Going places: Charlie Bunn does a week’s work experience at Magenta

Go on, give us a smile, Charlie

Charlie Bunn joined the Magenta team for a week’s work experience. Here he writes about his adventures.

It may be of those semi-mythic activities which generally only happen in sit-coms, but this week I rode the tube from one end to the other. Well, from one end of the Metropolitan line to the other. Accompanying Cathy on a couple of client meetings in London, I found myself riding from Uxbridge to Aldgate and thinking how bizarre this whole travelling lark is. Seasoned pro that she is Cathy somehow contrives to make every second of the journey productive. At the first hint of time spent away from the office out comes the laptop or the iPhone, often simultaneously, accompanied by a notepad and her work commences. There are no wasted seconds, the last minute scramble to find tube tickets aside, and I admit that such incredible use of time is a skill I am far from mastering. My attempt at tube-board laptop use resulted in a very jittery few seconds of trying to maintain my precarious hold over my PC so that it didn’t simply crash to the floor. It was perhaps three minutes before I admitted defeat and passed my time reading the tube map time and time again.

Now in a week with Magenta I have undoubtedly learnt much and certainly been productive but I have also spent a lot of time on trains. A lot of time. Even Cathy is occasionally stumped when she enters an area without Wi-Fi. Me, while commuting I’ve finished the book I was reading, worn down my I-pod battery twice and developed fairly constant back ache but nothing which could be described as particularly constructive. And that’s the other thing, even though I’m 19 and on work experience I’m not completely unfamiliar with working all day, but I’ve not been confined to the same chair for so long before and my body’s rebelling. My back hurts, my neck hurts and now when I stand up my legs are not so much instruments of stability and propulsion as collapsible jelly sticks. Strangely I’m more tired from this than I have been from weeks of physical labour which I’ve previously endured.

Incidentally a Magenta client told me that an office-based worker will put on an average of 2kg a year in weight more than an ‘active’ worker, a depressing statistic which means that my mere presence is causing me to gain weight I can ill afford. This slide hasn’t been helped by the mountains of food I’ve made my way through, I’ve been treated to lunches and snacks and I find that my journey home passes in a satisfied haze if I have one of the delicious bagels from a shop I’ve found waiting in my pocket. At least if I’m lucky enough to find space to eat it. And this search for the empty seat, preferably two side by side has become my personal Everest. This week I’ve been squashed against the window by a caricature of every conceivable stereotype, the fat man with the greasy tie armed with a donut, a teenage Gangsta with gigantic headphones and baggy jeans, and an old lady who spent at least 20 minutes mindlessly bellowing ‘hello?’ into a phone that I’m 90 per cent sure was switched off. Initially it’s all quite amusing. Initially.

I’m worried now that I’ve made my time here sound exceedingly miserable which is far from the case. All the people I’ve met have been kind and helpful, I’ve learnt a lot of things and I’ve been enjoying myself, certainly it has been a worthwhile experience, even if every time I’ve told someone I’m doing work experience they’ve automatically assumed I’m 16 or 17 and killing time during half term. I might have to take up drinking on street corners just so everyone knows I’ve left school. Seriously though I’ve had good fun and even though I got home too late for the Arsenal match one night I’ve had my first Wagamama’s and I liked it, so that’s okay.

So it just goes to show that if you do a week’s work experience at Magenta, you’ll really go places … literally. And of course in the future. All the best, Charlie – from Cathy and Marianne

A sad farewell to Phoenix

World Workplace is over for another year, and I’m leaving Phoenix exhausted (existing in two timezones is grueling, but the ‘networking’ is quite tough too) but inspired. I have managed to tear myself away from the networking to attend several of the more than 70 sessions on offer (some of which start at 8am) and the content and range was excellent. From sustainability and benchmarking to communications, finance and leadership and on to business continuity and FM strategy, there was almost too much on offer. The organisers should consider filming some of the more popular sessions for people who had a clash or didn’t make the conference at all.

