I’m really interested to see what the future of FM tech will be definitely the power of IoT and Industry 4.0 and stuff like that. But yeah, that’s it from us. Do you have anything further you’d like to discuss before we wrap things up?

Laura: I don’t think so. Just thank you for, yeah, thank you for having a chat. It’s been really nice.

Charlie: Oh, thank you for coming on. It’s been absolutely fantastic. Um, your insights have been super useful. Um, and I’m sure our listeners will be very, very excited to it, to hear this podcast. Um, so there, yeah. And there we go. That’s it for today. A huge thank you for Laura has taken the time to chat with us as a seasoned expert and a head of workplace solutions. We know your insights have been very helpful for our listeners and I hope you’ve enjoyed chatting to us too.

Laura: Absolutely!

Charlie: As always, this podcast will be live on our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and you can watch the full video on our YouTube channel. We’ll be back soon with more amazing guests like Laura. Bye for now.