We’ve partnered with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) since 2016 in its exploration and implementation of new ways of working. During this time, we’ve guided BHF’s adoption of its Smarter Working model that enhances collaboration and flexibility through the evolution of BHF’s culture, skills and workplaces. As a consequence, BHF has been able to enhance its culture, increase social connectivity, evolve its employee experience and enhance its hybrid people management skills whilst reducing its real estate footprint significantly.

Creating an agile working system has been the biggest trend in the workplace in recent years. The pandemic taught many businesses that they can work just as effectively from different locations, and the need for huge office real estate has started to diminish.

The BHF is one of those organisations who were already well developed in implementing hybrid working long before the pandemic struck. The HR function, led by Chief People Officer Kerry Smith, had already put in place many of the foundations needed to operate a hybrid organisation. Covid-19 gave the organisation an opportunity to take this to another level.

What is the British Heart Foundation?

BHF is the UK’s foremost cardiovascular research charity, with the largest chain of high street shops and stores of any UK-based charity. Its core work focuses on funding medical research into heart and circulatory diseases, improving awareness of these issues, and shaping public policy.

The organisation recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. In the 1960s, more than 7 out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal. Now, 7 out of 10 people survive such an attack and get to see their families again.

Heart and circulatory diseases contribute to a quarter of all UK deaths. This underlines the need for organisations such as the BHF, which rely on donations and fundraising activities by the public to continue.

The challenge

AWA began working with BHF in 2016 to support its transition to its Smarter Working model. AWA’s track record in supporting similar organisations in their journey to new ways of working, its science-based, holistic approach and our team’s cultural fit with the BHF were among the reasons the BHF chose us. As Kerry Smith said afterwards “you seemed to know us better than we knew ourselves”.

We began by undertaking a comprehensive study, designed to understand what the BHF’s leaders were seeking  to achieve, how they wanted to work going forwards and how the workplace was used.  The BHF’s IT infrastructure was assessed for its ability to support their ambitions for more digital work, along with its management skills, culture and portfolio of locations.

The aim was to answer this question: How could Smarter Working be used as a tool to enhance productivity and support the BHF’s business objectives, enabling it to put more of its available funds into research?

Kicking off the process

AWA held a vision workshop with the BHF’s senior leaders and managers to discuss the businesses priorities, the people and behaviours needed to support future working.

The study resulted in a variety of recommendations from workplace technology enhancement, leadership skills, cultural changes and workplace design and management.

One of the most pressing ‘tactical’ items on the BHF’s agenda was how to support its dramatic headcount growth in its London-based population, centred around its office at Greater London House in Mornington Crescent. As well as accommodating the BHF’s London workforce ‘GLH’ was also a symbolic and practical focal point for research meetings with partner organisations.

From our study, we knew that the office could support a much larger population if a Smarter Working regime was introduced. Everyone, including the CEO, could work in a mobile fashion in the office using space on a ‘just in time’ basis. To turn the idea into reality we worked with designers and space planners to redesign the BHF workplace to accommodate a smart working model, which meant increasing collaboration spaces and places where people could do quiet and confidential work, introducing new storage solutions and unassigning most workplaces. Given that the BHF only had five years left to run on their lease at GLH, it was vital that all the investments made in furniture were able to be reused wherever BHF landed.


The change programme

To prepare the community of 700 staff for the implementation of Smarter Working, we worked with leaders, teams and a carefully selected network of Champions to design and deliver an engaging change programme. To complete the programme we delivered a training programme involving anyone at GLH that had responsibility for managing people. The evidence-backed programme ensured every people manager had the knowledge and tools necessary for managing their teams in a Smarter Working environment.

The ideas for change needed to be radical in order to achieve the results they were aiming for. It was identified that the office lease the BHF were operating in was coming up for renewal, offering a great opportunity for change to take place. Initial suggestions included reducing the BHF’s London real estate footprint to use the remaining space more flexibly, and therefore not renewing the lease. Headquarters spaces could be used for working purposes on a hybrid model so the entire team is not there at the same time, as well as using the space to host more social events.


Improving infrastructure

In the background, discussions about the wider findings from our study were being explored with senior leaders. A number of options for the transition of the BHF’s office portfolio in the UK were discussed, all taking on board the transition to Smarter Working, using offices as hubs for most people and homes for some. There were a number of cultural, infrastructure and commercial obstacles that would need to be addressed in order for the benefits of the strategy to be realised.

One critical element that needed immediate attention was the IT infrastructure. Like many organisations, IT wasn’t the BHF’s core business and its infrastructure had evolved organically with each department tending to do what made sense for it. Building on the BHF’s own thinking, our study supported the evolution to a more integrated collaborative solution centred around a Microsoft Teams platform. Over 18 months the infrastructure was rolled out, teams trained and a whole new digital way of working became the norm.

Then came the pandemic.

Fast forward to March 2020 and the pandemic forced the BHF’s employees to suddenly work remotely 100% of the time. The BHF wanted to use the pandemic to move forward with their Smart Working programme to prepare the organisation for a future way of working.


The outcome

The BHF were recognised on a national scale for their workplace developments at the recent HR Excellence Awards. The team won the award for Best Flexible Working Strategy for its #FlexiblyConnected programme.

Throughout the change management process, the BHF maintained a healthy dialogue with its landlord while its lease contract began to run out, in the knowledge that it could operate its Smarter Working model from a much smaller office footprint. In 2020 the BHF’s landlord proposed a relocation within the building to a single floor of 26,000 square feet, a 28% reduction on the space previously occupied.

We aided the BHF in conducting a listening exercise via an organisation-wide survey, which served to better understand how the charity’s employees were responding to remote working. Through this process, we identified workstyle needs, the challenges people were facing, opportunities, colleague appetite for change, and their expectations for the future of work.

Following a forensic analysis of the results, we worked closely with the BHF’s internal specialists to translate results into an actionable programme the BHF named #FlexiblyConnected. This gave each individual team within the organisation a structure within which to articulate, negotiate and manage its hybrid working expectations. By giving employees this autonomy, a greater commitment to a new team working arrangement emerged. We then worked with change champions to support the rest of the organisation in deploying the framework effectively, working in an advisory role to the BHF team.

By utilising AWA’s dynamic space modelling tool, the BHF was able to identify the demand and supply of a range of workplace settings to support its workforce within the agreed hybrid framework. With our assistance with the change management programme and overall approach to hybrid working, the BHF has gone from a traditional working environment that revolved around a presence-based system with limited IT infrastructure, to being known as a very sophisticated agile working organisation with much less real estate. This reduction in its property portfolio contributes to the charity’s ongoing environmental and  research funding goals.

Image of HR Excellence award win


“We have worked with AWA for seven years and value the collaborative partnership we have with them. They have supported the ongoing evolution of our working practices, culture  and workplace, providing deep insights and extensive expertise. With their help, we have been able to create a progressive and transformational space which supports our hybrid working approach and transforms our culture and ways of working to become more agile and innovative.  This helps us recruit and retain the best talent, which supports our core purpose of funding research to save lives. None of this would have been possible without the help of AWA.”

Kerry Smith Chief People Officer, British Heart Foundation

“This project is a true story of transformation in which we have been able to bring our skills and value to the BHF’s benefit through a close, open and honest relationship with their team. As well as supporting the BHF’s goals, our partnering approach enabled the transfer of knowledge and skills to the BHF in order that they are equipped to support their own evolution going forward. Maintaining leading edge work experiences for their people is critical for the BHF to retain and recruit the most talented people in the market place, enabling the organisation to continue to flourish.

Andrew Mawson Managing Director, AWA