One UK delegate complained that the advanced session she attended on benchmarking was more of a basic level, but that’s occasionally going to happen when different countries are at different stages of a journey. My only complaint is that the sessions, at one hour, are too long – it takes a top-notch presenter to keep the audience’s attention for that length of time. But having been involved with the application process this year – helping IKEA’s Helena Ohlsson with her presentation about IKEA’s journey creating an FM strategy across 28 countries – I can appreciate the effort that goes into the process. If you’re going to fly 5,000 miles around the globe, you want to speak for more than 30 minutes.

What was interesting this year was the range of sessions focusing on FM outside of the US. For all of the I in the International Facility Management Association, Ifma’s annual conference has tended in the past to be very US focused. Apart from the IKEA session, there was a fascinating talk from Timon Smith at FacilityOne and Ying Hua from the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University about the development of FM in China. A fairly immature market which focuses on property management, rather than pure FM, has seen two major firsts this year – the first FM book written in Mandarin has been published and the first FM research centre opened. Another session looked at managing FM across borders and that, together with the presence of many Europeans, a large delegation from the Middle East together with a smattering of Australians and other nationalities, gave the conference a truly international flavour (although the conference food remained resolutely North American. But who dislikes bacon, eggs and grits every morning and hotdogs and burgers most evenings? You can eat fruit once you get home).

What’s also impressive is the focus on softer skills such as communication, management, finance, HR, project management and technology in addition to the ‘core FM’ skills around operations and maintenance, sustainability and real estate. World Workplace sets out to create well-rounded FMs.

The razzmatazz of the opening keynote speaker never really dies down at World Workplace – and never more so than in the exhibition hall. I’m no fan of industry exhibitions and suffer them a few times a year in the UK, but at World Workplace, the exhibition is the focus of the event and not just because it’s where lunch is held. Exhibitors put a great deal of effort into their stands (full-size racing cars, Winnebagos and free popcorn (thanks Emcor) were just some of the highlights) but everyone there had really thought about how to attract visitors to their stand and not just through some nicely written and designed marketing literature. Walking around the exhibition, you do get a sense of what’s new in FM: energy efficiency, automation, asset management, sustainability and a range of products which promise to increase employees’ productivity. Having witnessed the decline of exhibitions in the UK, it’s hugely refreshing to see. What’s even more encouraging is that some of the biggest FM names are there: Amec, Aramark, Compass, Diversey, Emcor, Eurest, ISS, Johnson Controls plus all the furniture companies and CAFM providers.

Others chose to capitalise on the networking opportunities. Corts and ISS held big parties on the Thursday night (while also competing with the chairman’s reception) while there were two awards events on the Friday: the awards lunch for chapter and council awards and the awards of excellence banquet in the evening. But the networking highlight for me was the welcome reception held in Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. From a facilities perspective it was interesting to see the retractable roof in action which means that the baseball fans don’t have to worry about Phoenix’s summer heat or monsoon storms and the IFMA fireworks get a good backdrop. But it was also fun to play at pitching (and see some of the BIFM’s finest in action!). It was also a great conversation piece which meant that even us reticent Brits mixed and made new friends and contacts.

Many of the American FMs I met had been to World Workplace for the last 5, 10, 15 and even 20 plus years (and had the famous World Workplace pins to prove it). After my experience in Phoenix this year, I will certainly be back for more.

Carnival time at World Workplace

So the World Workplace carnival is officially underway. IFMA president Kathy Roper this morning opened the gathering of what she described as “alpha facility managers” for their week of “being facility nerds.” Emphasising the conference’s sustainability credentials (a far cry from previous years) Roper announced that host city Phoenix is the first US city to be on track to be a carbon neutral city with its 17-point Green Plan. She went on to introduce the city’s mayor Phil Gordon to welcome the thousands of delegates to his city.

Gordon went further, proudly announcing that although Phoenix had 5,000 new residents every month and created 45,000 jobs every year, sustainability had been its guiding force for decades. Mayor since 2004, Gordon boasted that the city uses less water now per capita than it had two decades ago. The Phoenix Convention Center is a green building, he said.

