We’ve recently realised that we’ve become quite reliant on Google Maps. Our project stories invariably take us either deep into the heart of busy towns and cities, or out into the mysterious labyrinths of modern business parks (which happen to be, almost always, a £10 taxi fare away from the nearest train station!). Without Google Maps as our guide we could be a £100 fare away without even knowing it!
We’ve got to be honest, we don’t know Chiswick particularly well. We’ve had a couple of nights out here and have also visited the amazing Chiswick Park (a genuine exception to the ‘rule’ above) on business three or four times. This would normally be a definite Google Maps scenario. However, we definitely do not require its services today. As soon as you disembark from the District Line train at Gunnersbury, you are literally in the shadow of a tall tower that has the giant letters ‘BSI’ at its top. We’ve arrived.
BSI (British Standards Institution) is the business standards company that equips businesses with the necessary solutions to turn standards of best practice into habits of excellence. Formed in 1901, BSI was the world’s first National Standards Body and a founding member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Over a century later it continues to facilitate business improvement and organisational resilience across the globe by helping its clients drive performance, manage risk and grow sustainably through the adoption of international management systems standards, many of which BSI originated. Renowned for its marks of excellence, including the consumer recognised BSI Kitemark™.
BSI’s influence spans multiple sectors with a particular focus on aerospace, automotive, built environment, food, healthcare and IT. With 81,000 clients in 181 countries, BSI is an organisation whose products and services inspire excellence across the globe.
We head up to the first floor of this imposing building, where we meet Sally Sellers, HR Director for the Knowledge Solutions business unit at BSI – and the lady who was charged with overseeing the dramatic transformation of not just the look and feel of the interiors here, but also the transformation of the company’s working practices and culture.
Indeed, it is here on the first floor that this transformation is perfectly embodied, with the heart of the space home to a bright, open café facility. Taking a banquet seat within the informal meeting area, we ask Sally to give us a bit of background to the project. ‘We occupied eight floors of Chiswick Tower – which is a 17-storey building,’ Sally begins, ‘and we had run out of space. We were quite traditional – we all had curved desks, we had limited meeting areas and had simply run out of space. Our leadership at the time said, ‘Let’s have an extra floor’. What I was hearing from our employees was that teams felt as though they were working in silos, they didn’t collaborate, they didn’t communicate, it was really hard to get your job done, you didn’t know where people were and you had to get around the building by lifts. I thought that our environment was starting to stifle us. Rather than just taking another floor, there must be a whole different way that we can fit-out our floors that solves all of those issues – and also costs us less money.
‘To start with, I think some people thought I was talking rubbish – but I asked them to give me the opportunity, I was sure we could do it.
‘As it has transpired, rather than increasing it, we’ve actually reduced our square footage by 10%. We’re now using the space completely differently. We’ve made much better use of the space and as a result we’ve completely restacked.
‘We used to occupy the ground floor, first floor, floors four to eight, 16 and 17. We now occupy ground to eight – so we’ve completely changed the footprint and how we use that space.
‘It was a real leap of faith – and a real leap into the unknown. We were lucky enough to be able to go out to other sites and look at what other companies similar to ourselves – and to start to build the confidence up. We quickly realised that the benefits massively outweighed any negatives.
‘I would say that right up to the final day of the move, there were people who didn’t buy into this. What I would say is that we no longer have those naysayers. The vast majority of people are absolutely delighted with what we’ve done.’
As Sally has already told us, prior to the project, the BSI floors here were at absolute maximum capacity. ‘We couldn’t have squeezed in a single extra desk,’ she smiles. ‘Staying here in Chiswick Tower was definitely the right option and by making better use of our space we’ve been able to reduce our footprint and, when you walk around the floors, we’ve got so much extra space.
‘This is our corporate headquarters and it also houses our Knowledge Solutions business. We are constantly growing, so our employee base was going to grow so it was important that we future proofed this project to allow more people to work out of London.’
We ask Sally to talk us through the process. ‘Interior design and furniture didn’t really come into the equation to begin with. The first step was to look at how we wanted to use the space and how employees were going to connect with the office. Did we expect people to come into the office every day? When they are in the office, what sort of environment do they need? We talk about being an innovative, bold, forward thinking organisation – and we need an environment that reflects that.
‘We appointed a project manager and then we did a lot of research on what our culture needs to be with our leaders and employees – and developed a set of principles detailing how the space was going to be used, what type of environment did we want and need and what culture would that give us. From that, we were then able to work with an architect to create an environment that would give us all of this.
‘The key things that came out of this were silo working – the architect told us that this was the quietest office he had ever worked in! People were very isolated and weren’t communicating with one another other than by email.
‘We needed to bring people together, we needed to improve communication, we needed to remove silos and we also needed to reduce hierarchy – to move people at a certain level out of private offices – and we needed to get a real buzz about the place and make it more creative.
‘Actually, what people wanted was very consistent. The difficult bit was then how to do it – should we do it in a traditional office fit-out or should we go for a modern, smart working fit-out? We agreed that a modern, smart, agile way of working was the way to go.
‘For many people, this was very new and we did have to convince them. Interestingly, and this didn’t come until later, BSI has worked to launch a standard on how to move to smart working. I have been able to say to our guys, ‘We’ve written a standard on this – we need to practice what we preach’.
‘We converted one of our wings to show people what smart working entailed and explained that if they wanted kitchens, studio space, meeting space, creative walls, well, we could give them all of that – but what it would mean is that they wouldn’t have their own desk. Instead they’ll have activity-based working and agile working. To be honest, it wasn’t an issue in the end. Nobody was particularly bothered.’
Speaking of smart, where Sally and the team were particularly clever is that each floor is tailored to suit individual teams and departments – whilst at the same time there is a clear design language throughout. As Sally pointed out earlier, the open floors are incredibly generous and boast all those facilities that the teams here were promised, from a wide range of both formal and informal meeting spaces, through to chic kitchen/diner facilities and a host of work settings.
BSI has clearly moved a long way in a short time – and indeed now practices what it preaches on a daily basis.