As Mace celebrates its 25th year one of its directors remembers what life was like when she first joined the firm, nearly two decades ago

Barbara Welch

Last week Mace published its 2014 annual accounts, its 25th year showing another year of growth in both turnover and pre-tax profits. This has given me cause to reflect on how the industry has changed over the past 25 years and, for me, how Mace has changed since I started in 1997.

When I joined the company we had circa 400 staff, mostly working in London, many from our over-crowded head office, Plough Yard, tucked behind Liverpool Street Station. Although I was interviewed in London, I initially started in one of our “regional offices” - albeit I found myself site based in Buckinghamshire. Back then it was the exception rather than the norm to have a computer on your desk and I used mine to type out letters and memos which I would then print and either post or fax. Drawings would all arrive in the post, hard copy and change management involved pulling the previous paper copy from the file, completing a change management form, attaching it to the drawing and adding it to a log in an Excel spreadsheet.

Technology has transformed the way we work, both as an industry and as individuals

I recall getting my first mobile phone with a credit card sized SIM card. As no-one had email for work, yet alone email on a mobile, it meant when I left the office at 6pm, I literally left work behind for the day. This may seem a rather alien concept today, particularly to my junior colleagues who have only ever worked in the 24/7 world.

Technology has transformed the way we work, both as an industry and as individuals. As we move from constructing to assembling buildings, the way in which we use our built environment is also changing. Cloud based collaboration systems allow global teams to work simultaneously on complex BIM models; clients can review progress on their projects via their mobiles 24/7; widgets in components track their use and notify maintenance when they need attention; kinetic energy from footfall is now being harnessed for power; remote working and online meetings are now the norm, not the exception. The pace of change is relentless and rewarding.

Over the past 10 years, I have worked across Mace’s international business: initially based in Asia, then Russia and more recently responsible for Western Europe and global clients. Technology allows me to conduct a lot of my meetings online but the nature of our work means I cannot escape the need to travel. The plus side was the ability to use the precious time on a flight – sans Wi-Fi and mobile phone – to simply think, switch off from the continuous contact and allow myself the luxury of thinking space; time to reflect, formulate and strategize. Alas, in the name of progress, even this small luxury is slowly being eroded as more and more airlines introduce on-board Wi-Fi.

Some are probably thinking, “just turn your phone off”, “ignore your inbox” and I do, occasionally. Probably to the same extent that many of my peers and colleagues do. But my personal choice is to try to keep on top things; I find I sleep better that way.

Today is a good day. I am currently on a flight back to London, grateful that Air Malta has not yet embraced this technological shift and added Wi-Fi to its repertoire of services. I am forced to switch off and my time is once again my own.

As for Mace, since I joined we have seen growth in turnover, staff, services, clients and locations in which we work around the world. It has been a tremendous journey.

Barbara Welch is Mace’s director of Western Europe