Appreciate Group is home to many of the country’s most-loved gifting and reward products and is headquartered in Liverpool. The move from their home of more than 50 years in Birkenhead to Liverpool City Centre may have been just four miles as the crow flies, but the distance in working environments were poles apart. The workplace at their legacy site was not conducive to collaboration – based in an industrial estate, it housed 230 people in numerous offices across three buildings. Silos were common; technology was dated; and the location was a barrier to recruiting new people with skills and experience that were required to propel the business forward. This reality was exemplified when the new CEO needed to introduce two people who had both worked for the organisation for more than 15 years – but had never met!
A vision was created to transform the company – one that would instill a Digital-first mindset; that thought innovatively; fostered collaboration and entrepreneurship; attracted top talent; and had a clear purpose and culture focused on delivering for customers and stakeholders. The centerpiece of this strategy was an office relocation. So the company embarked on a root and branch modernisation and transformation programme that would change the brand name to Appreciate Group, put its new purpose to create joy at the heart of its business and culture and create a new, modern workplace which would bring these aims to life every day for colleagues. The workplace would inspire new ways of working, use the best of technology and help people to bring the best of themselves to work every single day.
It was clear that a workplace transformation was required if the organisation was to become an innovative, Digital-first business where people collaborated to develop solutions for its customers at pace. The cultural change required was seismic – the project had to go beyond creating a 26,000 square foot modern, inspiring and efficient working environment that colleagues would be proud of. There was a need to improve the employer brand and become better at attracting new people with the skills and mindset for the future. Technology was a challenge as existing systems and processes were outdated. If the organisation was to think innovatively, the design needed to have technology at its heart. The infrastructure underpinning the business also needed to support collaboration, reliability and resilience.
Key workplace aspirations were identified.
- Joyful: aligned to their purpose and brand, they needed to create a great colleague experience and stir an emotional reaction. Flexible working and modern work tools and technologies that break down silos and support work/life balance were needed.
- Collaboration: to become a community and part of a neighbourhood that encourages movement across floors and zones, offering workspaces which encourage different styles of working and interaction.
- Transparent: to build trust in each other and provide key business content easily around the office; exemplified physically by an open-plan space utilising lots of glass walls and natural light.
- Agility: to be able to work anywhere, and deliver multi-channel communications and gain access to data from any device.
- Digital first: to shift their mindset to work efficiently, at pace and with paperless aspiration, technology-enabled.
The project was built to deliver these outcomes with an aspirational mission statement to ‘Shoot for the moon, if we miss you’ll land with the stars’, which aligned to the environment they were aiming to create. This also served as a constant reminder to the project team to think beyond the boundaries. Design themes had to take into account the need to improve agility, providing multi-channel communication and access to data from any device, anywhere and incorporate interactive screens, wireless presentation facilities and video conferencing facilities. The design also needed to elevate efficiency, highlighting performance goals, enabling coordinated management of resources and delivering information when and where required. Efficiency also meant improved Wi-Fi access and a unified communication platform. Finally the design needed to promote joy: the new company purpose needed to run throughout the workplace and help embed the principles amongst employees, providing the tools to break down silos, encourage interaction, and deliver a work/life balance to make working for Appreciate a joyful experience.
The project was mobilised to run in two phases, starting from March 2019 with a move date of 16th September. Phase 1, to be completed in May 2019, would be the Layout Scheme Design and focus on office layout, IT kit and structural fit. Phase 2, running May to September 2019, covered brand, look and feel, colleague involvement and furniture. A post-arrival phase enabled the implementation of further brand and design elements, including branded wall décor and poster frames to support cultural messaging.
Every aspect of the working environment was considered – interior design, architecture, even furniture to ensure the organisation would be future-proofed for a hyper turbulent world. Colleague feedback on the move was incredible – 90% stated that “the new office space makes me proud to work for the company.” 78% believed the new office “promotes collaboration and provides me with the space I need to do my job”. To further drive cultural transformation, the company is now able to reach much wider geographically when it comes to attracting talent. 37% of new colleagues reside outside the immediate area, up from 1 in 5 pre-February 2019 before the office move was announced. 70% of new starters were hired in areas where Appreciate Group had capability gaps, and possess blue-chip experience. An employer brand overhaul combined to drive a positive improvement in the quality of CV/placement ratio. In Technology, analysis showed an interview/placement ratio improvement from 24/1 to 8/1.
There was a smooth transition to the new space and colleagues were able to visit the site beforehand and perform recce commutes. A bespoke intranet site hosted information to prepare colleagues including floor plans, fit-out photos, and feedback from colleagues. A guide helped colleagues familiarise and settle in, covering everything from office facilities and layout, to new technology and the surrounding area. The latest technologies were introduced to promote collaboration, including interactive screens, wireless presentation, video conferencing and multi-screen casting facilities. The work space supported this through open and interactive meeting spaces. A programme was launched to drive the new culture called Imagin8 supported by team Champions which led to the creation of a transformation toolkit. Microsoft Teams was introduced to facilitate collaboration and dynamism. They also engaged a local partner to introduce Connect, a new internal communications and learning channel accessible via mobile devices or PC, to create two-way dialogue and access to rich content such as videos and podcasts. 80% of colleagues engage regularly using this tool. Digital screens across our office space ensures colleagues get the latest company news.
To create joy, the environment is branded distinctively throughout in line with their purpose; reinforcing joy and their connections to Merseyside. The facilities promote balance and inclusivity and decompression space is available to help colleagues switch off including quiet and nursing rooms, faith rooms and a dedicated Halal kitchen space. All colleagues also received a move gift voucher to encourage support for local business.
In terms of physical office features, a formal business suite featuring a video wall and adjustable space converts from 3 rooms to open plan space which comfortably houses 120. A built-in kitchen and relaxation space and a policy of no eating at desks encourages colleagues to take a break and supports wellbeing. The provision of lounge ‘quiet zones’ on each floor with views of the Liver building and riverfront enables colleagues to relax. Designated wardrobes and locker space backs up a clear desk policy and encourages people not to gravitate to the same desk each day, while modular furniture provides flexibility to adapt the workspace in the future in line with agile working. Segregated rubbish collection points support an environmental commitment.
Without doubt, the biggest proof-point of the cultural change, anchored on the office move, has been how the business has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic. The transformational changes meant the business was in a position to seamlessly transition 80% of their colleagues to home and lockdown ways of working. The investment in technology has meant the team has been able to respond creatively and innovatively to the situation and this has enabled them to adapt quickly and create joy for customers during the unprecedented situation. Since moving to our new offices they have even launched a European first digital product – proof that the new environment is fostering innovation. The impact would undoubtedly have been much more severe on the business had COVID-19 struck 6-12 months earlier.