Planning a relocation has enabled The Scottish Media Group to review its HR strategy.
Making a move seems to be very much a part of the British Zeitgeist, with the popularity of TV programmes such as Relocation, Relocation and the ever-expanding range of Buy a New Home in (Italy) magazines.
For organisations, relocations may not make prime time television, but they present huge challenges and not least for the HR function. Not only is there the challenge of actually moving staff, but HR and line managers have their work cut out to ensure there is minimum disruption to employee productivity.
Facing the challenge head-on, the Scottish Media Group (SMG) has welcomed the opportunity to up sticks and move into new premises. By the middle of 2006, all 426 employees will move from its central Glasgow home of 30 years to a state-of-the-art, £16m media headquarters on the outskirts of the city. Out will go alienated departments, ageing facilities and poor interaction among staff - in will come improved communication and, hopefully, a harmonious working environment.
For SMG, moving headquarters follows hot on the heels of its Grampian TV division changing premises last year. With all 100 staff relocated without a problem, the group is confident the Glasgow move will be equally successful.
To complement the move, SMG has developed four projects it hopes will transform the way its staff work and communicate with each other.
It is not difficult to picture the hustle and bustle which goes on at the Scottish Media Group: production crews working frantically to get news bulletins out on time, make-up artists beautifying presenters ready for camera, and engineers tweaking sound systems and lights. Then there are the legions of backroom staff, including administrative staff and more than 400 freelancers, who help keep SMG rolling 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Understandably, managing this frenetic workforce represents a big challenge for SMG's head of HR, Hazel MacGough.
"Our goal was to develop projects to achieve a closer working synergy and remove alienation between departments," she explains. "Departments are isolated in different parts of the building which reduces staff morale and performance. The new headquarters offers a people-friendly environment where staff can interact."
One aim of the projects is to increase the interaction between the organisation's 29 departments, and encourage closer collaboration among staff.
Motivated by the motto 'Making it Happen', the projects are called Gemini, Isis, Chatterbox and Meg. Collectively, they have been developed by MacGough with the help of Tom Gallagher, the project director for the Gemini project.
Gemini, the spearhead project focusing on the working environment, is introducing the concept of 'neighbourhood working' at the new headquarters, which will see staff operate within a work area without their own desk or telephone.
Part of the Gemini project involved the formation of 25 working groups. Each comprises 12 employees picked from across all departments who get together to discuss ideas for the new headquarters. To ensure a successful move, staff are asked about their expectations for the new headquarters, including things such as office layout, catering/crche facilities and infrastructure for commuting.
The HR team is working with Eastlake, a community-based planning organisation, which has expertise in developing new working environments and practices within companies.
Gallagher says: "We have talked extensively with staff and Eastlake to discover what are the best elements to create a harmonious workplace. It's a once-in-a-
lifetime move and it is essential that staff are comfortable so they can work collaboratively as a team."
Gallagher also stresses the need for the move to be carried out as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. With the media machine on air 24/7, it is vital the group continues to run like clockwork. And to avoid any mishaps, the HR team will introduce dual-site working until the new headquarters is brought up to speed.
As well as the move, the HR team also faces the challenge of rolling out comprehensive training programmes budgeted at £1m. Under the Isis project, employees will receive technical training in the new IT technologies proposed for the new headquarters, says MacGough. "SMG has grown largely through acquisition which means some IT systems are incompatible at our current premises. Isis will update IT systems in the new building and comprehensive training will be available for staff."
Another prerequisite is enabling systems to be compatible with SMG's other UK offices, in addition to remote access for personnel who travel or work from home. With people working all hours of the day, night and at weekends, IT systems and support will also be geared to deliver maximum reliability and performance.
Along with the technology, SMG has developed Project Chatterbox, a scheme designed to promote better union representation within the group, and opportunities for staff to have a say on company issues.
With the emphasis on information and consultation, MacGough has established two separate forums (one for Grampian and one for SMG), which enable staff to discuss and debate issues such as health and safety, remuneration, training and business issues.
Project Chatterbox was started on the strength of a pilot scheme introduced with Grampian TV, which began in January this year. "Eastlake said we needed better communication between managers and staff to resolve workplace issues," explains MacGough. "Our union membership isn't getting any larger and there is potential for staff to be represented by Bectu and the NUJ. We are encouraging staff to have a collective and single voice."
Another aim of Chatterbox is to communicate to 'one group' of people to promote freedom of speech and equality within the workplace. Before Chatterbox, the HR team undertook a four-week marketing scheme to launch the project. The launch was spearheaded by teaser posters e-mailed to staff, followed by the forum sessions.
"Each forum is represented by someone from every section of the company who reports back to heads of department," she says. "Although staff drive the agenda at each forum, the HR team has a presence at the meetings every month to monitor progress."
Alongside Chatterbox, is SMG's Project Meg remuneration scheme, which aims to promote equality within the workplace by linking pay to individual performance.
Under the current pay scheme, high performers are rewarded with the same annual pay increase as under-performers. But due to feedback from focus groups earlier this year, MacGough realised staff wanted pay rises over and above people they outperform. As result, the HR team intends to implement a performance-linked pay system that will recognise staff on lower salaries who take on additional skills. It will also recognise and reward performance that exceeds expectations, with a move away from the 'time in the job equals greater ability' mindset.
"We are now looking at how well a job is being carried out and how it can contribute to the overall performance of the business," says MacGough. "Using this ethos we created 29 job families which represent all the various occupations across the Scottish Media Group."
Regardless of pay, terms and conditions, MacGough is adamant the HR team's policies reflect the best interests of a variable and vibrant workforce.
With a staff turnover of 4 per cent, few media personnel move from the group, despite the seemingly cut-throat world of broadcasting.
As Gemini project director, Gallagher admits to being blasŽ about staff who might be lured by the likes of the BBC.
"We have a good relationship with the BBC and there are benefits rather than drawbacks of staff moving on," he explains. "We look at the bigger picture. In some ways we don't mind personnel leaving us because they may return to SMG and bring back new experience and skills."
Gallagher says people that have returned to the group have brought with them ideas which can contribute to HR strategy and working practices. Such is the reluctance for staff to leave, the group's recruitment manual has been gathering dust over the past five years - the only significant recruitment drive in this time has seen the company take on 20 trainees.
Although the move will doubtless have its teething problems, MacGough has high expectations for improved connectivity among staff.
"Combined with the move, the projects will be fantastic for staff morale, well-being and productivity," she says.
"Achieving greater connectivity between people is better than any HR metrics test. Just seeing the way personnel communicate at Grampian is testament to the benefits of a new working environment."
About the organisation
The Scottish Media Group
No of personnel: 426
Divisions: Scottish TV, Grampian TV, SMG TV Productions and Ginger Television
Job types: administration, production, engineers, presenters, sales, marketing, finance, HR, accounts, management
Key aims of the projects
Greater connectivity among staff