When Morrison Utility Services took over smart metering operations for Thames Water, one of the team’s first moves was to create a workspace that supported its open, collaborative, customer-focused ethos
Some of the most important organisations in the UK are among its least visible. This includes those companies who provide us with the very stuff of life. One of these is Thames Water.
With a customer base mainly located in Greater London, Luton, the Thames Valley, Surrey, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Kent, Thames Water is the UK’s largest provider of fresh water and water treatment services. It supplies 2.6 billion litres of drinking water to households and businesses each day, and treats another 4.4 billion litres of wastewater per day. Its customer base represents 15 million people – over a quarter of the entire UK population.
Often these services are taken for granted, but they are provided by a vast infrastructure – a huge array of core functions, staff in the field and backroom operations that ensure people have the utilities they need to live and work each and every day.
A recent addition to the firm’s business model is its smart metering operation. This is outsourced to Morrison Utility Services (MUS), and the team responsible for providing this new technology to customers is based at a contact centre in Langley, near Slough. In 2015 it was decided to refurbish the offices to create a working environment that better supported staff in their work with customers.
“The facilities were good at that time,” says Kerry Duke, Customer Operations and Resolution Manager, “but we knew we could do much more to give people a better place to work, and also develop a better and more progressive working culture. As always, we were constrained to a certain extent by the size and type of the existing premises, so what became evident was the need to design a workplace that transformed the way we work.”
Three companies were invited to bid for the work, and Fresh Workspace won the contract. “It was evident that they had a clear grasp of what we were looking to achieve in design terms,” says Duke. “But we also needed a firm we could trust to do the work on time and to budget. We never lose sight of the fact that we are central to people’s lives and wellbeing, so this kind of project has to be seamless.”
The solution also needed to be flexible. As well as the 150 staff based at the Langley office, there were an additional 30 field-based staff who needed to be accommodated in the redesigned space. A concept was developed based on bright, open-plan offices incorporating shared space, meeting rooms and collaborative team and breakout spaces, as well as a prayer room and new kitchen. In addition to dedicated workstations, hot desks are provided for job sharers and field staff.
The scope of the project covered the design of the refurbished offices as well as the fit-out, desking, seating, carpets, whiteboards and storage. There is an ongoing programme of work, such as the provision of a large café space to give people a break from their intensive customer-focused work.
Meeting rooms were fitted out to give people the chance to share feedback on their performance and any specific challenges that need to be addressed on a day-to-day basis. The interactive whiteboards are stacked with notes and graphics depicting performance levels, solutions to specific issues and guidance, much of it generated organically by staff themselves rather than as a top-down edict.
One particularly innovative solution was the use of circular desk configurations to create an organic layout reflecting lines of communication and a commitment to open, collaborative working. This breaks up the space and maximises sightlines to colleagues, encouraging the free exchange
The vibrant colour scheme is based on the corporate colour palette, but not obtrusively so, according to Duke. “We wanted a clear corporate identity, but also wanted to focus on providing staff with a space that kept them engaged and motivated and allowed them to take time out and work with colleagues when they needed to. The end result is a space that reflects the culture we need to succeed. Although customers may not visit the space, we believe they enjoy the end results just as much as the people who work here.”
That much is evident from the fact that the MUS smart metering team was named Best Newcomer at the 2017 WOW! Awards. The award was presented at a gala ceremony at the Radisson Blu Portman Hotel, London, in December. The WOW! Awards is the only independent awards process for great customer service based purely on customer compliments. The Best Newcomer Award recognises the team’s success in successfully embedding The WOW! Awards scheme into Morrison Utility Services, providing a channel for customers to express their appreciation of the staff’s efforts.
It represents recognition not only of the work of the individuals in the team, but also the approach of Thames Water in providing great customer service. It is also testimony to the way a great workplace can help create the sort of working culture that enhances a firm’s operations, image and, ultimately, bottom line.