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ThisWeekinFM Spotlight Interview - Q3 Services

Martyn Freeman of Q3 Services
05 April 2019 | Updated 25 June 2020

The principals at Q3 Services - a boutique British FM company founded in 2018 - claim they are changing the way clients benefit from outsourced services.

The first line on Q3's website says the company 'has three main objectives: to boost productivity through healthier workplaces, to be open and transparent with all stakeholders and to transform the working environment for our own employees'.

Really? Brian Shillibeer  (ThisWeekinFM's Chief Correspondent) took CEO Martyn Freeman to task in a challenging interview.

How did he do? You can be the judge of that - watch the Five Minute Video Interview below.

Candid off camera

Once the camera stopped rolling, Shillibeer and Freeman  didn't...with the latter being candidly open about his views on his clients, potential clients, his staff, the technology Q3 relies upon - and the big FM companies he thinks need reining in following the collapse of Carillion and the tribulations of Interserve, Kier, Serco et al.


Now you are running what is effectively (although with substantial backing) an SME, what do you think in hindsight of the big public companies that have dominated in the FM sector?

"There is currently a need - and I don't think that need will change any time soon - for those big FM companies that service the big organisations with national or global portfolios. But I would ask if clients still believe that one company can actually self-deliver the best M&E, catering cleaning, security, post-room, reception etc, etc, etc, especially on the scale we have become used to. I think the headlines mean more and more of the big potential clients and of course, the Government, have their doubts.

"With the Government committing to ensuring 1 in 3 of every pound it spends is spent with SMEs, there are going to be some great opportunities for collaborations between SMEs that are focussed purely on customer service and doing a great job right and first time around, to break the domination of the big FM players of the past."


How do you think those big public companies treat SMEs -  particularly when it comes to late payment?

SMEs can find they are just an account number and if cashflow is right they get paid and if it's not, payment is delayed. There's no complaint mechanism - you can't complain when you're worried it might lead to you being terminated - and if the work has become your bread and butter how do you walk away?

I think the industry should come together and demand something different.

A problem at the moment is there is no voice for smaller contractors and very little support. It's time for an industry body to emerge that can pursue those big firms and the government to ensure we see an end to late payments.


If Q3 is the lead on an FM contract, how will you do things differently?

Q3 tends to work directly with the end-user or with managing agents. We self-deliver engineering and cleaning and we offer other FM services  using supply chain partners especially in specialist M&E. If we are the lead, we will always pay on the terms agreed. We are robust in ensuring our clients pay on time and that should flow down through to our supply chain.

It's simply really, if you pay on time, it guarantees loyalty and thus service levels - and this means you retain contracts. And of course word gets around and all the good sub-contractors want to come and work for you.


Is there a technology solution that can help improve the experience of the client and those in the supply chain?

To carry on from where I left off with regards to sub-contractor management, we can utilise technology to make sure they turn up and fix a problem first time every time. We can make sure they know what the issue is and have the right tools, experience and spare parts to react quickly. On top of this, they can use tech to confirm the job has been done - and get an invoice off.

I want to make it clear we are doing this within our own organisation and have not rolled it out to the supply chain as yet but as they say 'we have the technology'.


Martyn, I know you have views on other aspects of technology. Explain.

Beacons & Sensors, CAFM & Workplace Management Systems, Room Booking, Sub-contractor Control, I could go on - they're all producing information but it's what you do with the information and how you use it to advise the client that is important. And you have to use it make your staff more efficient.

On top of this, the problem with FM companies selling tech is that they recommend what they know - and if they have their own infrastructure, it will always be their solution. We search the market for tech and look to deploy it to the best effect. We are not wedded to a product or system we will scour the market for the right system for each individual client.

Q3 has an interest in a technology installation company - but that company is completely neutral and again, only installs what is best for the client and can select products from a global market.


Do you think robotics and Ai have a role to play in the FM sector?

There are some robotics out there such as robotic vacuums and scrubbers but I don't think they are ready to replace human dexterity - but that will come. Of course we have examples of those same robotic vacs and scrubbers being utilised on relatively large areas with cleaners monitoring them - this leaves the cleaners to do that more dextrous work and gives them time to deliver an overall higher quality of service.

Meanwhile, drones as we know have moved from the domain of the hobbyists to being mainstream tool for different types of survey work.

We've also seen holographic receptionists and security guards - they need improving but that could be just around the corner.

And then there is AI. For AI to work well it depends on the information that is put in and what is expected back out. So those holographic receptionists and security guards need to be programmed to react to different scenarios; the IoT setup needs to automatically determine actions for engineers; and those beacons and sensors need to trigger actions in the workplace management systems.


