Nieuws - 18 november 2010

The flexible office: the Wageningen UR jury’s still out

Flexible working practices, the dynamic office, the New Way of Working… Whatever you call it, it boils down to the same thing: working without a fixed work station. Some ‘Wageningers’ have had some experience of it, either within or outside Wageningen UR.

Francine Loos, Communication Advisor at the ESG:
'A year or two ago, when we moved to a new corridor, we adopted the flexible office for the management staff. There were eleven work stations for about ten people, all of whom spent the whole day at their computers. That's where it went wrong: everyone kept on sitting in the same place all the time anyway. It irritated me intensely. There were a couple who just bagged a place for themselves. That creates a strange atmosphere, if people just appropriate a place like that. Because that wasn't the idea at all. The whole thing has fizzled out now. Officially there is still a clean desk policy, but it's just a formality. Except for Cees Slingerland, the director - his room is still always tidy and available to colleagues. I think it's a pity it went the way it did, because it's a nice concept. It is refreshing to sit with different people all the time. It led to some nice discussions, which were often quite useful for my work as well. But it didn't lead to any lasting change. That may also be because it was all a bit half-hearted.'

Simone Baars, Head of Real Estate and Accommodation:
'Before I came here I worked for AOS Studley, a consultancy bureau in Rotterdam. There we went over to the New Way of Working in a completely new office: a former bank. There was a meeting zone, a social zone and a work zone, as well as a concentration zone. There was also a big bar and a long lunch table. In fact, all the elements we will be getting here. I really liked it and found it inspiring. The old office was good too, but not very challenging or interesting. In the new environment you could see that people enjoyed being at the office, and receiving visitors there. It is good for communication, and you can respond to each other much better. And it really stimulates collaboration. I really had to adjust when I first arrived at Wageningen UR. There I was, all alone in a little room again. I am looking forward to the new office. And I am convinced that most people will quickly get used to it.'

Anja Kombrink, PhD researcher on Phytopathology:
'When we moved from the Binnenhaven to Radix, Phytopathology opted for the flexible office. We have a lot of PhD and Postdoc researchers who are often at the lab. So there are fewer work stations than there are people. If you are going to be away from your place for longer than three quarters of an hours, you are supposed to tidy your desk and log off. If you don't do that, your computer will log off automatically and you will lose any unsaved data. It's up to you to make sure this doesn't happen. It has to be like that, otherwise the system becomes unworkable.
I usually work in the same place. Most people tend to have their favourite place. That's just what happens, it's a question of habit. But it's about the place, the computer and the screen, more than about the people around you. It's workable, but a fixed place is nicer, I think. The big disadvantage is that you have to carry everything around with you, and you can't leave any personal belongings in one place. And on certain days it can be very busy, and then you do have to look for a place. It can be noisy sometimes too. But it is doable.'

Corine de Goede, Freelance web editor at LEI:
'As a freelancer, I spent a couple of months at a knowledge centre for health care in Utrecht. They had been working with flexible workstations for a while. I was looking forward to it; I really believed in it. But it was a big disappointment. It all looked very jolly, with nice colours and all sorts of easily adjustable bureaus. But I found it very noisy and unsettled. There were some closed cubicles, intended for 'noisy' jobs such as phone calls. In practice, they were used as quiet rooms. So they were always full. Monday was the busiest day. Then you had to fight for a place. People who came from a long way away used to arrive at the office at eight thirty, otherwise there were no places left. Another thing was, I have never felt so isolated anywhere. With flexible workstations you never know where anyone is. I felt as though I walked into a different organization every day. There is no time to get to know anyone well. You don't really invest in getting to know someone because tomorrow you'll be sitting next to someone else. It's all very transitory. But it might be different if you are a permanent employee and know everyone already.'

Astrid van Noortwijk, Senior policy officer on real estate:
'Both at the ING bank and at Deloitte, I have worked in the system we are now calling the 'New Way of Working'. In other words, output-oriented, any time, any place. In that sense it was a bit of an adjustment at first at Facilities and Services, where I have now been working for six months. I miss certain things, like a laptop for instance, the open dynamic office environment, and also the collaboration with colleagues. An advantage of the New Way of Working is that you get more done in less time. It is pleasanter not to be tied to a particular workstation, and it makes you more flexible and gives you more contact with people outside your own patch. It is also nice to be able to decide your working hours flexibly.
So I am really looking forward to the new office. I hope that it will make meeting and collaborating easier. In fact, I only see positive sides to it.'
Previous in Resource