Built on strong foundations

29 October 2014

Catherine Hackett speaks to Jan Thompson, cluster manager for Sodexo, at the iconic 100 Victoria Embankment building, about the role that training plays in producing a professional and happy workforce

100 Victoria Embankment can't fail to draw admiration from passers-by. Completed in 1931 for a global company's headquarters, the striking curved building designed in a neoclassical Art Deco style more than deserves its prime location on the River Thames in Blackfriars, London. 

Today, the interior of the Grade II listed office building blends old with new due to an extensive renovation in 2007. Many original features including parquet flooring and lift car panels have been retained, but new additions include the contemporary glass atrium that spans ten floors, a restaurant which is open to the public, and a roof garden. 

Cleaning challenges

While the renovation has resulted in fewer delicate antiques to clean for the team of 22 housekeepers and an easier-to-access open plan layout, the atrium maximises daylight to expose more smudges and dirt on the glass.

Maintaining high cleaning standards on a daily basis is imperative as a number of notable businesses across the publishing, legal and delivery professions now occupy the building, which means that over 1000 sitting tenants and 200 to 300 visitors use the premises every day. For the housekeeping team, this means balancing the different cleaning requirements of the tenants with responding to the ongoing impact of large numbers of visitors. 

100 Victoria Embankment or 100VE (as it is informally known) is also used for high profile events including the G8 conference, which requires additional cleaning and maintenance preparations. All these elements help to create a unique atmosphere as well as unique challenges for Sodexo, which is responsible for the facilities management of the whole space, including housekeeping. 

Sodexo's cluster manager Jan Thompson says: "It's very challenging, you've got different fabrics and surfaces to clean, and you've got all different characters within this building. We always seem to work very well with the clients – we have good team bonding within all our buildings which helps."

Customer service & team spirit

Training plays a vital role in forging good relationships with customers and bonding staff together as a team. Accredited training can also help staff to fulfil their potential by broadening their skills and career opportunities. 

At 100VE, housekeeping staff receive a mix of on-site and off-site training. Daily meetings encourage regular communication amongst the team, and all staff undergo a course of tutor-led workshops to help them improve and maintain customer service levels, develop team spirit, and gain a transferable national qualification. 

Improving literacy and numeracy skills are part of the course and learners are prepared individually for functional skills assessments in English and Maths. In the 'customer service' workshops staff learn how to deliver customer expectations, make first impressions count, and to understand the importance of body language during the communication process. Client policies and procedures, as well as any new initiatives are taught too. 

Jan provides an example: "We're just doing a relaunch for recycling bins and re-signage for one of the tenants, so we do have a lot of training with the staff when it comes to waste clearance, how we manage it and how it goes out of the building."

In other workshops staff are assessed as a team – in one task they must work together to find a solution within a problem area that requires attention. Sodexo also carries out 'team bonding' days to complement the training workshops.

"All of the teams across our FM services take part in the customer care and service culture training – as well as team building days – to bond our services together," Jan says. "So, if I see another team member and say to them that 'I'm short staffed, do you think you could help me?' they will say, 'Not a problem Jan'. Multi-tasking is what we're trying to do and that's what we've achieved within our building."

Some of Jan's staff are also currently undertaking off-site training on a British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) training course that will give them an NVQ, and which, Jan says, "they're really enjoying".

Health & safety focus

It is important for every business to train its staff in health and safety awareness. By incorporating health and safety 'Toolbox Talks' into its staff meetings on a weekly basis, Sodexo ensures that staff are kept up-to-date on a range of topics from the importance of wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) to the correct use of step ladders.

Experiences and best practice are shared across all of Sodexo's sites through these toolbox talks. Jan and another manager even share some of the issues identified by the weekly health and safety audits that are carried out in each department. 

"I don't think the cleaning industry focuses enough on training staff in health and safety, but it's very important because health and safety affects everybody and if you don't have the correct things in place accidents can happen," Jan says. "All staff in any department should especially be trained in chemical safety, working at height, working in confined spaces, and fire safety so that they are competent to handle a situation in the event of an emergency."

There are many benefits to training if it is utilised properly and combined with good leadership. For Jan and Sodexo, the proof is in the pudding: fewer accidents, satisfied clients and a happier workforce. 

"I don't have a high turnover of staff. I think if you invest in your staff, develop them and respect them then you won't," Jan concludes. "They feel proud to work here."