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ThinkFM 2016: crashing leads to collaboration


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09 June 2016 | FM World Team

Simon Carter, head of corporate property, National Grid

How the National Grid boosted performance through smart workspace


The National Grid has a £100 million UK estate of about 1,000 locations served by a supply chain of 1,100 people.

To get maximum productivity from the staff and estate, the firm carried out a radical redesign of its HQ, the 280,00 square feet National Grid House in Warwick. Carter and his team then employed a university to objectively determine whether this smart workplace had had an impact on performance – and found that productivity had been boosted by 8 per cent.

National Grid runs the UK high-pressure gas network and its high-voltage electricity network. So when the process started out about five years ago, three aspects were uppermost in Carter’s mind: money, energy-saving and people.

In terms of money, he found it could improve costs per person dramatically. According to the utilities sector of the MSCI database [real estate index] the National Grid had been “quite a long way behind the mark,” he said. “Today we are ahead of it.”

Ten years ago the business had classic workplaces where typically four out of 10 workstations were empty. “One of our buildings in Warwick costs £13 million to run a year; imagine 40 per cent of that was sitting there doing nothing. That’s millions of pounds you are wasting – but you can change it.”

Design was vital. “If you want to change people you need to engage with them, so the change management aspect of it means bringing the two things together and focusing on the individual to make lasting changes.”

The fit-out of each space took about eight weeks, and a vital part of this was listening to staff. The process, he admits, was one of trial and error. “We put 242 people on a 14,000 square-feet floorplate; that was tight…We pushed that to 278 and it didn’t work – you came in and you couldn’t find anywhere to sit.”

Staff had shared space at “about 70 or 80 per cent”. “Sharing at that ratio is a good improvement in terms of efficiency. Our footprint, from about 11 to 12 sq.m. per person, is now 7-8 sq.m. across our top 20 buildings, so we’ve increased our capacity dramatically.” 

This, he said, had the effect of “really improving the efficiency and the buzz that’s in a building, the collaboration and the accidental crashing into people – all of those things do improve speed of decision-making”.

Real estate was slimmed down by about 250,000 sq ft and the changes, including installing LED lighting, had brought about a 16 per cent reduction in energy use. Workplace use is up 15 per cent and productivity, with people being more mobile, has increased by about 5 per cent.

The smart workspace approach had increased capacity and the results were measured in a performance survey taken by a cohort of 500 people. These revealed that staff were far happier with the new workspace than the old. Learning points arising from this feedback were:

Rethinking the property team structure;

Adapting the FM model;

Ongoing engagement;

Continuous measuring; and

Connecting with HR in an authentic way.

At Warwick an auditorium was installed, along with other “special spaces” as well as a variety of normal work areas.People’s satisfaction with their workspaces had resulted in an 8 per cent rise in performance. 

What mattered most – money, energy or the people? All of them, he said. “Saving energy is a no-brainer. And people are the engine of any business; why would you want to disable them? For every pound you have taken today they’ll deliver £2 tomorrow.”

The key lesson learned? “Test everything to destruction – don’t just pay lip service to change management.”


Make the most of the floorspace available without crowding staff.

Special areas can facilitate inventive collaboration.

Smart workspace can objectively improve productivity