Warming to the sustainability theme was Bjorn Lomborg, author of Cool It: the skeptical environmentalist’s guide to global warming, who gave the opening address. He argued that there was a lot of fluff about global warming and facility managers needed to take rational not fashionable decisions. In an hour-long speech (a tad too long for my limited concentration and the audience became restless in places) Lomborg outlined four key points. Firstly that global warming is real and man-made and that its total cost (presumably in cleaning up after floods and hurricanes) is $15trillion. Secondly he argued that the consequences of global warming is vastly exaggerated and one sided which can lead to bad judgements. He cited the valid example of statistics which are used be the global warming lobby to argue for change: in the UK 2,000 people will die every year by 2050 because of increased heat. “They fail to say that the statistics show that 20,000 fewer people will die because of cold.” Generally more people in the world, apart from sub-Saharan Africa, die from cold than heat. Global warming will result in 400,000more heat deaths but 1.8m fewer cold deaths worldwide, he said.

Lomborg’s last key points were that governments needed to find a smarter way to tackle climate change and that more R&D was required; and that there were many other problems beside global warming where governments could do good work. “This is not the biggest problem on the planet,” he said arguing that for $75billion a year the UN could solve basic global problems such as lack of clean drinking water, sanitation, basic healthcare and education. “When kids in the third world are going to bed hungry, their parents aren’t worried about climate change, they want food and clean water.”

Lomborg’s talk provoked considerable debate, especially among American FMs where sustainability is a newer concept. Worryingly several took away the message that there was little point making the small changes as it would make little or no difference to the bigger picture. Lomborg was also rather black and white ­ – the UN is already helping to tackle some of the basic problems Lomborg outlined while also challenging global warming. It’s not an either or argument.

But this is World Workplace and Lomborg was quickly forgotten as a local band marched delegates from ballroom to exhibition room where several hundred stands offered everything from free popcorn (Emcor) to jellybeans as well as the latest FM innovations and developments. On the Planon stand, the IFMA Foundation launched its latest book Work on the Move – Driving Strategy and Change in Workspaces which brings together global workplace experts (including the UK’s Alexei Marmot and case studies from the Home Office and RBS from Advanced Workplace Associates) to discuss how work is changing, the impact it’s having on the workplace and how facility professionals can respond.

What sets World Workplace apart from the UK FM conferences is certainly the sheer size – thousands of delegates and more than 250 exhibitors make it the event to be, and be seen. It also means more revenue for some of the glitzier parts of a conference – the keynote speakers, the marching bands, the receptions are all occasions to remember.

But what makes it so different from the UK is its make-up.  World Workplace is all about networking. Once the opening address was over at 11.30 this morning, there was nothing but networking and visiting the exhibition for the rest of the day – until the evening Welcome Reception at Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team for more networking. Americans (and despite the International I in IFMA, the audience is largely American) are not afraid to sell or be sold to, which makes for a buzzing exhibition where people genuinely interact with the organisations there (if only sometimes to get the extravagant freebies). Even some British delegates admit that they can come to World Workplace and not go to one educational session – it’s all about who you meet in-between that makes the difference.


Phoenix welcomes World Workplace

I haven’t been to World Workplace, the mass gathering of American facilities (sorry facility) managers for a few years and I’d forgotten the sheer scale of the affair. Shops and restaurants in the host city Phoenix, Arizona have “Phoenix welcomes World Workplace” posters and the hotels and coffee shops must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of  several thousand visitors from out of state and around the world  descending on their city for a few days.

The opening ceremony is still an hour or so away, and I trust it will be as glitzy with as much razzmatazz as in previous years, but in true IFMA style the conference has really been going all week. Yesterday there were site visits to the Arizona Science Centre, the US Airways Center and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and on Monday Global FM held a day’s meeting. Many of the British contingent have been here since Sunday night.

One lesson has definitely been learned from previous years. When I last reported from World Workplace, in Dallas in 2008, I was very critical of the location of the convention centre miles from the conference hotels. This resulted in huge, yet mainly empty coaches, ferrying delegates to and fro all day (and sitting with engines idling when they weren’t). The 2008 conference  focused on sustainability. This year, the main hotels and convention centre are all within comfortable walking distance, although the BIFM’s Richard Byatt told me that delegates were warned on the site visits that there may be stairs to climb.

After today’s breakfast of bacon, eggs and grits, I’m hoping there will be.

