Interserve employs nearly 50,000 people. As the third largest facilities management provider in the UK, our teams work within the estates and assets of a number of the UK’s leading private and public sector organisations. This gives us a unique insight into the challenges and opportunities presented by the rapidly changing world of work, both in terms of shifting attitudes to the workplace and the ability of technology to support and shape our routines.
New digital technologies are transforming the way in which teams work, bringing benefits for employees in terms of safety, skills and security. Ultimately these advances are enabling us to make places work better.
At the same time identifying the best technology for the job, balancing the needs of employees, wider teams, efficiency and cost, can be challenging. Experience has taught us that bespoke, high-tech solutions can often bring major advantages, however in other cases simpler, everyday technologies provide the best solutions.
High-tech: buildings which support teams
At one end of this spectrum, we have been working on cognitive building systems. By accumulating and utilising performance data, these systems enable the building itself to identify issues or propose solutions. This has the potential to bring benefits in terms of resource management, by ensuring that the correct team member, tools and expertise can be directed to the job.
We are currently trialling a product which monitors a building’s heating system. It records and establishes ‘normal’ behaviour – like standard periods of activity or inactivity, temperature and noise levels and, once learnt, enables the monitor to trigger a warning if this behaviour changes – for example if a valve starts to leak.
Elsewhere, we are looking at how these systems can support the move towards workplaces which react to and engage employees. The same cognitive building systems can include interfaces which understand language, allowing employees from across a business to ‘talk’ to the building to log issues or make requests.
The nature of our business means that our colleagues are often required to work alone, including late at night and in workplaces which may be isolated or empty. Security and safety is therefore a major priority for us and an area where advances in wearable technologies have brought major benefits for our peoples and our working practices.
Wearable technology provides security for colleagues and allows office teams to provide real-time support. We utilise a range of bespoke products which respond to the needs within our business. For example, several of our teams are now equipped with an augmented ID badge which includes a GPS tracker, movement sensor, SIM card and alarm. The devices are discreet, meaning that they can be used in case of emergencies and provide a vital safety net for lone workers.
Wearable technologies do, however, require a significant investment in terms of training. For a large number of our services, we have found that every-day technologies can provide an effective solution for employees and their management teams when compared to the ‘big ticket’ items discussed so far.
Products including smartphones and tablets bring benefits through their familiarity, avoiding the need for intensive training. Jobs can be managed through a simple app, with audio and visual data transmitted from the device in order to create a better level of understanding between the individual employee and the office team.
The key to utilising technologies in the workplace is to take an holistic approach to the value it provides. Traditionally, a business case for the roll-out of a new piece of technology or system is focused on the cost of the product, rather than the value of what could be achieved in terms of boosting productivity at work.
The advent of a greater range of new technologies is helping to shift this debate. By utilising a series of both ‘big-ticket’ and everyday technologies we are building data and thereby gaining a greater understanding of how environments work. This in turn enables the teams that manage those environments to perform better.