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West Midlands Trains Head Office/Control relocation

12 February 2018

TSSA staff reps along with Natalie Feeley (TSSA Organiser) have visited the new West Midlands Trains Head Office at 134 Edmund Street, Birmingham B3 2ES. The current facilities at 102 New Street clearly leave a lot to be desired, and they were very impressed with the size of the space and the facilities on offer at the new premises. A Head Office relocation is a major task, and will inevitably cause uncertainty and an increased workload for those involved. TSSA is keen to ensure that this move happens with as little disruption and impact on our members as possible. We have requested a formal consultation process including written proposals and a meeting schedule to ensure that all TSSA members have the opportunity to be part of the consultation process.

Hot desking and ‘agile working’

West Midlands Trains is clearly keen to use the opportunity presented by the forthcoming relocation of its Head Office to save money and increase efficiency by introducing ‘agile working’. Some employers also have a fetish for spartan offices devoid of any personal effects, which they claim convey a more ‘corporate’ or ‘professional’ image. TSSA has the experience of the widespread introduction of such working in Network Rail and other rail employers.

‘Agile working’ is the latest phrase used to describe the introduction of flexible office working methods including hot desking where most individuals no longer have a designated desk or workstation.

‘Agile workers’ are often encouraged to work ‘free range’ on a multiplicity of mobile devices – tablets, smartphones, and other ‘hand-held devices’ as well as more conventional laptops. Some employers have gone further, and in their efforts (they say!) to create ‘fun’ work environments that are modern and suit the way trendy tech-aware young people want to work – on sofas and bean bags, at what we used to call ‘breakfast bars’, and at ‘standing’ tables. And staff are often encouraged to work from home when that is possible.

There are undoubtedly some advantages to this more flexible way of working. But there are some serious problems too!

Employers introducing such systems usually want to save money by providing fewer desks than there are staff. Such a system if not properly managed in can reduce rather than increase efficiency. Staff will start their working day having to find a vacant workstation, which may take some time during busy periods. They have to retrieve their paper documents from wherever they are stored, and given that the system relies on a ‘clear desk’ policy, will have to put any documents away again at the end of the working day.

They then should set up their workstation properly in order that the company complies with health and safety legislation, and so that an individual is comfortable. Experience suggests that time pressures on individuals mean they don’t do this.

Staff may have to spend time trying to find a colleague they need to talk to. This could take up to an hour out of the working day, which will do nothing for efficiency, or indeed the stress levels of the staff. If you have a report to write that the boss wants by 1100 and you can’t find a desk, how sympathetic will she/he actually be?!!!

And if there isn’t a vacant workstation, what then? Under London Midland, managers who sought to work from home for good reasons were met with obstruction and/or a lack of trust that they would get on with their work! If home working is now to be encouraged, that means trusting staff much more than hitherto. How many individuals have a properly set up workstation at home? And how will the employer discharge its obligation to ensure the health and wellbeing of staff working outside the company’s premises?

What will the impact of hot desking and home working be on team working and team spirit of physical separation? Humans are essentially social animals and often need the warmth and immediacy of workplace contact to function at their best.

Even if under-30s allegedly function better in impromptu working conditions, how about the impact on the older members of the workforce, with the loss of the sense of security when their allocated desk is done away with along with the personal effects they used to keep on top of it? The suggestion of a potential indirect age discrimination claim is not made wholly in jest.

Reliance on electronic equipment works onlyif the matters you are working on are themselves largely or entirely already in electronic form. Few if any organisations have achieved the holy grail of the ‘paperless office’. After the initial thrill, mundane issues such as carting paper files around, not having to clear their desk entirely each night and knowing exactly where they left their office stationery might make all staff keen to re-colonise a fixed desk.

And osteopaths and physiotherapists warn of the musculoskeletal dangers of working from chairs and tables (and bean bags!) not designed for that purpose (those in break out areas, cafes, or the average kitchen or living room).

Good flexible offices recognise the need for quiet areas to be available so that individuals can concentrate on their work to the required degree in an environment without background distractions.

There will of course be a need for certain individuals with disabilities and long term (or even short term) health issues to have allocated workstations set up for their specific needs. The same applies to certain other staff whose work precludes such ‘agile working’.

An open office environment also raises issues about confidentiality and data protection that the company must address.

West Midlands Trains has indicated that this cultural change in the way people work will not be imposed and they are already talking to individual staff about their preferences. Members with specific concerns on this subject should raise these with relevant TSSA reps as soon as possible.

A number of other issues relating to the relocation of Head Office have been identified, as follows:

· Desk sizes

· Office furniture

· Shower facilities

· Cycle storage

· Car and motor cycle parking

· Kitchen facilities

· Storage facilities

· Additional travelling time

· Security

· Access arrangements

· ICT provision

· Air conditioning

The company has informed TSSA that the Training Academy will not be relocated to the new Head Office and the decision as to where this will be located has not yet been taken.

Timeline

The absolute deadline for the relocation is 11 May 2018 and the site requires a ten-week fit out process, so time is short. TSSA reps expressed concern over the tight timescale especially given the impending management reorganisation - however the company’s hands appear to be tied by the requirement to vacate 102 New Street.

Control re-location

During the consultation held on the transfer of staff from London Midland to West Midlands Trains, it was stated that Control will be relocated to either Saltley or Rugby. It now appears that it may be split between the two locations, with West Midlands Railway being at Saltley, and London North Western being at Rugby. In the interim, the company has confirmed that Control will initially relocate to the new Head Office and will subsequently be relocated for a second time. TSSA believes this is undesirable and will be seeking further discussions with the company to seek to minimise the disruption there will be to Control staff. Members with specific concerns should raise these with relevant TSSA reps.

Join TSSA today

TSSA reps will be doing their utmost to ensure that all of the issues relating to relocation away from 102 New Street are properly addressed.

The more members TSSA has, the more representative the union will be and the more influence it will be able to exert. TSSA is the only union that will be involved in the consultation process.

TSSA members in 102 New Street should talk to colleagues, and if they are not already members of TSSA, encourage them to join TSSA as soon as possible.

They can do so on line at: https://www.tssa.org.uk/en/join-us/index.cfm

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