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ADNH Compass tells Becca Wilson of its plans to increase employee well-being by transforming camps into communities.

Workers enjoy their day off
Workers enjoy their day off

ADNH Compass tells Becca Wilson of its plans to increase employee well-being by transforming camps into communities.

Labour camps are notorious for receiving bad press in the Middle East and are stereotypically dirty, cramped and lifeless places.

We are trying to create a different living experience and image to these camps.

These kinds of conditions often lead to absenteeism, low staff moral and an increasingly unhappy workforce. With companies constantly under pressure to complete projects on time and within budget, poor living conditions are not only going to impact on productivity but also on a company's bottom line.

But with the introduction of minimum camp standards and developers and contractors now starting to realise the benefits behind changing this stereotype, slowly, labour camps all over the region are starting to be reinvented.

One facilities management company keen to drive this change is ADNH Compass.

Village life

Currently, the company manages staff accommodation in around 30 different countries. With increased pressure on companies to provide better living environments and with the threat of a labour shortage if conditions don't change, ADNH Compass launched Village Life.

"We are trying to create a different living experience and image to these camps. We took a team of people and decided what it was we wanted to achieve and also sat with a number of clients and asked them what the future was. Everybody agreed that we would find huge labour constraints in a number of years if something wasn't done," explains Andrew Furlong, managing director, Compass Group PLC.

With an aim to transform camps to communities, Village Life has been rolled out through ADNH Compass' own worker's living environments and is currently operational in three external camps.

"We've a number of these operating around the world now and it's a very good product line. Now there are a number of test cases in operation, it's a good thing to go and see and witness for yourself," adds Furlong.

The base layer of Village Life includes soft service provision like catering, cleaning and security. Furlong says the brand is continually developing with the more integrated elements of what communities require to operate successfully, being implemented along the way.

Additional facilities might include supermarkets, barbers and recreational areas. "These are an integral part of what Village Life stands for. We feel very bullish about the product and we intend to be a lot more dynamic in how we market it to ensure it's understood," says Furlong.

Project manager, Patrick Frayne, is responsible for one of Compass' external camps, Yas Island Work Force Community in Abu Dhabi.

"Village Life is an extremely good vehicle for serving and upgrading labour camps. It's put us in a situation where we're putting our money where our mouth is. We're doing it with our own camps and now we're selling it to other companies," explains Frayne.

While the concept is a saleable product, Furlong says these additional community add-ons don't have to be costly. "From a pricing perspective, it doesn't have to be double the cost of what's already being done."

"It's a win for everybody because the government gets to see the progression in how people are being managed, the clients start to see improved productivity and we see the deployment of a product that is quite unique at this point in time. Most importantly, the occupants in the camp win so it's an unusual business paradigm," says Furlong.

Case study - Yas Island work force community

Both ADNH Compass and Aldar share the same vision and both want the industry to transform camps into communities.

ADNH Compass has been employed to provide soft services to its projected 15,000 capacity living environment in May 2007.

The camp currently houses 7,600 staff and in June this year, figures are expected to rise to 15,000.

ADNH Compass and Aldar share the same vision and both want the industry to transform camps to communities.

On entering Yas Island Work Force Community, the first notable aspect is its cleanliness and relaxed atmosphere. Large paintings dominate the side of containers and vegetation has been planted around the community.

Facilities include two large dining areas, a barber's shop, supermarket, gym, outdoor sporting area and a large recreational room that includes a number of flat screen televisions, table tennis, pool tables and the newly introduced 'Chowpatti Tea Shop'.

There is around 300 ADNH Compass staff in total servicing the community, this is split between facilities management catering.

Monthly and weekly activities encourage teamwork, communication and provide a mental escape from the worker's day-to-day occupation. In addition to the recreational room, culture nights and sports days are held for workers. On their day off, buses are available for those wanting to travel to Abu Dhabi or Dubai for the day.

"We're also starting a cricket league," says Frayne. "We've been making changes to the camp since day one and make a point of ensuring something different has been done every time someone else visits. Even if it's just another sign or picture, it keeps it looking fresh."

The latest addition to the camp is the introduction of street signs, telling residents where everything is.

"Whenever I come to Yas Island, I always leave surprised because there's such a self-build momentum here. A lot of it is self-created and we need to harmonise that to ensure we don't end up with a different flavour in every camp. We want to standardise and have a high quality product that we can be proud of and measure," says Furlong.

Around 20 to 30 camp supervisors act as a liaison between residents and ADNH Compass. If residents have any requests or want to suggest areas for improvement, the camp supervisors are there to bring these forward.

"We continually ask for the opinions of people to ensure we are doing things right. We want to keep it alive because if it isn't, people will get bored," adds Frayne.

The camp operates a horizontal management structure and ADNH Compass and camp supervisors discuss operations on a daily basis.

By close-knit communication and consistent evaluation, ADNH Compass run the operation with success.

Rakesh Kumar, TC (tower crane) operator, says productivity has been increased as a direct result of increasing the workers' quality of life.

Monthly and weekly activities encourage teamwork, communication and provide a mental escape from the worker's day-to-day occupation.

"Being looked after makes me feel more inclined to work. If there are any problems in the community, solutions are found. I have a very good life," he says.

Productivity is a major challenge for the region's developers and contractors and one of ADNH Compass goals is to keep it high.

"The productivity of the people in here has increased because they are happy. Downtime is a major issue and one of the goals is to reduce that," says Frayne.

When asked for a camp comparison, resident Thomas Antony, camp supervisor explains that the standards on Yas Island are incomparable.

"There are so many camps around that are filthy and unclean. This one is not like that, the standards are high. Camps are the backbone to a project and if employees are happy in their living environments they will work well."

Kumar agrees with Antony's comment. "This camp is better than ones I have previously worked on and I really enjoy being here. Everyone says "good morning", even the senior management. I'm a simple man, but people her give you so much respect. This makes me happy."

Moving forward

The next step forward for Village Life will be occupational health and safety, something ADNH Compass prides itself on.

The company aims to continue growing the brand, while providing companies with a first-class service.

On a larger scale, ADNH Compass hopes that the standards they have introduced on Yas Island Work Force Community will influence other companies and the government to do more to improve these worker's temporary homes.

Furlong would like to see a new governmental standard implemented to enable companies to benchmark.

"I personally feel every camp should be measured against a governmental standard so we can start to see a step change in the policy of camps, because at the moment, we've got camps from poor to excellent.

"Currently, internal measurement is good for us but we'd be very supportive of the implementation of a standard. Especially given the number of camps across the UAE."

"It's a big area of interest and hopefully one day we'll get something that can measured effectively where we have good comparables," says Furlong.

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