This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

Making the Switch

15 October 2005

Pioneers in flexible working, BT’s integrated strategy has prepared its people for more changes to come in business, property estate and facilities services, as Jane Fenwick discovers

FROM NEXT YEAR MASS MIGRATION WILL BEGIN ON BT’s new 21st century network – 21CD for short. By the end of the decade it will be more than half way through the changeover to the new global IP infrastructure that carries voice, data and Internet services on a single network.

Currently, there are several networks that offer specific services, but soon the BT network will be simpler to manage and deliver more choice, control and accessibility for its customers. The 21CN will allow BT to deliver all is existing services and more with fewer boxes and even fewer buildings as it moves to a multi-band service management model where the service diagnostic changes can be made in real-time. Once the massive engineering exercise for 21CN is complete, BT engineers will execute service changes through software from a central service desk rather than physically changing lines in the street or exchange.

This 21st century technological change is as important to BT as the change from Strowger automated exchanges to digital exchanges was in the 20th century. Strowger technology necessitated exchanges sited every nine miles. Moving to digital technology, BT completely reviewed its office and other space needs and removed some 4 million sq ft of property from its portfolio.

BT’s business is already being transformed. Its traditional dial-up activities are in decline, while its ‘New Wave’ businesses are showing 35 per cent growth. The New Wave includes its ICT business with customers such as Barclays, NHS, NATO and Thales in the UK and overseas; Broadband connection –nearly 4,000 exchanges are now Broadband enabled; and Mobility businesses. BTs business changes are already impacting on property needs and how it supports its people at work.

Over the last 20 years, BT has pioneered flexible working. It began in the 1990’s with Workstyle, a strategy for flexible working that enabled it to rationalise its estate to meet its business needs. It establishing hub buildings to decentralise its office population in central London to key sites around the M25 – Watford, Stockley Park, Brentwood and Sevenoaks, and outside the south east to centres such as Edinburgh and Birmingham. The introduction of flexible working enabled these hubs to serve far more people than the buildings’ resident populations. Hotelling, touchdown, mobile and home working were all part of the mix of ideas that BT staff pioneered and adopted, and subsequently showcased to their customers.

Workstyle was followed by the Options 2000 strategy that heralded a move away from the idea that BT staff could only work flexibly within specially designated ‘workstyle’ buildings. Options 2000 introduced and supported the idea that flexibility could be wherever BT people work but it particularly opened the possibility for those who wanted to be based at home. Sandra King, BT’s Agile Working Manager, is a typical convert. As a home based worker she has access to a web based support structure that covers not only procurement and delivery of a range of furniture to fit individual home circumstances, but also safety risk assessments and IT support, through to BT writing to insurance and mortgage companies to explain their employee’s use of his or her home as a place of work.

BT has now moved to the next stage of its development of flexible working. Called Agile working, it is adding more ‘shades’ to this range of workstyles. As King explained: “I am home based at my home in Leeds, but I am working in the London HQ today. I can work out of this building just as if my office was based here. There is a flexi desk area for working and wireless LAN throughout the building so connectivity is not a problem. The ‘product wrap’ developed by BT enables an ‘agile’ worker that works from home to have a support network around the country. Several BT locations have desk spaces that can be used just for the day and some have a concierge to help you with your printing or other needs while in the building. Meeting rooms can be forward booked on line. Agile working is not about allowing people to work from home and then abandoning them.”

The success of BT pioneering flexible working is undeniable. Of its 65,000 office based people, 11,000 are registered as home-based, and 40,000 are laptop users and capable of working across the BT estate as well as at home. Even its 30,000 engineering force is completely mobile using laptops and with an ‘office’ in the van. As Pedder explained, “The engineering workforce is taking a different route to flexibility and a different product set has been developed. We are currently looking for quality meeting space for engineering teams around the country where they can meet, have connectivity for their laptops and have plenty of space to park their vans.”

What Pedder and King call the ‘product wrap around’ provided by BT’s property services is changing dramatically and this is a challenge for its support services provider. Its facilities management supplier is Monteray, a JV between Carillion, Haden Building Management and Reliance Integrated Services. Now in its fourth year, the contract has just been extended by a further three years.

As Pedder explained, “With Agile working, our employees are equipped with the equipment to work. It is no longer about delivering services to the same person at the same location. We are moving from the concept of a ‘fixed’ location. It is a challenge for our FM service contractors who now also have to move their thinking away from delivering services to the customer at a specific building. As we are evolving, we have to take our supply chain with us.”

The BT HQ in London in the shadow of St Paul’s is typically suited to the new Agile style of working. It has 1,200 workstations, but 2,500 people visit the building daily and some 31,000 BT employees are registered to just walk in and work there. Clearly not the same people are working in the building each day, and neither are they located at the same workstations every day. It is a very busy building with high occupancy levels of workplaces and heavy pressure on the booking of meeting rooms.

Pedder sees this change of workstyle presenting a real challenge for FM providers. Outsourcing facilities management to Monteray in 2001 enabled BT to drive consistency across its estate’s eight regions and three partners. This meant that any BT client can expect the same service in Bristol as in London and the output specifications are set and monitored centrally.

“Now FM has to be agile too,” he commented. “It has to follow the activity levels of the business. With a normal static workforce, emptying the wastepaper bins once a day would be enough, but now when several people may use a workstation or workspace every day, they have to monitor the activity levels and develop the service level to suit it.”

Changes to service levels may be at very short notice, and new areas of activity may be created anywhere. In particular, local telephone exchanges that once might have only had an occasional visit from an engineer now have flexible working areas to provide workplaces for BT staff. However, these may not need the same level of service as high volume flexible areas at BT HQ, for example. Bins may only be emptied and the floor swept once a day, or even once a week where occupancy is low.

Pedder continued: “We have had to develop an interface with the occupants and the FM supplier. This involves forgetting the contract terms – now it’s about the contractor learning how to maintain the buildings to the right spec at the right times. This is a significant change from understanding that BT and Monteray have a contract for management of specific amounts of space, but rather for supporting the activity within it. “

He explained that the new extended contract with Monteray recognises that BT’s activities may move and change, and to meet this both parties will come to an agreement on how to set service levels at each location. Communicating these service levels to the users of the workspace is a key to managing expectations of the BT workforce. In the new Agile world of BT, the FM suppliers have to communicate to the user the level of support to expect at that location, and equally the users have to realise that variable levels of support across the estate is a cost effective approach to Agile working. For example, some locations with well used meeting rooms may now have a ‘concierge’ allocated to ensure that furniture and technology are ready for use as required, while in less used locations, this level of service will not be provided.

The growth of BT’s ICT business means that not only is it insourcing the customer’s business but also sections of its staff and property, or BT people are working within client space. This will ensure that the BT estate is unlikely to be static for long. Business changes have once again put BT’s property strategy in the front line.

BT flexible working has achieved
● 20 per cent less absenteeism than the national average
● home based workers are 7 per cent ‘happier’ than site based workers
● The equivalent of 1,800 years of commuting saved in 12 months
● Homeworkers save £9.6m in travel costs
● Cost of supporting an office based worker, £18,000 in London and less than £3,000 at home.
● 98 per cent of women return to BT after maternity leave saving £5m in recruitment and induction costs
● BT call centre operators working from home handle 20 per cent more calls

Print this page | E-mail this page