Perspective with Nick Atkin

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This month we speak with Nick Atkin, Chief Executive at Halton Housing Trust – whose new home, Waterfront Point, is very much a differentiating factor for  the business. Halton Housing is a not-for-profit housing association, which owns and manages over 7,000 homes across the Cheshire boroughs of Runcorn and Widnes. The business currently employs just 330 people across a range of roles and skillsets.

Housing associations offer high quality, affordable priced homes for rent as well as a range of low cost home ownership products. Halton Housing can be summarised as ‘a housing business with a social conscience. Our overarching purpose focuses on improving people’s lives’.

Hi Nick. What was the main objective behind your recent workplace transformation?

We saw the build and creation of Waterfront Point as the next logical phase in our approach to reduce costs, whilst also retaining good people. Over the last three years we have shifted to a two-device policy. This ensures all our employees are equipped with two mobile devices. This enables them to work anywhere, at any time. This has reinforced our mantra that work is something you do, and not somewhere you go, and allows all our employees to have a better work/life balance.

When evaluating if we should adopt a fully flexible working approach, we carried out a ‘Desk Space Utilisation Review’. This examined how the 158 desks spaces we previously had were used, including how often they were occupied. The findings were that these were only occupied for 28% of the ‘working week’. The average cost per desk was £3,200. This review enabled us to reduce our floor space and associated costs by over 75%. The move to our new home has brought the organisation together under one roof for the first time, as well as enabling us to introduce an element of fun and enjoyment to the workplace.

What is the one thing you and your staff do differently since moving into your new home/office?

Our new home is not a place where people bang keyboards for eight hours a day. It’s been designed to be a thought provoking working space. The space is designed for collaboration, breaking down the barriers between teams and bringing people together in a natural and unstructured way.

Our flexible working approach was introduced three years ago. It reduced our operating costs, extended our service offer, whilst also enabling us to retain really good people. People are encouraged not to be tied to their desks but instead to work in a truly flexible and agile way. We have even used some of the office cost savings to pay for colleagues to host meetings in coffee shops and other similar locations.

Our fully flexible working approach has enabled us to retain and attract more employees. It’s also no coincidence that, since we have introduced flexible working, we have had our three best years in terms of performance.

Name one thing that will have disappeared from the workplace in the next decade.

The concept of presentism. Nailing people to their desks doesn’t work, it doesn’t make people productive or mean that they are working for eight hours each day. Instead, we assess people’s contributions on the outcomes they deliver against an agreed set of objectives, rather than the hours they work.

Over the last 20 or so years, what has changed in the workplace most dramatically from your point of view?

Technology has enabled people to be hugely more productive and self-sufficient. This in turn has removed the need for a number of administrative roles, enabling people to move to different roles across businesses.

What does the term ‘wellbeing’ mean to you?

Easy – a positive state of mind and good physical health. We all spend our best waking hours at work, so it needs to be a place and an experience that contributes positively to people and their lives. We have put a number of measures in place over recent years to ensure our employees’ physical and mental wellbeing is well looked after.

Since our move to Waterfront Point, this has developed still further. We have installed exercise kit in to our new office to encourage people to take up walking meetings and catch-ups. Our ‘no-desk hogging’ approach encourages employees to move around the office and speak to other colleagues they may not usually have the opportunity to. We continue to invest heavily in trying to ensure, as much as possible, the physical and mental wellbeing of our workforce.

What have you done to ensure your office environment is as innovative and forward-thinking as possible?

As part of the development of our new home, we introduced the concept of ‘disruption’. We have extended this to run across our business through the establishment of three resident disruptor roles.

Together with our innovative ICT team, we have been able to introduce a range of cutting edge tech kit into the workspace. This has cemented our move away from paper-based systems. The introduction of this cutting-edge kit underpins our flexible and dynamic working environment.