It is hard to believe that two weeks have passed since I paced my Murrayfield hotel room rehearsing my presentation for the next day at the BIFM Scotland region conference. With four runs through the session coming out at 25 or 26 minutes I was comfortable that I had it down pat and was ready for a good sleep. This evening I am in another capital city hotel room and an ocean away from Scotland, but I’ve just been sharing experiences of public speaking with a guy who has gone off to his room to rehearse his slot at a sales conference tomorrow. I wish him well. Read more…
The benefits of providing free space for workers to network and enjoy some refreshments was the subject of a news item on one of the TV breakfast shows last week and they had wheeled in a pundit to vouch for said benefits, the person concerned citing the restaurant as a great place for such networking to take place. This caused some hilarity for the Berkshire Belle for she, like me, recalls only too well the occasion when I was almost sacked over that very issue. Read more…
News from Norway last week shocked the world, and we feel for the families of those who lost loved ones. The media have made much of possible motive and the whys and wherefores, but I am more concerned about the impact on those who had responsibilities for the security of people at the two venues that were targeted, because those of us in facilities management walk in their shoes.
I’ve written here about the time, just after the Columbine spree killings in the USA, that one of my sites had a suspected gunman outside. That came to nothing, but we learned some lessons that we built into the way would handle any future incident. I’ve also covered a suspicious package incident, one of three that I have experienced, but I have also had someone gain access to one of my sites and start brandishing a knife, demanding to see their estranged partner, and four or five other incidents involving domestic issues that got to the edge of violence come to mind.
When you are managing a site where there are large numbers of people, probably also with public access, you walk a tightrope. Now I don’t want to suggest that this goes on all of the time, but you don’t know when an incident will occur. When one does, then speed and level of response needs to be on the money if you are to have any chance of dealing with it. How you cope with something like the second incident in Norway is mind boggling and I can empathise with my opposite numbers up there. What they must be going through is something that I never want to have to face. My thoughts are also with the forces of law and order. Expectations on them are enormous and the media cane them whatever they do these days.
In our world, the FM team need to be well trained and to understand what they should and should not do when something flares up, but also in spotting the warning signs. We do have a variety of states of alert, and raise the level of vigilance if we are warned of a specific threat, but so often incidents arise without warning, especially the domestic ones. All of the incidents that I have mentioned came on ordinary days, albeit a couple of the suspicious package ones were are the height of the IRA campaigns. One minute you’re quietly getting on with something and the next you’ve switched to crisis mode: that innocent looking visitor grabs your colleague, pulls out a 12 inch kitchen knife and holds it to your colleague’s throat.
Thankfully the majority of us don’t ever face these situations, and those that do probably only get one in a lifetime, so how do you prepare? The start for the reactive side is in the basic emergency process; you get used to handling these things in a calm and structured way so that when something happens it is dealt with. Regular practice helps, both in desktop exercises and live ones, to settle the team into being able to react effectively when an alarm is raised. The proactive side needs a culture of vigilance, and that applies to the whole team; you have to have an escalation process and you need an intelligence network.
If you do these things then you have a chance of reducing the risk. I doubt that we will ever prevent a determined solo attack like that seen in Norway last week, but we might be able to limit the impact. When did you last review your process?
I’ve written here before about the alleged demise of the office, but the topic has raised its head again this past week so I’m off again.
We earthlings enjoy a fantastic range of communications devices these days, and we’re a couple of generations away from my early days at work where I would carry change to phone in to the office as and when necessary. Now the science fiction of my youth is a reality and I have a few of these devices at my disposal and am a happy, and fairly prolific, user of them.
The ability to keep in touch and to interact with others remotely has changed the way that we work, but that isn’t new; it’s just the natural process of evolution. The pace may vary, but change is constant.
The office as I have known it is a relatively new thing in terms of human history, and it has changed a lot in my time. At the end of the day it is a tool and we will adapt it as we need to. One of the buildings that I once managed is now an easyOffice and part of Stelios’ new venture. It still exists, which is more that can be said for some of the other flagships of my old 1990s empire; one has been demolished and an apartment complex now stands on the site, another has just been demolished and a third has been gutted and the shell absorbed into an industrial building. My team and I used to look after over 3000 people in those three offices and they were all key parts of the organisations that we worked on behalf of.
But we changed them radically over the time that we ran them and had them in a constant state of flux as the tenant businesses needs changed. There may have been an illusion of permanence, but it was only an illusion. The illusion is in the minds of the people though; the building is just a convenient place. Those of us who have managed big workplaces will know how lonely and dead they are when empty.
When people come together they can fill a space with their life and energy, and those provide a synergy that no amount of remote working or cloud collaboration can replace. The challenge for us within the industry is to provide those spaces, but in what form?
I remember the first Regus office locally and being very interested because they were doing on the open market what I was trying to do for an internal market. There was a time when it looked as though they wouldn’t make it, but the financial model has worked and others have followed, as with easyOffice in our old floors at Palmerston House, and all power to them for that.
Coffee bars, hotel lobbies, supermarket cafeterias and motorway services are all playing their part as alternative places to meet, but the thing that intrigues me is that there is still so much focus on city centres. With all of the moves away from pinning us down to the daily grind of going in to the office, most cities are working towards transport and infrastructure plans that are based on sizeable growth over the next 10-30 years. That implies that we will still have these great hives of activity for a long time to come.
