Celebrating 180 years of innovation

At the finish line of Bidwells’ now annual golden triangle bike ride, which runs from Oxford to Cambridge via Milton Keynes, successful cyclists are handed a cold bottle of Bidwells’ branded beer to savour.

All 400 odd weary cyclists gulp them down but what most don’t know is why the beer is so appropriate.

The story goes that Charles Muriel Bidwell, founder of the 180-year-old property consultancy, might well have been a brewer were it not for the early death of his father.

The Bidwells were a prominent East Anglian family with brewing interests but when Charles was only 15, his father died and the family brewery business was sold to provide for the young family, leaving Charles to embark upon an alternative career. He chose to become a land agent, surveyor and auctioneer and the rest, as they say, is history.

History that Bidwells’ 30-strong Milton Keynes office has been revisiting recently as the firm celebrates its 180th year.

All 550 plus employees of the firm have been set the challenge of raising £180 each for charity as they celebrate ‘180 Years of Innovation’.

And to mark this milestone, the firm is living up to its year-long campaign strapline by delivering the transformation of its offices into fully-agile work spaces.

Milton Keynes has just gone agile and Regional Office Partner, Mike Jones, explains what it means.

“ ‘Agile working’ is a workplace buzz term but it really just means giving everyone employed by Bidwells the freedom and flexibility that digital communication has brought to all other aspects of our lives”.

The agile approach is centred on staff being able to work in the way they wish to, no longer being judged on traditional ‘9-5’ attendance and being rewarded on output and performance.

Bidwells’ Cambridge HQ was the first to go fully agile and became the first truly agile refurbished building in Cambridge.

Bidwells’ John Ormond House office in Silbury Boulevard is the latest to become open-plan with no allocated desks, leaving employees able to choose their mode of work.

Jones says the biggest change has been the way staff have been empowered.

He said: “Everyone was provided with a Surface Pro laptop and mobile phone and told there were no fixed desks, not even for Senior Partners. This has encouraged fluidity of movement with staff, allowing them to choose whether to work from an armchair, sit or stand at a desk, work from a bench, or have an informal meeting in a snug. It’s been nothing short of revolutionary”.

In Cambridge, employee sick days have reduced by 23% since the move into the refurbished Bidwell House. Average employee satisfaction levels have risen from 53% (taken from staff survey) in January 2018 to around 70% from April 2019. Crucially, the working environment has had a big impact on staff retention and recruitment.

The Milton Keynes office is busy and growing and looking to emulate this success. It offers a range of property consultancy advice and services including planning, residential development and new homes, business space agency and building surveying.

The office delivered £36.8m of income for clients in 2018 and solidified its position in the middle of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, in a city planning to increase its population by 500,000 by 2050.

Bidwells is active in 11 of the 15 local planning authorities within the Central Growth Area of this newly named region and is already seeing the benefits of agile working in the way it delivers its services.

“We’re already sharing information more regularly between teams and are able to pull people in easily and seamlessly just by being able to collaborate better in the office” said Jones.

“The emotional and physical wellbeing of our people is critical to us” added Jones. “That’s why we’re committed to constantly improving our working environment and to our BWell programme. This programme promotes the importance of wellbeing and helps our people to live well through mindfulness courses, awareness activities on mental and physical health and other supporting initiatives.”

The office holds regular Friday happy half hours where everyone finishes at 4.30 and congregates to have a drink over an ever changing staff Spotify playlist.

Whilst they are not brewing their own yet, they have invested in a drinks fridge.