SPACE INNOVATORS

Karl Warmbold|Director of facilities and property, DWF

For five years, DWF operated two ‘headquarter offices’ in Manchester, comprising 98,000 square feet of prime city centre real estate, and making us the largest Manchester-headquartered global legal business in Europe. When one lease was up, I recognised that the changing nature of the legal profession, combined with DWF’s commitment to doing things differently, presented an opportunity to transform our physical space and – by extension – our approach to technology, infrastructure, performance management and people engagement.

We took the decision to exercise the ease break on our Deansgate office and embarked on a transformation of our Spinningfields HQ, turning it into a modern working hub and moving nearly 300 employees to agile working  contracts. We reduced desk count by 20% by introducing ‘territory-free workstations’ and a range of activity-focused spaces, including phone and conference call pods, war/project rooms, a business lounge for social, work and informal
meetings, reserved trial-bundling and document-collation areas and an innovation space, the ‘Changing Room’.

We embedded not only a new way of working, but also an entirely new way of thinking about work. The business is transforming people’s mindsets, from seeing work as a ‘place’ to an ‘activity’ that can effectively be achieved anywhere.

While we had already introduced agile working in London, we had two flagship Manchester offices for many years, and this two-office approach was embedded in ways of working. So, I saw this as an opportunity not only to deliver a flexible and modern worksite, but to undertake a people-change project that would help us engage our people in a move toward embracing agile working and technologyenabled work practices. It also required a focus on re-shaping how people managers think about performance evaluation and results measurement, with workshops and training to help managers understand how to effectively manage, monitor and motivate remote employees.

This all embodied DWF’s longstanding belief in how a robust approach to challenging convention can lead to positive change, which informed how the project was tackled. A key factor in its success was a detailed research and engagement programme, developed collaboratively between IT, HR, facilities and leadership teams. A series of forums and workshops helped raise awareness of the project and educate people about agile working, while weekly updates from the head of the Manchester office ensured that everyone was kept informed.

To share project updates and also build excitement, a large floor-plan image was also posted on a communal wall, and a central hub of information posted on the intranet. An internal ‘Friday Fridge’ event eventually celebrated having all
Manchester colleagues ‘under one roof’.

The top business outcomes were:

  • We reduced square footage by 15,000 and now have a much more space efficient HQ, better able to support the
    range of individual and collaborative activities taking place.
  • We fulfilled paper-reduction and other environmental-responsibility objectives.
  • We embedded not only a new way of working, but also an entirely new way of thinking about work. The business is transforming mindsets, from seeing work as a ‘place’ to seeing it as an ‘activity’ that can effectively be achieved anywhere.
  • The new workspace contains ‘neighbourhoods’ so there is still a sense of belonging, but principles have shifted
    from ‘mine to own’ to ‘ours to share’.
  • Agile-working policies enable improved work-life balance, and are an important tool in attracting and retaining talent, as well as increasing diversity. We can recruit from a wider pool of candidates that may not be able to maintain a ‘typical’ commute-heavy or desk-bound work life.

This article originates from Briefing December/January 2018/19: Better innovate

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