A Space Odyssey – The critical challenges facing your expanding contact centre business

Portal helped Hastings Direct expand source and fit out the perfect location with access to high-calibre colleagues
Portal helped Hastings Direct expand source and fit out the perfect location with access to high-calibre colleagues

Phil Sugden, Portal Group UK’s Sales & Marketing Director, discusses the challenges facing fast-growing contact centre businesses looking to expand or relocate and how Portal’s Managed Office Solutions concept enabled Hastings Direct to seamlessly deliver a new UK customer service hub.

Speed, space and quality – for a rapidly growing contact centre business, the process of expansion can often be a balancing act against the clock.

The classic challenge for a contact centre that has outgrown its existing premises is finding and setting up an additional location with access to high-calibre colleagues in a short amount of time.

As one of the UK’s fastest growing insurance providers, Hastings Direct, needed to quickly find a cost effective customer-contact centre capable of delivering its services to 2.1 million customers.

With existing sites at Bexhill and Newmarket already operating at full capacity and the labour pool at both locations unable to cope with demand, Hastings required a new operational customer services environment at a different location that could tap into a fresh source of talent. Naturally, location was key but there were other factors that were crucial, such as speed to market, known costs, and minimal distractions and risk to the business as a whole.

The end result was the seamless creation of an impressive customer service hub and new home at 1 St. George’s Way, a modern, vibrant 45,000-sq-ft contact centre located in the heart of England’s city of Leicester employing over 550 colleagues.

Hastings Direct’s modern, vibrant 45,000-sq-ft contact centre in Leicester
Hastings Direct’s modern, vibrant 45,000-sq-ft contact centre in Leicester

What made this transitional project different, streamlined and cost-effective was the use of the managed office solution concept (MOS).

MOS removes Capex obligation, mitigates property risk and provides cost certainty for the moving company by presenting a fixed price operating cost (Opex), with no exit fees or dilapidation charges.

Rather than Hastings self-sourcing and investing capital expenditure in what would be a large, ‘from-shell’ project, the partnership with Portal and use of MOS meant the company essentially outsourced the headache of funding and fit-out and replaced Capex with fixed monthly Opex for the property itself.

In the end, the company was able to create an impressive customer service hub within just six months from the point of finalising contract terms with a chosen supplier and took no CAPEX hit in the process, meaning that the business could concentrate on what it does best, business, rather than tying up substantial budgets into a costly process.

Coming out of their shell

Let’s go back to the start. After an extensive investigation of a number of potential cities and regions, Portal and Hastings decided that 1 St. George’s Way offered an easily accessible location with what is considered a large, available and suitable demographic profile.

For a people-centred business such as Hastings, the ability to attract and retain colleagues remained a major part of the corporate real estate (CRE) equation, but it was also necessary to get the facility up and running quickly.

Whilst St. George’s met Hastings’ long-term ambitions, the designated floor space required significant infrastructure works to provide a suitable environment.

Originally an old postal facility, the multi-use building needed a complete-shell fit-out to include structural alterations, as well as delivery of a workplace aligned to support colleagues and brand values. In turn, this type of project demanded a high level of property expertise and experience.

The extent and size of the works also meant that there would be substantial capex investment necessary to refurbish. This scenario left the company with two challenges: overcoming the potential delay in being able to wrap up capacity, and funding the large up-front investment associated with the refurbishment and fit-out.

At this point, Portal introduced its alternative CRE approach that could be considered to address both issues as well as minimise ongoing risks and offer greater flexibility over the longer term.

Director of Risk & Business Services at Hastings Direct, David Walker, commented on the selection, “We reviewed a number of managed office suppliers but chose Portal, who had experience of managing similar large, ‘from-shell’ projects, offered cost certainty across the contract, and could deliver within our timeframes. Also, the Portal team possessed similar values and an agile way of working that reflected how we do things at Hastings.”

Magnificent spaces and where to find them

Portal’s MOS also supplied the answer to another pressing problem: how to house additional customer service colleagues in the interim period whilst St. George’s was being prepared.

As part of the contract, Portal sourced, negotiated and supplied, in conjunction with Hastings, an initial temporary 1,500-squaremeter (16,000-sq.-ft.) Category A facility.

