On a busy part of the Southbank is a building that produces some of the most watched television programmes in the country. It’s an old building that takes a lot of looking after and FMJ travelled to Waterloo to find out about its future and the day to day operations of one of the biggest television production centres in the country
The London Studios, often referred to as ITV Towers, looms over the Thames on the Southbank, midway between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges. Due to an ancient sight line to St Paul’s Cathedral the offices in the Tower sit back away from the river and this masks the actual size of the building when entering the minimalist but modern reception in Upper Ground.
As the name suggests, the building is home to television studios, used not just by ITV, but a variety of producers, independents, the BBC and Channel 4 among them. But there is more to it than that, it is from here, and other buildings in the portfolio, that the entire ITV operation is run. It is also (a lot of the time anyway) where one of the most interesting and opinionated facilities managers in Britain works.
At the time of writing, Ian Jones has been ITV’s director of facilities for a little over four years and has in that time overseen a drastic change in the company’s culture, at least where facilities management is concerned.
Naturally being so large, and in a specialist industry filled with what you might call “creative types,” the FM at the London Studios (as well as the dozens of others that make up ITV’s portfolio) faces challenges that aren’t common across the FM sector. It is for this reason, Jones explains, that ITV has always eschewed total facilities management contracts. “We’re not a nine to five operation.” Jones says. “We don’t have that sort of workforce and so a TFM contract just wouldn’t be able to meet our needs. I also feel that these jack of all trade type arrangements mean you miss out on a really special service. I’d rather have specialists in each area.”
Jones is a man who knows what he wants, and he knows what he believes. During FMJ’s visit he bemoans the emphasis service providers place on “growing accounts,” and stresses that they undervalue both people and innovation. “Every time one of my staff answers the phone, I want to hear them ask ‘How can I help you?’ Because that is what we are here for.”
He believes that staff should be allowed a large degree of autonomy in making their decisions. “Having me peer over their shoulders all day long doesn’t help either of us. Though if they’re about to go out and spend £50,000 of my budget, I want to know before hand,” he chuckles. Jones obviously values independent thought, indeed he suggests employees should be regularly sending unsolicited emails to their superiors with ideas for improvement and innovation.
But what have been Jones’s own innovations and ideas during his time with the company? There’s fairly common place ideas, such as open plan offices with the sweeping executive offices converted into meeting rooms named for the view from their windows. Free coffee is provided in the cafeteria to encourage staff to mix, socialise and bounce ideas off each other.
Slightly bolder innovations include (currently only in selected areas but Jones plans to roll it out across the building) all inclusive hot desking. Soon enough no-one at ITV will have their own desk. “I recognise that everyone needs their own space, that’s very important,” Jones explains. “But it doesn’t have to be the same space everyday. We all know what the figures are for office occupation per day, and moving about more encourages new and more discussion. I work from anywhere, I don’t need to sit in the same spot day in, day out.” Spaces between various teams and departments are marked off by bookcases, a novel idea that both separates and opens simultaneously.
It should be mentioned that the desks staff are hot desking on are also smaller than you might expect. Bit by bit Jones is making more space in his building by introducing smaller work spaces, not cramped by any means, but more efficient. After all, when so many of the staff onsite work off their laptops now, why do they need the monoliths that have been fashionable for so long?
Laptops and mobile phones however appear to be a bit of a minor fly in Jones’s ointment. With it now standard practise almost everywhere to issue staff with a company phone and or laptop/tablet device, Jones is keen to introduce a system whereby he or his team issue these devices when a new employee starts. IT would be done at the same time as health and safety inductions and everything else that is part and parcel of starting a new job. Jones would have a concrete record of who has what, and, more importantly, who is liable for what. But, for whatever reason the bigwigs at ITV haven’t seemed keen.