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EXCLUSIVE Workspace realities at law firm RPC

Author : David Strydom

10 November 2014

Mayur Patel, facilities director at law firm RPC, has granted PFM an exclusive interview in our November edition. Here is an excerpt.

As a young boy, Mayur Patel was walking down the street with his parents when he spotted a dark apparition close behind him. He excitedly alerted his parents: “Someone’s following me!” The adult Patel chortles sheepishly as he recalls the incident: “It was only my shadow, of course. My wife and my family know that story, but nobody else does.”

Shadows may have stalked Patel in childhood, but these days they hold no terrors for him. As the director of facilities at law firm RPC, headquartered in Tower Bridge House in London, he’s master of all he surveys in the workspace. Indeed, his personal history is closely tied – almost intractably so – to RPC.

Patel first came to RPC in 1990, when he took up a temporary role. He revelled in the office management aspect of it so much so he decided to postpone his university education in order to spend another year at RPC. “I enjoyed everything to do with running the office such as ordering stationery, putting out paper, callouts for photocopy engineers, etc,” he recalls.

After 16 years, his contribution to the firm was repaid in 2006 when he was promoted to director of facilities. That marked a new stage in a career trajectory that started with him as an admin assistant. He was promoted to assistant office manager, premises manager, FM, head of central services, and finally director of facilities.
“It was nice to get those opportunities, although it came with much hard work,” Patel says. “It was still down to me to make it happen and do the job.”

RPC later paid for Patel to study through BIFM (he’s been a member since 2002), but it was his experience of the changes at the firm that really educated him about FM. At the time, RPC had two locations, Chichester House and Lincoln House in High Holborn. As the firm grew, a series of property reviews took place and the acquisition of new space on Leadenhall Street. This provided Patel with an opportunity to ‘flex his muscles’ with respect to construction and refurbishment, and when a role opened up in the form of FM, he successfully applied. By 2005, RPC was outgrowing their properties and was facing a lease expiry in Leadenhall Street.

“Our Leadenhall Street building wasn’t the location for us anymore as there was no room for expansion,” Patel explains. “We started looking for alternative premises to get everyone into one building and ended up with three short-listed options that we negotiated on to get the best deal – Tower Bridge House near St Katharine's Dock; the Gherkin; and Plantation Place South in Fenchurch Street. The result was that we signed the lease with Tower Bridge House in  November 2005.”

The big question that needed to be broached at that point was whether open-plan or cellular offices were the way forward. Before moving into Tower Bridge House in June 2006, Patel undertook what he describes as ‘a huge exercise’ including, consulting architects in order to settle on a type of workspace.

“The partners voted on open-plan working which we introduced when we moved in. At the time we were one of the largest legal firms to go completely open-plan so it was new territory in ever sense,” he says.

The RPC project team in conjunction with architects HOK, says Patel, guided the company through the process. “We looked at how a lawyer works, what she or he needs to support his environment. We really delved into that, and took them with us on that journey.”

Relocating is the only real opportunity to make seriously big changes, Patel says, and that momentum has continued. “Shortly after we moved here, we went through the 2008-9 recession, with everything that that entailed. Nevertheless we grew the business through those dark days.

The open plan means it is easier for us to flex our layout as we grow. We’ve opened offices in Bristol, Hong Kong and Singapore. My job is to scout for locations in those places, then do our fit-out, ensure an operational structure is in place, and manage the buildings as well.”

Tower Bridge House’s café may have the most spectacular view overlooking St Katharine’s Docks, but Patel is particularly proud of the way in which the open-plan arrangement "has turned out at RPC"..

It may sound like the acclimatisation of new pet fish to an aquarium’s water temperature but the slow-and-steady approach was ultimately successful because it persuaded employees to adopt a positive attitude to change. Another concern – confidentiality with respect to conversations in an open-plan environment – was addressed by the use of acoustic technology. After the move, Patel instituted a 100-day honeymoon period before he addressed staff complaints about the new system. “I received only two complaints,” he says with a smile, unable to conceal the pride he justifiably feels in his achievement. 

Today, Patel has responsibility for 24 staff members, some of whom are based in RPC’s overseas offices. “I’ve got a FM who reports directly to me, as well as a facilities assistant. They have their team leaders in Hong Kong and Bristol and an office manager in Singapore. At Tower Bridge House, I’ve outsourced catering, reception and switchboard duties, so that manager reports to mean we have monthly meetings.”

RPC uses two primary outsourcers: Lusso, part of Charlton House, manages catering and reception and switchboard duties, and Hobs On-Site, a Liverpool-based branch of Hobs Reprographic. With respect to reprographics, Patel decided to outsource it because of the sheer number of reprographic providers scattered around London. “I said to myself: If I have several companies that specialise in it, why am I trying to do the same thing?

For its mechanical and electrical services, RPC uses Combined Technical Solutions (CTS).

+ For the complete article, read the November edition of PFM


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