UK Architectural Firm Uses RingCentral to Stay Collaborative and Connected—Even More so During COVID-19 Isolation

Company profile
Company profile:
5plus is an award-winning design and architectural studio that oversees projects ranging from small-office refurbishments to some of the UK’s largest and mixed use master-planning initiatives. The practice, which operates as a single studio across its Manchester and London locations, delivers services across five core disciplines: Architecture, Masterplanning, Interiors, Graphics, and Branding.
Year founded:
2010
EMPLOYEES:
60
HEADQUARTERS:
London, United Kingdom
WEBSITE:

How does a highly collaborative, customer-service-obsessed design firm maintain normal operations when a pandemic like COVID-19 forces all of its employees to work from home?

To appreciate just how disruptive the coronavirus outbreak could have been for the 60+ employees of design firm 5plus Architects, you need to understand how central a role collaboration and client communication play in the organisation’s culture.
Although the UK firm has grown to the point that it now occupies large studios in both London and Manchester, the team’s mantra is “One practice, two locations.” The directors of 5plus Architects make it a priority to maintain a sense of cohesion, accessibility, and teamwork—both among the staff at the practice’s two studios, and between employees and clients.
This formula has proven enormously successful. 5plus Architects has earned dozens of industry accolades, including Practice of the Year from Building magazine, and a spot on the AJ100 Fastest Growing Practice list published by Architects Journal, the UK’s most prominent industry publication.
Thanks to its high degree of responsiveness and award-winning design skills, 5plus Architects has also earned business that includes some of the most ambitious and high-profile projects in the country. One example is the 20-year, £650 million expansion of Airport City Manchester, where 5pus Architects is providing its masterplanning expertise.
Because of the high-profile and volume of work sitting with 5plus, when the UK government announced a shelter-in-place / stay at home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Practise was relieved that it had already recently switched to cloud communications as the primary way to communicate across teams and locations.
 

Legacy phone system undermined the Practice’s vision.

The pandemic itself had nothing to do with 5plus Architects’ decision to implement a unified communications solution. That decision grew out of a Practice initiative to identify the types of IT solutions employees believed they needed to succeed but were lacking.
One technology that came up repeatedly in employee surveys conducted by Technical Director Kieran Gilman was the practice’s phone services. Many pointed out that the existing service wasn’t flexible or sophisticated enough to professionally handle the calls 5plus were receiving and made it difficult to deliver the outstanding client service that built the firm’s reputation.
The firm’s previous phone infrastructure consisted of disparate services at each of its locations. There was no way to transfer calls internally, no direct-dial numbers for individual employees, and very little functionality of any sort.
If a client in Manchester accidentally dialed the London studio, the staff there would have to ask the caller to hang up and dial the London number directly. That type of poor experience undermined 5plus Architects’ ability to present itself as one cohesive firm.
The directors tasked Kieran with finding a better solution. He examined every option: changing telecom providers, selecting a more advanced phone system, or migrating to a different solution such as unified, cloud-based communications. Based on what he learned from his internal surveys and his extensive research, Kieran determined cloud communications was the clear choice.

RingCentral passes the stress test with flying colors.

When his investigation of various cloud providers’ feature sets, flexibility, and costs led him to RingCentral, Kieran had just one more order of business to make sure he was making the right decision:
“During our RingCentral trial, I threw everything I could at the system. I tried my damnedest to break the thing. But I couldn’t."
 

Prepared for anything—even a pandemic.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, nearly all of the 5plus Architects team had always worked in the studio. But when the pandemic left businesses scrambling to figure out how to continue functioning with an entirely work-from-home staff, 5plus Architects had the communications infrastructure in place for a smooth transition to the new reality.
Today the practice’s employees can make and take business calls, and even join and host video conferences, anywhere, from any device—laptop, tablet, or smartphone—using the RingCentral app. 5plus is also using RingCentral’s built-in team messaging platform to engage in real-time chats and share files related to specific projects or working groups.
And because RingCentral allowed them to create a cohesive company-wide solution, 5plus’s staff can now easily transfer calls, use internal dialing to reach colleagues more quickly, and launch video conferences with just a few clicks.
To give you an idea of how transformative this has been for 5plus, during a directors’ meeting early after the UK’s shelter-in-place / stay at home order came down, a few directors asked how we were going to answer its phones with nobody in the studios. “That was an instinctive question,” Adam explains, noting that the firm was still new to the idea of having a phone solution like RingCentral.
“But then everyone realised that now we can easily have the right people answering our business lines, anytime, even from home.”
 
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Unified communications: delivering even more benefits.

5plus is also seeing other benefits from their all-in-one communications solution—including some that have nothing to do with the coronavirus fallout. For example, in the first quarter after rolling out RingCentral, the practice’s internal travel costs dropped by 50%.
“And even during the pandemic, we’re getting our people talking face-to-face digitally,” says Kieran. “That’s tremendously beneficial not only from a customer service perspective but also just on a human level. With everyone on lockdown and isolated like we’ve never been before, this level of communication is a huge benefit for us all.”
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