Social media viruses in the workplace are on the increase

Coughs and sniffles are commonplace at this time of the year as our bodies adjust to the cold and wet autumnal weather. But recently I fell victim to a more modern virus.

A few days ago, a friend of a friend tweeted to say he’d heard something funny about me. What could it be? That I’d been walking around all day with loo roll on my shoe? Intrigued, I clicked on the link at the bottom of his tweet. And just like that, less the ACHOO!, the virus spread to all my followers.

A few hours later Cathy, out of the office visiting a client, sent me a direct message saying that my Twitter account had been hacked. “It just sent me random msg to log onto a fake Twitter site,” she wrote. Great, I thought. She had obviously opened the link, and the virus would soon be winging its way to all of Magenta’s followers. Infecting my boss; a great start to my third week on the job.

But it would seem that I’m not alone in bringing social media viruses into the workplace, according to new research. A Ponemon Institute survey of 4,640 global organisations found that virus and malware attacks against them have increased because of employees using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media in the workplace. More than half of these organisations said these computer attacks grew as a result of workers using social networks. About a quarter of those respondents said the attacks rose by more than 50 per cent. Many organisations also feel they are ill equipped to handle the security risks of social media. Of those surveyed, only 35 per cent had a policy on using social media at work. Of those, just 35 per cent enforce it. Also intriguing is the study’s finding that in the US workers spend an average of 62 minutes each day using social media for personal reasons, compared with 37 minutes for business purposes. Not unrelated, 60 per cent of the organisations surveyed have increased their Internet bandwidth in the past 12 months to accommodate employees’ use of social media.

Social media is essential to business

But for all the risks and work hours wasted, social media has undoubtedly changed our lives and the business landscape. Not only has it changed the way we chat with friends and family and the way we consume information, it has also changed how companies sell, how they serve their customers and how they communicate with everyone. Some 67 per cent of respondents of the Ponemon Institute survey said that social media is essential or very important to meeting business objectives.

This is why at Magenta Associates we use social media every day. Cathy uses Twitter to tweet trends, statistics, facts, figures and stories in the press, and has conversations with clients, users and friends in the industry. We update our Facebook page regularly, and we keep a watchful eye on LinkedIn for networking opportunities. Elsewhere in the FM community, the uptake of social media has been somewhat slow and even reluctant. The FM trade press have Twitter accounts as do a smallish number of FM businesses. But the marketplace is still young, and FM businesses that establish a strong social media presence now will really gain an advantage over their competitors.

Back at Magenta, fortunately Cathy took the news that I had infected her Twitter account in her usual good-natured way, and she immediately sent out a tweet to stop anyone opening the link. A few days later, another friend tweeted saying that she had come across a really interesting blog about me. No doubt it would have been very interesting indeed, but I never found out. Like in the real world where you can’t catch the same virus twice, in the social media stratosphere you open a dodgy tweet once – and you (hopefully) never do it again.

Here are Magenta’s top common sense tips on how to avoid being infected by social media viruses:

  1. Use caution when clicking on links from people you don’t know well and even from friends. Does the language used sound professional or like that of your contact?
  2. If in doubt, email or DM your contact to check that the link is safe to open.
  3. If you click on a suspect link, immediately notify your followers by DM or email not to open the link. Reset your password. But be sure to do so via the social media site directly rather than clicking on a link in an email, which could take you to a page that looks like the Twitter or Facebook reset password page. Once you’ve entered your password on the fake site you’ve just given the thief access to your account.
  4. For the same reason, type the address of your social networking site directly into your browser or use bookmarks.
  5. Be selective about your friends on your social networks. Identity thieves are known to create fake profiles in order to get information from you. Also be careful what you post about yourself. Hackers can break into financial and other accounts by clicking the “Forgot your password?” link, especially if they’ve found online the answers to common security questions, such as your birthday or mother’s middle name.

How do you use social media, and have you fallen victim to any social media viruses recently? We would love to hear from you.

