This article is written by Roy Janssen, former employee Bruynzeel Storage Systems.
The new way of working is ‘hip and happening’. Half year ago, we tore down the walls in our head office and build an open office plan. In this article I’ll share my experiences after half a year in the new working environment.
Flexible Working versus The New Way of Working
First I want to describe the difference between flexible working and the new way of working. Popularly, these terms are often used interchangeably but there is a clear difference in definition. Flexible working implies you’re still coming to the office every day. Office hours might be a little extended but actually you’re behind a desk each day. Compared to traditional working, flexible working allows you to chose your working spot, depending on the kind of work you have planned for the day. You will look for a spot in a corner to make a phone call or a video call. If you need to focus, you will choose a quiet workplace. A normal office day will find you somewhere in the open-plan office. Flexible working means there is a desk available for every employee. The new way of working is completely different. Judging your productivity no longer depends on being present but on output. You’re an independent employee which means it is up to you to decide where, when and how your highest possible level of productivity will be obtained. This could be at the office but it might just as well be at home at the dining table, at Seats2Meet or in your favorite coffee bar. Office hours too can be decided upon at your own discretion. If you’re not an early riser, you can skip morning hours at the office. You just continue working for an hour longer in the evening. If on Saturday morning, while showering, a brilliant inspiration comes to you, you can develop your idea immediately and decide to sleep in for an hour on Monday. On a side note, the new way of working doesn’t mean an excuse to work at home when you can’t find a sitter for the kids. That isn’t about productivity but about combining work and home life. Commonly, we find that when the new way of working is implemented, 0.6 to 0.7 desk per employee remains available. Implementing the new way of working completely requires both the office and the information to be accessible and available at a wide range of hours, physically as well as digitally. It is kind of impractical to try to go through the minutes on a Sunday afternoon, when the papers are at the office in the office cabinet. At Bruynzeel we have chosen for a compromise solution. We have started flexible working with some extra liberties to make the work as pleasant as possible.
The Bruynzeel approach
Traditionally, everyone worked in his or her own ‘spot’. The marketing and communication department shared a cosy area. Almost every department worked like this. Managers had a separate office and others shared an office per department. When we switched to flexible working, we chose not to apply this to a few departments.
- HR and Finance because of the sensitive nature of the information and the rather large quantity of physical paper in the department.
- IT and R&D because of the necessary hardware and the delicate nature of the information.
We created flexible working spots for about 50 to 60 employees in two offices in the Netherlands. The offices are identical in appearance. They have the same flooring, desks, plants but also the same switchboards, Wi-Fi and laptop docking.
Contact with colleagues
The most important thing I noticed is the contact and communication with colleagues.
In my experience, the contact with close colleagues has diminished while the contact with other departments has intensified. We used to sit together in the same space but now all colleagues are spread out in an open-plan office. This means you have to plan or deliberately look for conversations. The number of official meetings has increased greatly. Before, we also had these conversations but it happened ad hoc. The downside is missing out on many things, if you don’t handle this proactively. Earlier, one way or the other you picked up something of the conversations between your other colleagues but nowadays you have to follow up on the information yourself. The contact with other departments has increased, although most of the chats are rather superficial. This creates a healthy dynamic, it’s cosy and you’re more able to help one another. One hears the conversations between colleagues of other departments and this generates more understanding for their respective situations.
My biggest fear was not being able to concentrate because of the ambient noise. Colleagues in the same open-plan office are placing phone calls, discussing orders, watching a movie on YouTube and some prefer to listen to the radio while working. Thanks to great acoustics, problems are minimized. Of course, sometimes during a phone call things get a bit rowdy or someone cracks a joke. Still, all together my productivity has increased. There is a tangible healthy work ethic and perhaps this is what makes it comparable to a ‘bee hive’ from the movie The Call (2013). The constant buzz feels soothing when you’re working. Should you really need outright silence, there will always be a silent workplace available. Or you put earplugs in and you listen to your favourite music without bothering your colleague. This doesn’t seem sociable but it is convenient to isolate yourself for a while.
The reason Bruynzeel has made the switch to flexible working isn’t cost savings related. Our office is a production facility, situated next to the factory in an industrial zone in a village in Limburg. The price per square meter won’t go soaring. It does constitute the perfect test case for our own Office Unit. Located in the heart of the workplace, is the central meeting spot containing personal lockers, a wardrobe, a coffee machine and some shelf space for office supplies.
This is an ideal solution for flexible working. Since you choose a different seat every day, there are no more roll containers or filing cabinets around. There are no more jackets hanging over chairs either, giving the office a neat, perhaps somewhat clinical appearance. The coffee machine is the preferred spot for chatting with colleagues. This also means you have to get out of your station every so often to stretch your legs. As for me, my work is paperless but I hear from colleagues it is often hard not to use your personal locker as a kind of shadow archive. In our case, the lockers are meant for personal belongings such as keys and a laptop.
As a company, if you’d like to completely apply the new way of working, you will have to provide your employees with 24/7 information accessibility.
Digitally this can be arranged quite easily but physical, paper information might present a challenge. In that case, the Office Unit would still do justice to its function as a meeting spot and central archive, if you choose to work at the office for a day.
Looking inside the office