The Monthly blog from Martyn Freeman, Mitie’s Facilities Management MD
Less than a week after the EU referendum, I had the pleasure of welcoming a group of clients to a strategic workshop, in which we were looking at the likely changes in the workplace and how these are going to affect the way that we evolve and deliver services.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we made a last minute change to the agenda and added the impact of Brexit to the list of factors that could affect the work environment. I was very interested to hear their thoughts, particularly in light of the predictions that had been made prior to the referendum itself, and indeed the immediate reaction of both equities and currency markets. Perhaps the most striking thing about their responses was the suggestion that they don’t actually believe the outcome of the vote is going to create radical changes in their property strategies. What they did all point out is that there are many other factors in the workplace driving momentous change. These include the increasing role of automation and digital engagement, agile working, collaboration, and the global shift from people being tasked with repetitive processing to producing more creative and value added work.
As many of them pointed out, there are already significant pressures facing some of these businesses that have already re-shaped the way they look at workplaces. One is the continuing need to be more efficient and reduce costs, another is a massive shortage of suitably qualified STEM graduates, which affects almost all the EU economies, and is leading to a huge expansion in companies off-shoring major R&D projects to India.
One international bank’s property director commented that they were already looking at a significant rationalisation of their workflow. The plans for this include both a reduction in the number of large office footprints in major financial centres, and the off-shoring of lower value work to lower cost economies. As he pointed out, “when someone asks why you need to have multiple high cost high profile locations in every continent, when 99 per cent of the information the organisation uses is in The Cloud, it is hard to find a plausible answer.”
Around half our guests came from organisations trading internationally. Their companies’ general consensus seems to be that ultimately there will be a resolution of the trading relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe, and that once this has been sorted out, life will continue with many businesses’ day-to -day operations carrying on much as before. A number of our guests mentioned that they had been pleased to see the stock market stabilise fairly rapidly after the initial shock. Although they all agreed that some investment decisions have been put on hold pending the outcome of the referendum, they also pointed out that the UK economy has a very good history of coming back from recessionary pressure, and we are positioned extremely well compared to many other countries.
As a service provider with a very large workforce the availability of good people affects us just as much as it does a high-tech, or financial services business. Like many industries, we have partly addressed this challenge through hiring people from other countries. And we will still need to attract new talent as the business develops.
We need to focus on business as usual, which means continuing to help our clients implement their evolving strategies. Above all we need to look after our people and ensure they are supported and able to continue delivering the services our clients need. After all, without these people, none of us in this industry would have a business.
“Keep calm and carry on” may seem quite a clichéd phrase but I do think that it is the best approach right now.