· 3 min read · Features

Office relocation special 2/2: interview with Sue Skinner, GB HR director at Britvic


Profiting from a moment of respite, Sue Skinner, GB HR director at drinks manufacturer Britvic (pictured), is casually sipping an orange juice outside the ‘Britvic Arms’. But she’s in her workplace: the Britvic Arms is a meeting room in the style of a pub beer garden, complete with artificial grass and picnic tables.

"We wanted breakout rooms that would help staff think outside the box," she laughs.

And it doesn't stop there. Britvic has another room decorated like a bus shelter, adorned with a traditional - and working - phone box, a coffee table designed to look like a bin from the street and two metal benches with cushions made by a member of staff.

It has been just over three months since Britvic, which manufactures drinks, including Robinsons and Fruit Shoot, and bottles and markets other brands, including Pepsi and Tango, moved its HQ from Chelmsford in Essex, to the commuter town of Hemel Hempstead. Skinner smiles: "Until I came here to work, I just thought of Hemel Hempstead as being famous for 'the magic roundabout'."

The mind initially boggles, but she's right. The magic roundabout is a quirky [read terrifying] traffic anomaly, where vehicles can travel in both directions, clockwise and anti-clockwise around it. And to make matters more difficult, the roundabout is surrounded by clusters of smaller roundabouts and traffic does appear to be coming from all angles.

So, why Hemel? "Our lease in Chelmsford was going to expire," explains Skinner. "There was no real potential for development there. The company had become more dispersed and with a lot of staff based in the Midlands, it was difficult to travel to head office, so we were finding ourselves having meetings in motorway service stations.

"We wanted a hub close to London, convenient for the North and that could genuinely be the heart of the business."

And Skinner was given the role as the workstream lead on the entire process.

"When we chose the location, we wanted to tell staff immediately," she explains. "We took a risk in telling them in June 2011 when we still weren't 100% sure; we had drawn up a shortlist, but we decided transparency was key, because we didn't want people to find out elsewhere."

Some head office staff including payroll, remained in an Essex branch, but of the 300 staff that had to relocate, all had to be put on consultation, because the distance between the two offices is considered 'unreasonable' in legal terms.

"I'm pleased to say we were able to retain 85% of staff," says Skinner. "The rest were able to take redundancy and we have recruited to replace the roles we lost."

The company offered employees relocation allowances for the first two years, and launched incentive schemes for those who could car share. "We wanted to entice staff to move with us, because of the great deal they have at Britvic," adds Skinner. "We wanted them to be engaged in our vision of creating an inspiring place to work promoting connection, collaboration and communication."

It's never a bad idea to make friends with the new neighbours when moving. As part of its CSR agenda, Britvic values the importance of the communities in which it operates.

In 2011, employees raised £350,000 for charity partners and within weeks of its move, the company joined with the Hertfordshire Community Foundation in Hemel, to present local charity ReachOut Plus with a £2,500 cheque.

And for staff, the new workplace has allowed Britvic to usher in an evolved era of flexibility. "The Chelmsford office had a traditional layout, with teams on two floors with a rigid structure. We have had a culture of flexibility - but now our people are much clearer about how they work with colleagues and customers here."

All employees outside of the contact centre and supply chain have been set up with a laptop and have the flexibility to work from home two days per week. They bring laptops into work and can sit wherever they want in a hot desk environment. The only prerequisite is that they meet with their teams on team collaboration or 'hub days' three days per week.

And a collaboration culture of innovation suits its purpose as it operates in a competitive fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector of the economy.

"We have ambitions both in the UK and internationally," says Skinner. "We set compelling goals and have a business strategy for where we want to be in 2020. We want to be the category leader and the UK's greatest soft drinks provider - but we accept different consumers want different things."

Skinner, who worked with Britvic as an external consultant before joining as head of organisational development seven years ago, adds: "We would rather the soft drinks 'pie' was bigger, rather than us having a bigger piece of a small pie."

The company has an employee involvement forum, made up of elected members of staff, to consistently communicate and give feedback. They have affected change on issues from increasing paternity leave to rejigging pension accruals.

And this inclusive culture has paid dividends with low staff turnover (more than 100 employees have had over 30 years service) - but fresh talent moving in regularly via the Britvic apprenticeship scheme.

So having managed the biggest period of physical change and upheaval in Britvic's history, Skinner takes a sip of her, apparently well-deserved J20 in her pretend beer garden, ready for the next level of expansion and talent development and adds: "The strength of our brands come from innovation and creativity, so there is an obvious seat [at the board] for HR here and we involve employees."