As Bob Dylan once said, the times they are a-changing. Technology is driving change in the workplace, whether it’s modern working practices changing the way people see the workplace, or understanding how AI can help improve working practices there is much to take in and do. The speed of change is phenomenal, this isn’t unique to the fit-out sector, but at times it can seem hard to see the wood for the trees.

At Formation we have embraced change this year, we’ve upped the ante in the way we run projects and automate systems to improve our quality control and business assurances. 

Why are we embracing change?

We probably turn down as many projects and as much resourcing work as we take on. We hope this means that people trust our judgement, and when we take on a fit-out programme it will be delivered on time, to budget and to specification. It would be great to be able to tell you things never go wrong and every project runs brilliantly; they don’t of course.

However, when things go wrong, as they do, we call it out. We don’t like surprises and we think our customers’ feel the same way. We aim to lift the weight off firm’s shoulders and let them focus on their day jobs but we work collaboratively with them. This, we think makes for great project outcomes and is the way we believe every project should be run, but it appears rare.  

As I said we have upped the ante in the way we run projects, automate our systems and improve our quality control and business assurance. This kind of innovation costs money, takes time and can be a distraction from your core business but it is the way things will be in the future and we think it will be the trend moving forward.  

It is this belief in the way projects should be run and how technology can help us improve our business outcomes that has driven us to embrace change.

Here are our other BIG 8 changes for Fit-Out…. 

Eight changes that will change the fit-out world forever

Vetting

Do you know who you have onsite? If you do, great. Are they who they say they are? If it is a sub-contractor, then you may know the MD but do you know their staff and do you know how they do their vetting? It is only your reputation that is at risk. We have invested heavily in upgrading our vetting and assessment of staff, sub-contractors and other supplies. We need to know who we are in business with, really know.  We think our customers will start to think the same way, if they aren’t already mulling this over. We like to mitigate risk and you have to start with the stuff that is right under your nose. Effective vetting and screening will become a non-negotiable beyond a tick-box exercise. 

Attitude

There is an old chestnut of a business phrase.. forgive me for the following… “Attitude controls your Altitude” What it really says is that your success (you and your firm) will be determined by your attitude. I think this is a big one. Increasingly organisations are saying to us, ‘find me the right person with the right attitude and I can train the rest.’ This is a core truism. I will fight for ever to change your belief system and the way you view the world but I won’t, ever win. However, if you are wired in the right way for us as an organisation, the sector we serve and the projects we run, I can train and develop you far quicker. 

I see organisations spending more time on hiring the right type of people with the right attitude rather than buying in proven talent but with the wrong behaviours. 

Client feedback

If clients have a great experience they tell a lot of people. HOWEVER, if they have a bad experience they tell a whole heap more. Odd isn’t it? Companies don’t get asked for honest feedback, clients are hesitant to give honest feedback but they will tell others. We are looking at ways to gather vital customer feedback anonymously – you want to know when you have done a great job i.e keep doing more of this stuff but you want to know where you came up short, this is where you get business improvement. So look at ways to gather feedback and make it easy for clients to tell you how it is. If you don’t want to hear it, don’t ask but it will hamstring your business. 

Qualifications/Accreditation

We believe there will be a bigger step-up in getting staff qualified to do their job and to make them better. The industry has done a lot around qualifications, accreditations and general upskilling. This is to be applauded but we think this is just the start. Better educated entrants into the market and from a wider source (See the diversity section below) will result in better organisations, better projects and better outcomes for all parties. A broader range of qualifications to bulk out the industry-specific ones will make for more rounded individuals and make the sector less myopic. 

The price you see is the price you pay

The industry has a reputation for opaque pricing, hidden margins and vague costs. This makes everyone nervous and undermines the quoting process resulting in a real or not race to the bottom. No-one wins.  Paul talks a lot about ‘fair pay for a fair day’s work’ and he’s right. We have changed our pricing to reflect this. We want everyone to clearly see what we charge and if we save money later on in the process, we share that. Any gains should flow top to bottom and back again. Everyone gains. 

Fit-out tech

I spoke to a mid-sized Fit-Out firm’s MD last month and he used a classic phrase “You’ve got to understand David, we’re old school Fit-Out” Hmmm There is a reason they call it old-school. I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve heard this. It is endemic in the sector and this stymies its growth and development. I have seen innovation in terms of CRM, new style auto-cad, project management software, cloud services etc but it’s the next generation of development that is lacking. I think it is a case of both the larger firms taking the lead as well as industry bodies.  It needs to drive automation and innovation forward otherwise it won’t attract the best talent, the best firms and the best practice. It may take a generation to come through, if they come through. 

A game changer – WeWork 

On the topic of innovation keep an eye on firms like WeWork. We are a customer of WeWork and love the experience. The recent move by WeWork into the FM world shows how organisations that have got the ‘tech’ thing buttoned down will win the day. Watch WeWork and others very closely, they are on the march. 

Genuine diversity 

I am able to say that this sector is full of male, pale and stale individuals, as I am one but hopefully not too stale. There are some neat initiatives around getting a wider blend of staff but really from just the largest firms… stand-up Mace. But drop a level to the next tier and there is a paucity of firms that are genuinely gripping the diversity agenda. There is a wave of entrants into the market that are doing just that. There is a generation coming through who expect and demand to see a workforce that reflects the wider world. Last month I caught up with an MD of one of the larger tier 2 firms who said and I quote “I understand about diversity but I hire the best person for the job irrespective of colour or gender” I am sure that’s true. However, where are the role models in his organisation? If I am a fledgling graduate and I look up and all I see are middle-aged, white, male faces, it will seem daunting. I think clients and partners will want to work with firms that look and sound like them.

Change or Die!  

Let’s regroup in 2028 and see what the world looks like and hopefully we will all still be part of it 

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