What else do you think is on the tech horizon?

I recently went to a technology show in Amsterdam - you would be surprised at who is moving into the, room booking, audio visual and conferencing market. The household names for televisions and the like are all set to make a  bigger move on the workplace tech market.

Meanwhile, in the field of labour  and service management, the technology is getting more and more sophisticate. Those of us that work in this field really need to up our game.


Has there been a substantial shift of attitudes that really does embrace healthier workplaces and increased productivity?

More and more companies are creating workplaces that are a home from home and thus they want better buildings and better services from their FM companies - and so yes, that shift to healthier and more productive workplaces is clearly evident and substantial.

Employees expect to work at the office when they think the office is the right place to be - and quite often outside the traditional 9-5. Offices can be in use for 16 hours or 18 hours and even on a 24 hour cycle. FM companies have to be able to react to different ways of working to ensure those offices are always operating at the standards the client demands.

An aspect that is driving better workplaces is the war for talent. An employer based outside of London for example might find their talent comes from inside London. The employer has to provide a place of work that is fun, vibrant, healthy, productive and offers an extension of family life. FM is key to this provision and we want to work with 'those' clients that value FM services.


Do clients value the people that work for you? Are they interested in how much they get paid?

'Those' clients do. Those clients care about the people on site whether they are employees, outsourced sub-contractors or even there to do a one-off job.

There will always be companies who buy simply on price. We get to choose which potential clients we engage with. We want the ones that offer a fair payment that allows us to pay our staff a proper wage.

But we have to be transparent about what we actually  achieve and how we spend our fee. I don't think we can expect to get that fair payment without doing something to justify it. We have to offer the technology and the increased productivity. And we have to prove the quality of what we do is maintaining or improving the workplace.


Do the people who occupy the workplace care about the FM staff?

Traditionally, many of the services the FM industry provides are out of eyeshot - a lot is done in the evening. But as working hours have changed, FM has become more visible and there is more engagement with the people that serve food or clean or man the reception desk or offer security.  And there is more in the press about those fighting for better rates of pay and conditions. So yes - more employees would like to see FM staff earning at least the Real Living Wage.


How do you feel about unions?

I think there should always be freedom of choice for individuals. We will have people who transfer to us with union affiliations but I am happy for anyone that works for Q3 to join a union. I have a lot of experience with union representatives and with those who are members. I've always found the experience to be mutually polite and courteous. I don't ever believe people complain for complaining's sake - they complain because they are frustrated at not getting the answers they want.

I never want to get to that problem stage. I want to look after my staff as well as I look after my client. The Q3 business was set up with the ethos that our staff are our business. If any one of them has a problem we want to sort it on an individual basis. If you operate this way, you  get sustainability and longevity and a happy employee.

It's the employee not the managers that are the face of Q3. They are our best advocates with the client and our best advocates for recruitment.

I want my employees  to tell 10 other people they ought to come and join Q3 because it's a great place to work -  they pay well and they look after me. I want my people to be able to say 'I'm provided with training and the right tools to do the job. I get communicated with. I see my manager every week. He or she sits down with me and has a cup of tea'. All those things are as important as being paid a reasonable amount of money for the work they do. Only smaller boutique companies can work this way - the trick going forward is to make sure you can keep the boutique ethic running when you get to be that much larger.


How large do you want to get?

I want Q3 to grow and grow - that's natural when you are running your own business but I want to crack that conundrum of not losing the principles that Q3 is founded on. I think this can only be done if we can focus attention on contract retention.

So many of those big FM companies we have spoken about go through a cycle of win a contract, win a contract, lose a contract - repeat (and often it's not as successful as win, win, lose). What happens is they get growth, often at poor margins and they dilute their talent to sustain the growth (and that's talent at both a managerial and an operative level). They also lose talent as a result of their loses. They end up with contracts where there is more profit in not providing a quality service. And they end up with demotivated know, those employees that should be the face of your business.

We will turn this around. Win, retain, Win, retain, Win, retain. We will train our staff on our retained contracts and we allow them to train an expanding workforce. It means we never have to take our best people off one contract and move them on to a new contract or start a new contract with people who have all just been employed. We keep our principles growing with us, not chucked out with the bath water.

In all these ways we can to boost productivity through healthier workplaces, be open and transparent with all stakeholders and transform the working environment for our own employees.

Picture: Martyn Freeman of Q3 Services.

Article written by Brian Shillibeer | Published 05 April 2019


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