The impact of rapid growth on the office environment
Propertyserve has grown substantially in the last 18 months. From a small office in a tucked away corner of Amersham high street, we’ve moved onto a farm spanning two open plan barns. With the space being quickly filled with new people, we are approaching the point where we will be acquiring additional barns on site, as we continue to grow.
While growth within a business is inevitable, important and a direct indicator of success, the small, tight-knit, family-run dynamic of the company evolves and changes, and can be lost very quickly.
As a management team we were all too aware of the dangers with growing too fast. We have worked hard in order to retain the camaraderie, working relationships and universal working practices small businesses rely on, build their services around and – often – quote as a differentiator when selling their services.
We wanted to gauge the response of our staff when it came to the significant and rapid growth we have experienced and the impact they believe it has had on the business and – more importantly – the working environment. Pre-empting the potential issues prior to the office move in July last year went someway to preventing any possible issues creeping in, but inevitably we couldn’t plan entirely for the unknown.
The most prevalent opinion shared by the majority of the staff interviewed related to a new divide between the various departments. Where previously the whole business was within touching distance of each other, at our new premises the departments are separated in two large adjoining barns. This obviously brings, by default, a divide. The creation of a communal break out room and courtyard prior to the move hadn’t gone far enough to avoid the divide. We received multiple suggestions from staff with some fantastic ideas on how to overcome the issue, many of which were implemented immediately. Due to the fact the staff were involved in the process we were able to secure buy-in from them, and ensure that the solutions were actually utilised; after all the staff suggested the majority of them.
The second most common theme running through the informal interview of staff was the fragmentation or ‘break off’ of smaller groups within departments, both from a social and work point of view. The FM helpdesk, for example, is now home to 23 members of staff, a 70 per cent increase from July 2014. This increase in head count has inevitably created smaller, more focused groups, which brings huge advantages that we have seen the benefit of already; individuals have thrived in the new environment. Where selected employees may have previously been suppressed in a single group they are now flourishing and developing as characters and individuals, all helping to emphasise our founding values of a family focused, service business. The negative effect of this is the detachment between the smaller groups that can start to create a larger divide, certainly and – most noticeably – between departments.
Again the staff forwarded some very thoughtful and considered ideas for how to combat any negative effect. The ideas, including the creation of a social committee chaired by a member of the FM helpdesk team and supported by members of each department, combined with the right amount of direction and supervision have facilitated a transition from a divided office environment that struggled to communicate inter-departmentally, back to an environment where staff enjoy working and have the opportunity to thrive, develop, progress and socialise all under one roof.
As managing director of a growing business, this was certainly a lesson that has provided a challenging yet fascinating test of teamwork, resolve and commitment. And it has helped to cement the notion that your business really is ‘only as good as the people in it’.
In order to attract and retain the best people you have to provide facilities that entice them, not only measurable facilities like your fancy coffee machine, tranquil surroundings or free yoga classes (just some of the things we have introduced), but the hidden dynamic has to be right and if it’s not, everything else quickly pails into insignificance. Work efficiency and productivity, harmony, customer service and performance go down, stress, sickness and general unhappiness go up. By getting it right a small business can manage all these things and continue to be successful with its core values intact. Get it wrong and it can have disastrous consequences. At Propertyserve, we will certainly be keeping a keen eye on the development of the business with our people remaining at the heart of this.
Chris MacDonald, managing director at Propertyserve UK