Why not connect with Magenta Associates on social media:

Connect through LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/cathyhayward
Follow us on Twitter: @cathy_magenta
Follow us on Facebook: Magenta Associates

office workers

The office of small things

Our productivity at work is ruined by small things – the light which is just a little too bright, or dim; the office being too hot or cold; the noisy colleague the other side of the floor; or the printer not being filled up with paper (and no paper being in sight). Yes, there are bigger things too. Organisations failing to provide the right type of workspace, for example not enough quiet rooms to do some one-to-one or reflective work or not enough space to collaborate with colleagues we might see only occasionally.

These are what Tim Oldman, founder of Leesman, the opensource index which measures the performance and effectiveness of office environments, describes as “productivity toxins”. Oldman was speaking at the Federation of Corporate Real Estate’s autumn seminar looking at some of the key issues involved in creating an efficient workplace.

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics. Meirion Anderson, MD of workplace project and change management specialists Aberley argued that “At its most basic, a workplace is there to protect us from the elements”. And another great one-liner: “A desk is just there to stop your laptop falling on the floor.”

New ways of working is now so established that at the seminar it was given its very own acronym (NWOW) – sounds very Now. But despite this, people are still getting it badly wrong. The 100 or so delegates heard about offices being turned into ghost towns by flexible working taking off. Businesses which had no culture because everyone was dispersed or NWOW being DONE too, and organisation rather than being drawn out of the business. And while the key driver of introducing flexible working is saving on real estate costs, there is also much additional value creation that comes with it (increased productivity and staff wellbeing for example).

Perhaps the most interesting session was the break out debate on NWOW where a group of subject enthusiasts were given the task of seeing which aspects of the workplace prevented NWOW. Naturally when a group is set free from the constrains of a formal seminar, the first thing to do is break the rules. After much debate, it was agreed we couldn’t answer the question. New ways of working and productivity at work, while it might be hampered by a lack of WiFi or quiet rooms, it will fall at the first hurdle if management trust is not intrinsic to the process (it’s all about Marx and infrastructures and superstructures – read more at Neil Usher’s fabulous blog)

Read tweets from the event.

Read our blog about changes in the workplace. 

More about the Federation of Corporate Real Estate

Citizens Advice sets trend for multi-use buildings

The news that the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is set to use churches, and other places of worship, to provide face-to-face advice in the local community, after cuts in their funding meant their own property portfolio has been rationalised, got me thinking what other buildings could become multi-use.

People already use coffee shops, parks, museums and galleries to perch with their laptops and catch up on emails. Meanwhile many home-based knowledge workers, disillusioned with (or lacking the discipline to) work from home pop to libraries or use their local serviced office (which are springing up all over the place and not just from the likes of Regus and MWB) occasionally.

How about schools outside of term times? Colleges and universities hire out their facilities to organisations for conferences, is there a role for schools to become mini drop-in centres for advice, get-togethers or even a local hub for workers (although the chairs can be on the small side sometimes…).

The gym is a perfect place for a bit of post-workout working – a decent café with healthy juices and WiFi would attract a professional clientele.

Churches hosting non-religious community groups is nothing new. Previous guidelines have encouraged churches to host post offices and community shops and many have already started accommodating the Citizens Advice Bureaux. Spilsby Methodist Church in Lincolnshire, for example, secured funding to develop part of the church as a community centre with interview rooms, a community area, kitchen area, toilets, and is now being used by the East Lindsey CAB. The upstairs of the church was also converted into a “Bunk Barn” offering basic accommodation to tourists as part of the project, which also involved partnering with the Church of England and Age UK.

Citizens Advice are well versed in providing their services in different facilities – they currently operate from more than 3,500 locations including high streets, community centres, doctors’ surgeries, courts and prisons.

But there are downsides – my local parish priest went apoplectic when he discovered that what he thought was an exercise class in the parish hall turned out to be yoga which he felt went against Catholic teaching. Following on from the local youth group holding a halowe’en party in the facility, he was feeling a little sensitive about his parishioners’ more subversive activities. Perhaps anticipating these concerns, Citizens Advice has produced Faithful Advice, a guide for places of worships in setting up advice sessions in their buildings.