Will we push the market, or will the market pull us? I don’t know that I have the answers right now, but it sure is a fascinating time to be in the industry isn’t it?
Lately I have been back on the train a lot, and have been reminded of a phenomenon I had largely forgotten. One of those strange ritual behaviours between the female and the male of the species that puzzles, even troubles me. So let me set the scene:
Join me on platform one at Swindon as I await an early Paddington train. As an avid people watcher I have plenty of material to work with in such situations; travel provides a fascinating insight into one’s fellow humans. The platform regulars are instantly recognisable, as is their pecking order.
But, just beyond the tracks, is activity in the north car park that has reminded me of a, to me rather sexist, behaviour that really should have died out in these enlightened times. A car will sweep into the car park, pull up near the station entry and from the driver’s side will emerge Mr Businessman, suited and booted for his day at the office. From the passenger side will emerge, well, for the purpose of this story, let’s call her Mrs Businessman, and she is dressed for doing stuff around the house.
Mr B will take his briefcase from the back and depart for his train, and Mrs B drives the car back to the 4 bed, 2 rec, 3.75 bath or whatever.
Now there are variations on the level of human contact in these vignettes, but most are pretty perfunctory at best, but one stands out: The Volvo estate is brought to a stop with some authority. Mr B emerges, takes his briefcase and strides away without a glance at his companion. She walks round the front of the car, seeming to distance herself from him as much as she can, and departs with a decent touch of wheelspin. It is a shame that she had to pause to adjust the driver’s seat and that the car is front wheel drive. If she had been quicker and had had rear wheel drive she could have sprayed him with gravel such was the violence of her leaving the scene.
What domestic strife had preceded this journey? What was the atmosphere in the car along the way? These are the joys of people watching, speculating on events.
But I digress. The point here is that this ritual, something that I have seen for as long as I can remember, still goes on. OK, it is none of my business how other people live their lives, but this behaviour is so alien to me and seems so insulting to the ladies, although they seem quite happy to accept it.
I would never have dreamt of behaving like this with any of the ladies I have shared my life with since I flew the nest over 40 years ago. I know I’m not unique here as the guy who lives opposite is equally as happy to have his wife drive him as he is to drive her, but he and I do seem to be in a very small minority judging by my observations.
Maybe all of this is covered in the Handbook of Inter-Gender Relationships, I don’t know. Perhaps the ladies concerned are quite happy to have things this way. Maybe it means that they don’t have their driving criticised by some chauvinistic oaf. Possibly one of them might read this and enlighten me.
I hope that they do, because I would love to know. Whilst I’ll never find out what the story behind Mr & Mrs Volvo was, my natural curiosity is aroused and do I like to learn something new every day.
It may come as a surprise to some that I spent most of Friday morning watching the Royal Wedding coverage on BBC. I didn’t watch it all, but had the TV on from about 0730 and finally turned my back on it after the fly past (which, prior to the day, was the only thing that I was interested in).
So what got my attention? Not the hats nor the dresses, nor, although I do love it, the pageantry. No, it was the organisation.
I grew up organised, even if I didn’t realise it for until well into adulthood, but my father was a gardener by profession and his bible was the Raeder’s Digest Gardener’s Year. He would pore over this time a couple of times a week, making his plans for the next 3-4 weeks and comparing where he was against his plan. He was never formally taught project management, but learned it along the way.
In similar vein my mother was a professional cook, and whereas Dad would be planning his projects in weeks and months, Mum would be planning in hours as she would juggle all the elements to land each course of the meal just when it needed to be served, regardless of whether it was a light meal for one or a banquet for a hundred. For both it was all about being organised and organising others.
Maybe then it was natural that I would end up working in areas where organisation and planning were crucial. From teenage work on the farm to my early days in retail and wholesale logistics through running M&E tenders to computer programming and IT project, corporate strategic planning, logistics management running big sheds and on to FM the one key thing that kept me climbing the ladder was that I got things done, and that came, directly, from organisation and planning. Perhaps it was truly bred into me.
Coming back to the Royal Wedding I was sat with the Berkshire Belle enjoying a mug of tea and watching the crowds enjoying themselves when the timetable for the event came up (the Wonder of Wokingham herself is an ace planner; she used to manage distributions for the largest retail network in Europe). One of the experts on TV was asked about the time that the Royal couple would emerge onto the balcony, and said that it would be between 1315 and 1325 as they wouldn’t want to miss the fly past at 1330.
Now this was before 9 and we got to speculating on the organisation that went into an event like this and what it would take to pull it off over the course of the day, and that was what really got me riveted. Later in the programme Sir Malcolm Ross gave some insight into how they did things and I have enormous professional respect for the likes of him and those who put these events together.
As an FM I have been involved in all sorts of special events, including conferences and Royal and VIP visits and know what those take, so the sheer scale of something like Friday’s wedding fills me with awe, but also with pride. In the UK we know how to do these things and to pull them off with such élan.
We have the advantage of Royalty, tradition and venues, but that would be so easy to waste. The eyes of the world were on the UK last week and they were treated to a fantastic spectacle of pageantry that ran like clockwork. To those who made it happen, I salute you.