This month we speak with Alison Wring, workplace consultant
Alison is a widely experienced leader in delivering workplace environments through strategy, planning, capital delivery and operational management. Her particular experience has been with large portfolio owners, covering the residential, commercial, educational and science/innovation, health and defence sectors with national and global organisations, such as Goldman Sachs, O2, GSK and the Ministry of Defence.
What’s the best thing about the job?
Delivering a successful outcome and seeing the satisfaction on people’s faces when something has worked really well, whether it’s solutions to optimise a portfolio’s efficiency (particularly with a focus on wellbeing), minimising operating costs, improving transparency and control of capital and operational expenditure, driving savings initiatives into their estate – plus good old fashioned project delivery on time and to budget. If something has worked well, the feedback you get from clients and stakeholders and the significant improvement that you see from a strategy that has worked is the reason I go to work.
Is the desire to create a great workplace for staff greater than it was 10 years ago?
I don’t think 10 years ago placemaking was even a term used. Now wellness, human centred design, obtaining that data from end users and more innovative products to drive the strategy on what good looks like are key factors, influencing the way in which assets are being managed and delivered, driving wellbeing, which also drives improvements on capital and operational costs – ultimately the productivity levels of the end users. If done properly, the return on investment isn’t just about the asset capital and operational costs, it’s what makes them work to continue to attract the best people to the workplace in a sustainable environment in which they can thrive. We spend a lot of our life in the workplace. It would be extremely shortsighted if those end users were not properly consulted about what is important to them. In short, yes – a lot more considered and rightly so.
Can you share with us a lesson learned and never repeated?
Don’t ever be complacent about how your team are feeling. We can often oversee that there are matters affecting team dynamics, particularly when you have a team of three or more generations – whether it’s the environment they work in, adaptation to change, modern methods of communication, technical skills or, particularly, technological advances. Some will still prefer the traditional methods, while others can’t get enough of regular changes or new improved communication methods. It’s important to get teams that have a diverse range of perspectives to share all experiences. Being mindful of things outside of the workplace that may be having an effect is also critical. Taking that time to ask if everything is ok. Mental health is a huge issue and having the insight and ability to respond to people’s wellness is definitely something that, if managed properly, will eventually help individuals feel good about themselves, which ultimately goes towards getting the most potential out of them.
What are the biggest challenges you and your team face?
Being match fit for the on-going technological revolution. Its accepting disruptive technology, whether its AI, Blockchain, big data, automation, robotics etc, having the capacity to adapt and retrain as necessary to accept a number of these aspects will replace some of the tasks taken for granted at present. Look at what CAD did and what BIM is doing to improve the efficiency of the delivery and management of facilities. The key is not to be threatened but to embrace these changes and not worry about unemployment but redeployment using the skills you already have and enhancing them. It’s exciting to be part of this rapidly changing environment.
Name one thing that will have disappeared from the workplace in the next decade.
A significant number of roles are likely to have disappeared, but not completely. With more drive towards Cloud-based storage, the days of clunky old filing cabinets and piles of paper stacked up under people’s desks surely are a thing of the past. Something that will have considerably reduced though, in my view, will be the number of people in the workplace, thanks to the speed of the digital revolution and the way people feel about the need to regularly come into the office. There is a huge cultural shift, particularly with the millennials and Generation Z – of course there will still be the need for people to be trained and mentored in their early careers and some roles will, for the time being, remain in the workplace. However, the evolving workforce is very accustomed to online, technology centric courses.
What is the one thing that you would change when working with architects and designers?
I pride myself on my collaborative stance, which is something I think critical to the outcome of a project. Linked again, to an extent, to my response around assessing human behaviour, the creativity of architects and designers is something to be balanced against the demands from clients, stakeholders, contractors and modern technologies, all coupled with demanding programmes and budgets. The communications plan around making sure the team as a whole focuses on the 80% of things that need to be agreed, leaving the 20% behind, is crucial. Good communications processes support that, as well as having teams with leaders that facilitate rather than dictate meetings, to get the most out of everyone. Make sure the output from meetings are such that time is spent focusing on the key issues as a priority and, if time allows, the non-key issues can be dealt with later, allowing the architect/designer to concentrate on actioning those outputs, with well thought through checklists and sign off by all during the project delivery process.
What does the term wellbeing mean to you?
Wellbeing is putting the human at the heart of the environment they are in, whether that’s an office, home, school…and the outdoor environment that allows them to logistically travel from one to another, to improve their performance and, ultimately, productivity.