Portico & Friends: How to foster a supportive working environment, incorporating effective DEI principles and engaging with the local community

Earth Day Portico & Friends
19 April 2024

In the run up to the Earth Day (22 April), we are delighted to share the insights from our recent Portico & Friends panel discussion, focussing on ESG strategy and the role FM and Guest Services play in its delivery. We were thrilled to have a panel of industry leaders sharing their knowledge, real world experiences and examples, leaving our guests with actionable insights to implement successful ESG strategies within their business and teams.

Today, we’re exploring how to foster a healthy and supportive work environment, incorporating DEI principles and how engaging with the local community can support this.

Q: Duncan, can you tell us about your journey around workplace well-being and more of the human element within your business?

Duncan: I think when you have a good idea of why your business exists beyond making a profit, it’s easier to then make some decisions around how you approach an employee’s well-being. We are a business that realised that we’re ‘bottling happiness’, and if that’s what we’re putting out into the world, we must start by creating a culture of happiness from inside our business, starting with our people.

We’ve approached that in a couple of ways since we started. Firstly, from a building and environment perspective, we considered how to restore and reuse material, which we’ve now been doing for 16 years. For example, our restored 1955 Probat coffee roaster, now the heart and soul of our business, was going to waste in Bosnia. So, we spent less than 24 hours in Bosnia, collecting the machine and after 4 years managed to restore it! It’s still here today, 15 years later.

That mentality has continued. Our coffee tables are made from restored wood from these beautiful old signs from train carriages. The door handles are made from parts of the original Bosnian roasting machine; these beautiful burrs from the industrial grinders that we use. Our old skateboard wheels are the runners for certain doors and the skateboards themselves were turned into beautiful, wood, auto filter and roaster handles. We do this because we love it, but it also creates an emotional connection to the environment that we’re in, ultimately deepening the connection our people have with our story. It amazes me every time how much passion and pride our people have, even if they’ve been with us for six months, in retelling our story.

Three or four years ago, we started something called the ‘Excetera Project’, where people from across the business would get together once a month and go out for the day on a well curated, behind the scenes experience. For example, one was at the Tiny Rebel Brewery, and another with Daylesford Organic Farm in the Cotswolds, where our teams would experience new ways of working, new cultures and look at the operations of a business from a different perspective. Of course, there was a big social aspect to it as well. The critical outcome of this is that they would come back to our leadership team and tell us what they think we should be doing. That is what employee well-being means to us; it means allowing our people to spend time together, to think creatively about things beyond their role and ultimately giving our people a voice on what we should be doing as a team and a culture.

As a small business, this is the thing that has helped us to grow and accelerate.

Q: And Denise, Portico is on the journey, for sure. So how we are emphasising the wellbeing both our people and our clients?

Denise: We are on a continuous journey and as we bring new talent into the organisation, we’re listening.

From a Portico perspective, we reviewed our benefits scheme last year, where we introduced things like enhanced maternity, focused on deaf awareness and implemented equal access to medical and nutritional information, which is available for everyone regardless of seniority. 75% of our employees at Portico identify as female, so lot of work has been done around fertility and the menopause. For example, we signed the fertility pledge last year and partnered with organisations like HenPicked, who provide support mechanisms for our employees and their families when individuals are going through the menopause.

Another area that’s been become an important focus at Portico is neurodiversity. We’re extremely proud of our incredible training programmes surrounding neurodiversity, especially because there’s so much information evolving in that area. So, Portico is doing quite a lot on wellbeing, and it’s constantly growing. Together with our team members, we’ve just created ‘Enlight’; an initiative that nurtures our community, where we listen to our employees and learn from their experiences. There are work streams that are going to focus on gender equality, race and ethnicity, LGBTQIA+ community and just see where that takes us.

Ultimately, the agenda for Portico will be driven from the individuals within the organisation.

Q: So very similar to Duncan’s example of reverse mentoring, which is something I have also been involved with at Portico.

Denise: Yes! That was one thing that we launched last year across WSH, but Portico was very active in that. From an inclusivity perspective, we felt that we had to get back to basics by raising awareness for our leadership teams. We introduced the ‘Reverse Mentoring’ piece where many of the directors across the WSH board – Annalie and Anna being two of them – are being mentored by team members within the organisation around their inclusivity. Whether that’s on neurodiversity or race, there’s a real recognition of educating our leaders on inclusivity within Portico. Our current mentors will be graduating very soon, with another cohort coming up in June, so if anyone’s interested then please do get in touch!

Q: Annelie, there has been a huge piece of work done in your work stream around strategizing that elements of diversity, equity and inclusion. How does that fit into the workplace of Guest Services?

Annelie: There’s a great piece of research done by a company called Nutritics which states 97% of hospitality workers say that they look for an organisation that’s sustainable, environmental and holds DEI credentials. Roughly half then said that all things equal, if they have two offers, they will go for the one that has better values. Talent is scarce, right? We all are looking for the great talents, but ESG can really help to gain and retain that talent.

Q: Let’s talk about community engagement because ultimately, we all work and live in our social hubs and our communities. We have already discussed that feeling of purposeful presence in the workplace with Duncan, so, what can we do to engage with local communities in our workplace?

Duncan: From my perspective, we’re not social enterprise. We started a business because we wanted to do something exceptional, to create a speciality product and be at the forefront of this – which we managed to do! Two years ago, we were voted the UK’s best speciality coffee roaster, and last year we won the World Barista League Championships in in the UK.

What we were doing at the same time and still believe in now, is the idea of coffee being a vehicle for change. There are now plenty of social enterprise coffee companies out there whose sole purpose is as a social enterprise – we are not that. Deep in our DNA is a real, fundamental belief that making coffee better for the community’s means being present in our community at a hyperlocal level.

In more recent years, we’ve been a lot more purposeful. Our Grounds Up Charity effectively supports three areas all linked to hospitality. Firstly, we’re helping to fight homelessness with Beyond Food and the Hotel School, which is a joint venture between Jeremy Goring of The Goring Hotel and The Passage, London’s largest homeless charity. So far, we’ve trained over 650 people through the Hotel School or Beyond Food and have been successful in placing people into Searcys in the past! That meant a lot to our business because we could see the fruits of our labour.

The third is supporting mental health in hospitality, working with an amazing organisation in Manchester, ‘So Let’s Talk’, founded by Paddy, who had personally really struggled with his mental health and made it his mission to open a conversation and end the silence in hospitality. Working with ‘So Let’s Talk’, The Grounds Up Charity has helped to fund 700 people in hospitality through mental health training.

Q: And Denise with Portico, in over 200 locations now?

Denise: Yes, and we’re just over 1000 employees now. At Portico it starts with the people we recruit. Working with organisations, Portico will recruit people from disadvantaged backgrounds, give them the training and build their confidence to work at Portico. We have also started to work with the Hotel School and continue to focus on veterans, working with organisations like ‘Veterans with Dogs’, ‘Career Transition Partnership’ and ‘White Ensign Association’, to create a supportive environment and pathway into Portico for ex-service people. A big thing for our Portico people is volunteering, where we introduced time off for our employees to support a charity they feel passionate about, regardless of the cause.

Find more from our Portico & Friends panel discussion here.