“We really appreciate the sector expertise that Fortus offers, now they have a large number of architectural practices on their books" Ian Bray, Managing Partner, GSS ArchitectureFind out more
They’ve been designing buildings since Victorian times. Now GSS Architecture are embracing the most progressive working methods to ensure it continues to thrive into the next century.
As clients increasingly asked them to design workplaces around new ways of working, national architectural practice GSS began to take a closer look at its own flexibility, peoples’ health and wellbeing and working practices. This was even before the pandemic hit.
“We were already quite flexible in the way we operated, but in an informal way,” explains senior partner, Tom Lyons. “We wanted to have a more structured system that would operate equally across all five of our locations.”
The company’s business advisors, Fortus, arranged a focused session involving its HR specialists and GSS partners. “It allowed us to sit down and think through these issues properly,” says Tom. “As well as the partners, Fortus quite correctly arranged sessions with all of our people too, to get a view throughout the business.”
The outcome was an agile working policy, drafted by Fortus and introduced across GSS after consultation with the team of 70 employees. It gives line managers clarity on how they can flex working patterns in response to team members needs and daily work requirements.
“People very much welcomed it. I personally think it made our people feel much more valued, and feel it’s improved productivity,” says Tom.
The model’s impressed others too. An Investors in People (IiP) assessor commented favourably on the policy when he awarded GSS gold status. “We were the second highest-scoring architectural practice on the IiP international database,” Tom adds.
Whilst proud of its long heritage – John Alfred Gotch, who founded the company in 1879 and was renowned as the man who ‘built’ many prominent buildings across the UK perhaps most notably the Midland Bank HQ in Poultry, London – GSS is focused firmly on the future rather than the past.
“As partners, we see ourselves as custodians of GSS – leaving the business in a better position than when we joined,” says managing partner Ian Bray. “So, we have succession planning in place for the next 20 years. And because we bring in new partners of different ages, there’s always that drive to keep improving.”
Fortus helps the business with these continuous improvements. “When you’ve been around for such a long time, there’s a risk that you carry on doing things the way they’ve always been done,” Ian says.
“So, for example, I asked Fortus to give us an independent financial review. I just wanted a health check to make sure our processes and systems were as robust as possible.
“We’ve implemented several of the recommendations they came up with. A lot of it was about modernising our practices, such as issuing electronic payslips rather than hard copies. Fortus also suggested we introduced a Purchase Order system, which we’d never done – that’s helped us with forward financial planning.
“Fortus gave us an appraisal of whether to move from LLP to limited company status, partly to take advantage of R&D tax credits. Ultimately, we felt the benefits didn’t justify the change, but the exercise allowed us to make an informed decision.”
Offering a seamless, personal service is paramount for GSS. The practice strives to ensure the whole team all know each other and what they’re working on, whether they’re in Kettering, Gloucester, Harrogate, Milton Keynes or Newcastle.
The firm values that kind of service in its external partners too. This was one of the reasons for switching to Fortus, says Tom: “We’d been with a large accounting firm, but we were getting a very corporate service from them. We decided we needed to go to somebody a bit more hands-on.”
Initially assigned to manage GSS’s annual accounts, Fortus were soon asked to advise on tax planning, HR and restructuring, as well as other strategic business challenges.
Besides providing high-level financial advice, Fortus also stepped in at short notice to take over day-to-day accounting and payroll while an in-house gap was filled.
Ian particularly appreciates the relationship with Fortus director Stephen Watts: “Fortus are so accessible. I know I can pick up the phone and speak to Steve at any point. He’ll either say ‘you’re talking absolute nonsense’ or ‘that’s worth exploring’!
“We really appreciate the sector expertise Fortus offers and the fact they act for a number of construction related professional practices. It gives us the opportunity to make new connections. We were recently looking for a new law firm – so of course we asked if they knew one with a similar culture to Fortus itself.”
The personal touch
“We’ve been acting for GSS for a number of years now. That period included the 140th birthday of the practice, when we sent special GSS cupcakes to all their offices which went down well!
“The business has a very strong culture and ethics and has experienced good growth across the country.
“As they introduce new people to their newer offices in Newcastle and Milton Keynes, they’ll be planning new office locations too – putting them in a strong position to continue to grow the legacy of their founding partners.”
“Our agile working policy’s helped us achieve gold status from Investors in People and become the second highest-scoring architectural practice in Europe”
Ian Bray GSS Architecture