The site, also at the company’s preferred location in central Leicester, was contracted on a two-year flexible term with agreed all-inclusive monthly costs for 225 active workstations and 42 workstations across three training rooms.

This meant that Hastings was able to kick-start its operation in Leicester in just two months with the option to work on a phased development of the St. George’s property at a pace that could be dictated by the business.

The first ‘live’ phase of the St. George’s site was scheduled and on the day Hastings welcomed colleagues to its new home fitted out with 325 workstations and all the expected facilities, including reception, break-out areas, toilets and vending.

Culture club

Hastings prides itself on a colleagues-based culture so it was vital that the new workspace at St. George’s effectively reflected the company’s brand values, promoted colleagues’ well-being and mirrored their vibrant culture.

To achieve this, from the outset, Portal’s discovery process was undertaken that engaged all key stakeholders and created a detailed understanding of the company’s strategic and tactical requirements.

This detailed blueprint acted as the foundation for creating a tailored workspace that would effectively optimise the available space.

In parallel, Hastings managed its own IT and Portal ensured the technical environment was designed to meet with their rollout plans. These plans included calculating power requirements for UPS and the generator and understanding Hastings’ network and telephony infrastructure and installation schedule.

An example of a break-down space
An example of a break-down space

Fit-out in style

Once the discovery process was completed, Portal worked in collaboration with partners, including workplace design-and-build specialists TSK Group to design and implement a modern working environment created specifically to appeal to a young, energetic workforce.

This included innovative ideas such as bright, stimulating open-plan offices and break-out areas, and themed meeting rooms named after famous Leicester celebrities.

Contemporary yet private meeting spaces provide the perfect inspiring environment for a break-out session
Contemporary yet private meeting spaces provide the perfect inspiring environment for a break-out session

A collection of contemporary yet private meeting spaces provide break-out areas and the layout of desks is unregimented so there is a freedom, fluidity and sense of light and cathedrallike space within the building that challenge the notions of conventional contact-centre design.

Conversations can be held in the open-plan office’s glass pods, sofa booths and curved mini auditoriums known as ‘huddles’
Conversations can be held in the open-plan office’s glass pods, sofa booths and curved mini auditoriums known as ‘huddles’

Glass pods, sofa booths and curved mini auditoriums known as ‘huddles’ within the open-plan office environment allow for impromptu conversations and have been created for team get-togethers. These spaces are an intrinsic part of the design and act as landmarks for navigating the centre. The Hastings brand is tastefully evident throughout the site, with references to their many successes displayed in the welcoming reception area for colleagues and visitors alike to see.

The aims for St. George’s were to create an environment that both attracts and retains colleagues and it is evident that the result is a contact centre that all colleagues can be proud of. The site has recently been the subject of a promotional video that shows off the company to potential new colleagues.

Looking to the future

With year-on-year projected growth, Hastings has recently completed phase two, including 513 workstations/seats, and is now embarking on plans for a full-service restaurant and additional workstations.

The role of MOS has not only been critical in the early stages of the Leicester site, but contributes to the ongoing building and facilities management, including planned works to the centre. With a dedicated onsite manager provided by Portal, the Hastings operation has a single point of contact that is responsible for every aspect of buildings and facilities management, from security and health and safety, to maintenance and cleaning.

Hastings’ David Walker explained: “By using a managed office solution, we can focus on our own core business. This has resulted in a low-risk and cost-effective property strategy and we’re really pleased with the services delivered to us.”

For more information about Managed Office Solutions visit www.portalgroup.uk.com

•    Portal’s Managed Office Solution (MOS) is a pioneering property, fit out, facilities management and supporting services solution, configured to an organisation’s requirements; at a location of their choice.
•    MOS removes the client’s Capex obligation, mitigates property risk and provides cost certainty by presenting a fixed price operating cost, with no exit fees or dilapidation charges.
•    MOS enables the customer to focus on their business, not their property.
•    Portal’s experienced team have a capability to deliver MOS for headquarters, back offices and contact centres anywhere across the UK
•    Established in 2000, Portal has a proven track record of delivering MOS on time, too budget to a prestigious client portfolio.