Thoughts from Workplace Futures

Arriving at a conference by cable car does lend a certain sophistication to the event. But the success of yesterday’s Workplace Futures conference was less about touristy gimmicks and far more about the superb content, the excellent quality of the speakers, and some great debate with fellow attendees.

The Crystal, Siemens’s Docklands building dedicated to improving knowledge of urban sustainability, was a bold choice for a venue. But it paid off.  I can’t have been the only one to groan when I realised that the Victoria Docks location meant a choice between the DLR or cable car. But by IMG_1693choosing the the centre of London’s new Green Enterprise District as a location for a facilities management conference, the organisers of Workplace Futures were making a statement.

The Crystal is one of the world’s greenest buildings with exemplary LEED and Breeam accreditation. Designed as an electric building, the Crystal generates energy from solar and ground source heat pumps, incorporates rainwater harvesting, and an innovative building management system automates and manages energy, building operations and infrastructure for greater efficiency. It was a very proud facilities manager who stood up in front of an audience of peers, in the session just before lunch, and explained that the design of the building, including its glass opacity, provides insulation and takes energy efficiency to a new level. There’s even a charging station for electric cars – though sadly it didn’t seem to work for laptops. I wasn’t the only delegate huddled around one of the few electric points in the auditorium. Perhaps more buildings of the future should have plug sockets in every chair, one Tweeter suggested.

As a comms professional, it was heartening to hear public relations and communications discussed so warmly at a facilities management conference. It’s often something that gets badly ignored in a facilities manager’s daily life. Building on the success of last year’s presentations from social media expert Katie King and FM comms supremo Mitie’s John Telling, this year Mitie’s Ruby McGregor-Smith exhorted the importance of PR.

“We didn’t used to do PR as a sector. We need to be known as an industry that not just cut jobs but creates jobs. At the London 2012 Games, 99 per cent of contracts went well, but people only talk about the 1 per cent. We need to be on the front foot of PR in FM. The press only concentrate on the negatives,” she told the several hundred-strong group of delegates. “It’s time for our industry to embrace good publicity as other industries have done. “

Some excellent presentations throughout the day created strong Twitter debate at #wf13. Highlights were Tim Oldman talking about the Leesman Index and revealing priceless stats (People with a non-allocated desk work more productively than those with fixed desks); and David Sharp and Bev Burgess bringing to life output-based contracts (helping to put a man on the moon is a great example of an output-based contract).

Inevitably, though, there was the occasional less-than-inspiring presentation which had Nigel Oseland tweeting “I need more enthusiasm from this speaker and coffee!”

Event chairman and FM guru Martin Pickard, recovering quickly after being disparaged for calling McGregor Smith a pin-up, kept plenty of real-world debate flowing – as well as keeping delegates in check with a dog-training whistle. Sodexo was on something of a hiding for nothing catering for such as sophisticated audience throughout the day.  But despite an early hiccup on bringing out the lunch, the quality was superb and added to an inspiring day.

Cathy Hayward