Open spaces are slowly but surely taking over our institution, like gangrene
Where does that property policy come from?
This new property policy was implemented at the OIB at the request of Commissioner Georgieva and the DG HR. It now also concerns the PMO, who will soon move to Mérode (MCH2).
For which purpose?
First of all, no longer say 'open space' but 'collaborative space'. It is in this way that the OIB has decided to promote these areas, seemingly not appreciated enough. This "economic" long term policy should become profitable in 5 to 10 years, because open space avoids costly work when walls and other elements require renovating. A logic of space-saving is added to the money-saving logic.
What about staff consultation?
Not that long ago, the Administration proposed to DG Taxud to install open spaces in their DG. The staff of DG TAXUD which was consulted about this proposal by the Administration, spoke out against it. The staff was therefore successful.
The proposal is also directed at the European Commission offices, the OIB and the PMO. But this time, that staff was not consulted in the same way. We dare hope that having a majority of contract agents in these departments has not played against them with respect to decision-making on the installation of those new collaborative offices. As such, should a meeting be called to present the new collaborative offices to the staff and allow them at the same time to ask the questions they want, be considered a staff association or staff consultation?
At the PMO, staff consultation seems to be limited to the display of the plans of the MERO in the cafeteria of SC27 and at AN88. Everyone thus had the opportunity and pleasure to know where they would be placed from now on.
The only choice left to the staff at present, is the colour of the partitions (separation between desks) they want, the number of drawers they want for their compartment and decorative stickers if they want. Unless we are mistaken, the PMO staff deserves a little more consideration than freedom of choice between 'mountain' or 'shell' sticker.
It is important for all to make savings, but these must be in terms of actual costs. It is counterproductive to make efforts that would only deteriorate everyone’s well-being. The calculation seems flawed, because both in the short and the long term, it will be the staff who may suffer.
What about the well-being at work" for the staff concerned?
If staff is promised time for necessary adjustment of several months, what will happen if they fail to adapt to this change?
To get used to these new work environments, staff should adopt a new way of:
• Collaborative spaces are sources of distraction. Indeed, they can interfere with productivity, because it is less easy for some colleagues to focus in this often noisy environment. The office lay-out promotes chatter and therefore more interruptions. Though this layout may appear as a new fashionable and very trendy concept (see Google, Facebook), it is not necessarily suitable for everyone!
• Let’s not forget the specific environment of our Institution, which is multicultural by nature. Some cultures are more open to work in open spaces, others may have a phobia of it.
• Working in collaborative spaces is not the solution for everyone. While some need to work in a team, other, more independent, need peace and quiet to be productive. Each of us has their own needs.
• Some activities also require special attention. That is the case of activities related to finance (wages), people who manage personnel affairs, etc... That is the whole of the PMO and the OIB.
We are of course reassured and they tell us that quiet rooms will be available for more confidential or private calls or conversations. But were enough planned?
There will even be an area on the ground floor, ready to welcome all visitors. This implies therefore, that appointments with set timetables will necessarily have to be made. One can only imagine the stress for managers who will have to juggle their appointments and the accessibility of these spaces and also will have to go back and forth between their office and the appointment place. With regard to discretion, review is needed, because the quiet rooms are in fact spaces with full glass partitions and the reception area will have to be an area with offices next to each other.
• It will be necessary to control the tone of voice (for tenors).
• It will be necessary to adapt to the smells of foods, to air conditioning that will be too high for some and not enough for others.
• Feng Shui enthusiasts can forget everything they learned for thriving in their work environment. It will be necessary to adapt to the fact that people walk behind us and that our screens are exposed to the sight of everyone.
• Was training planned for those who will manage this staff in motion? For example, not being at your work station does not mean that you do not work. Many facts and actions can indeed cause confusion!
Testimonies suggest that some managers are tempted by control (not to say policing) of their employees working in open spaces. Everyone monitors everyone! Pseudo managers could therefore multiply at the request - or not - of their superiors. The atmosphere in the office then quickly becomes horrible!
What are the risks?
More or less long term, this saving logic will be challenged by the risks that it will lead to. One of the first could be growing absenteeism which would have a substantial cost. All in all the savings made by multiplying collaborative spaces would be offset by the financial loss in other areas. Not to mention the investment of large sums required by the work, and in buildings where the lease would not be renewed.
And the human in all this?
But what does the staff really want?
Who better than the staff as a whole, to assess "how best to work together".
The SFE wishes to ask the CPPT (Committee for the prevention and protection at work), which very probably already took things in hand, to kindly bring us a full analysis of the current situation of the PMO’s move to the MCH2 and to explain us the applicable regulation, namely, what the accommodation manual provides in terms of staff association. In our opinion, staff association on the development of the open spaces MUST include the vote of all the staff (at a General Meeting or by electronic vote) and not only be decided by one person or a small group of people.
And finally, in order to prepare ourselves to face the open space which may spread faster than you think, we recommend the essential survival kit for open spaces.
We remain of course at your disposal for any question or suggestion.