Henk Korevaar from Ffectis and Micky Kieboom from Ymere Housing in the Netherlands report on their adoption of ‘ the new way of working’ – the effective use of the bricks, bytes, bikes, business and behaviour (the five Bs) to improve productivity and accommodate flexibility in the Dutch social housing sector.
The New Way of Working (NWW) is a term that was introduced by Bill Gates in a memo in 2005 and has been on the rise in the Netherlands ever since. Many organisations introduced the term without truly understanding what it meant or what the impact of such changes would be. This article sketches the recent developments and experiences of Dutch housing associations that aimed to increase their productivity or customer satisfaction by applying this theme.
To illustrate that the NWW is not always properly used and contributes to more confusion, below are some terms that have been used over the last few years:
- New way of working
- Flexible working
- Nomad working
- Smart office
- Smart work centre
- Meeting plaza
- Flexible office
Projects have also been set up with a variety of different and inspiring names such as:
- Work place innovation
- The other office life (TOOL)
So let us start with a quick definition: the NWW is working anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Supported by internet-based mobile technologies such as tablets, laptops, smartphones, the NWW allows employees to do their work without needing to physically be in a traditional office; they can work from home, on the train or anywhere that they have access to the internet. Consequently fewer workstations and workplaces are required in a ‘traditional office environment’ which in turn leads to cost reductions for employers.
There are numerous reasons to implement the NWW (or whatever the project may be called), such as:
- Increasing employee use of ICT tools and 24/7 work mentality;
- Growing demand for ‘bring your own device’;
- ICT makes communication possible anywhere;
- Work is not limited to the office;
- Traffic jams and commuting make home-work travel times longer;
- Rising cost of office space;
- The percentage of time that office space is actually being used is shrinking.
Many Dutch companies, including housing associations, have modelled their offices for the NWW with a variety of different workspaces. You might find concentration areas, meeting rooms, team workspaces and lounge areas. Employees go to the office to meet each other and catch up but not necessarily to be there from nine-to-five. This is illustrated by one of the remarks from the Housing Technology 2012 conference in February – “Work is not a place I go to, it is something I do.”
With this new workplace concept, employees are stimulated to meet each other in natural and informal settings through the use of meet and greet areas, coffee corners or other relaxation areas. This workspace concept is supported by modern IT systems.
IT is not everything
Pictures in newspapers and magazines show people using their laptops in settings such as sitting at the edge of a pool and pretending to be ‘working’. What does that lead to?
- Wrong expectations
- Large investments
- Low return on investments
- Dissatisfied employees and employers
- Failed projects
- Empty offices
- Unused IT
These pictures in the media suggest that having the right IT tools is all you need to convince people to approach their work in a different way. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen in most cases.
The big picture
The bricks (office environment) and the bytes (ICT solutions) are certainly the most visible components of the NWW but we must not forget that ‘work’ in itself is the central theme.
Employees and managers are critical success factors in any project which attempts to implement new ways of working. For this reason, we have introduced the term ‘behaviour’ where freedom, trust and responsibility are crucial aspects. When clearly defined targets are agreed between an employee and the employer, does it really matter when or how the work gets done?
We therefore find it more fitting to call it ‘the new way we work’.
To remove misunderstandings and really add value to organisations when adopting these principles, we suggest making use of the following definition: the new way we work is a vision to work more effectively and efficiently in a way that is both pleasurable and profitable for the employee and the organisation.
This vision is realised by centralising the employees and giving them the freedom to determine how, when, where, with what and with whom to work. Recent developments in IT, such as cloud computing and mobile technology, make the NewWWW technically possible; developments in society and the environment make it desirable.
The business itself also plays a vital role, and change management should not be forgotten. There are many people who like the nine-to-five, regular working hours and there is nothing wrong with that, but just because someone is not in the office does not mean they are not actually working or doing their share of the workload. Perceptions and the organisation’s culture have to be managed in order to successfully implement any NewWWW project.
We recommend that each of the following aspects (the five Bs) is given at least equal attention to ensure project success:
- Bricks (office environment)
- Bytes (IT solutions)
- Behaviour (freedom, trust and responsibility)
- Business (change)
- Bikes (mobility)
Over the past 10 years, Dutch organisations such as housing associations have successfully implemented their ‘new way of work’ concepts. This includes:
- Allowing (some of) their staff to work anyplace, anywhere, anytime;
- Ensuring employees and their managers have agreed to well-defined SMART goals;
- Provide the necessary technical and physical infrastructure and support;
- Implement flexible working relationships and contracts.
However, it almost goes without saying that working anyplace, anytime, anywhere is not suitable to all professions; for example, doctors, cooks or someone who works in a front office.
Result or impact?
In NewWWW projects, there is often a singular focus on results (what has been achieved so far, or what will be achieved when the project is completed); think of refurbished offices or a new application for online collaboration. To avoid this, we prefer to think in terms of the project’s impact. By that we mean the different types of impact as defined at the start of a NewWWW project that the company places value on, such as increased productivity or employee satisfaction. Only after defining all the desired (and undesired) impacts can the decision be made to start a NewWWW project. If the outcome of the project is considered in terms of impact, organisations will be able learn from experience as well as unexpected impact.
After we implemented the NewWWW, a number of impact criteria were measurable and visible:
- Higher productivity
- Fewer miles travelled
- Less time needed for transportation
- Fewer and more effective meetings
- Optimal use of available working space
- Less cost for housing
- Increased flexibility
- Better accessibility (24/7)
Are you ready for the first step?
Is your organisation ready for a first step towards the NewWWW? Please bear in mind that although bricks and bytes may appear to be attractive topics to start with, the most time and energy will be spent on the behavioural part of any NewWWW project. The focus on the NewWWW gives new energy to realise some of the ‘forgotten’ goals and objectives and as such, most results and impacts will occur on the behavioural side of any NewWWW project.
Henk Korevaar is the founder of Ffectis (Netherlands). Micky Kieboom is an application manager for Ymere housing association in Amsterdam.