The lesson for facilities managers in these cash-strapped times, must surely be to look at how to get the best out of your facility – what other groups might be keen to use your building or its grounds at little or no cost to you (or even provide an income?)? And if you work in the charity sector, what local businesses might be happy for you to piggyback off their built environment?

Construction and facilities professionals talk a great deal about building new ‘flexible’ buildings which are future proofed for a variety of needs, but it’s important to remember that there are thousands of buildings already out there which could easily be used for different purposes. It’s just a question of opening our eyes to the possibilities.

Do you know of other good examples of multi-use buildings? We’d love to hear from you.

Wild and wacky workplaces are in vogue

By Marianne Halavage, the newest member of the Magenta Associate’s team

The trend seems to be for workplaces, creative and otherwise, to look increasingly wild and wacky.

For Magenta’s new offices in Brighton we’ve rejected outright wild and wacky and instead opted for flashes of colour to liven the place up. Courtesy of IKEA we’ve added a lovely bold picture of a magenta-coloured flower to the white walls and there’s a vase of pink and white flowers standing in the corner (we prefer to say they’ll live forever than call them fake).

But like many smaller workplaces, we’re constrained by the will of our landlord who, possibly understandably, won’t let us paint our white walls, even the tiny ones beside the fireplace, magenta.

Many bigger companies, on the other hand, have greater reign to create their own wild and wacky universes – and are increasingly doing so.

Take for example the Googleplex, the global headquarters of technology giant Google in Mountain View California, where there are slides, firemen poles, beanbags, replicas of SpaceShipOne and a dinosaur skeleton, not to mention 18 restaurants, a gym, free laundry rooms, two swimming pools and sand volleyball courts.

Then there’s the new Red Bull office in South London, which has a slide between three floors, ping pong table meeting rooms, a modern bar and cafe, and a comfy lounge area, and even a terrace which converts into a bungee jump bridge.

And over in West London, smoothie maker Innocent has a pillar red telephone box, table football, picnic benches and astro turf grass for each floor.

The FM community’s perspective

But despite the trend, the jury in the FM community is still out on whether having these wild and wacky playthings truly add value to the employee and to the business. Or are they just a bad case of keeping up with the creative Joneses?

BIFM chairman Ian Broadbent thinks they add some value: “Gimmicks can help but true creativity has to come from the minds of the leaders of an organisation. Slides and meeting beds would just be an enabler – a creative culture needs to exist in the minds.”

A premises and facilities director at a leading law firm agrees. “I think these wacky ideas can encourage creative thinking but they need to be suitable for the type of business. For example slides may suit media and technology firms with dress down codes but wouldn’t be appropriate in a business suit environment.” Cost is also an issue he points out – what might work in California where there is more space, may not be so cost-effective in central London (or, presumably, Brighton).

Craig Knight, head of the Prism team at the University of Exeter which explores the psychology of working and living space, is all for a bit of wackiness in offices. He argues that thanks to Taylorist principles of consistency, standardisation, and efficiency, offices are increasingly becoming lean with little personalisation or decoration. “A happy rat sits in a luxurious cage, a sad rat in a lean cage, so why do we create lean offices?

But others are more sceptical. A facilities manager at a search engine company says that thinking beds and slides is “just a designer taking the idea to its limit.”

And Principal Consultant at Agents4FM, Lionel Prodgers, says that the wacky examples of slides and bean bags are mostly gimmicks, for PR and to attract staff rather than stimulating creative thinking. “If you go behind the facade of a ‘wacky’ showroom type office environment you will find rows of conventional flat top bench/desk space.”

But one FM in the media sector says that slides add to the ambience – even if no-one uses them, “You are setting your stall out as a creative organisation. People can be proud to work for an organisation which has a slide, even if they don’t use it. It is a physical manifestation of that organisation’s culture and beliefs, a bit like the expensive furniture.

Back in Brighton, I wonder what our landlord will say to our proposition to extend a slide from the window into the garden two floors below and to add a fireman’s pole from our office straight into the kitchen which will, naturally, be stocked with free champagne and cupcakes …

So what do you think about the trend for creative workplaces to look increasingly wild and wacky? Would you like to work in somewhere like the Googleplex? Or would you be too distracted to get on with your work? We’d love to hear from you.