Brussels, 27 April 2021

Office space: low cost Hostel or Luxury Resort?

Will Commissioner Hahn, G.J. Koopman, G. Ingestad, and M. Becquet be happy if, after booking a nice room for their well-deserved holiday, they realize that what they have seen was a complete lie? We can assume they would be upset and complain to the owner. Well, the staff feels the same these days.

“DG BUDG’s resort” : “Deluxe suite” for some, “suites” for managers and “basement rooms” for the rest of the staff!  

Worse still, would they accept that on a “group trip”, only the organizers visited the hotel, hogging the suites – (i.e., the individual offices) – for themselves while only passing on the hotel plans to the other team members so that they can enjoy “the privilege” of using the basement rooms (i.e., the dynamic offices) that the organizers have generously kept for them? 

We know that one is his/her own best advocate as the saying goes …but still…

We do not think so! However, this is exactly what happened for DG BUDG move to Black Pearl (BP), where only the management was able to visit the new building, reserving for themselves ALL individual offices (37 m² for the Director general, 27 m² for the Directors and 14m² for Heads of Unit and for the two assistants of the DG), sending to the rest of the staff only the plan of the building in order to enable them to appreciate their “slot” (7m²) of dynamic offices “generously” reserved to them.

Of course, “Ridicule does not kill, but it does make you uncomfortable”

We note here that the lesson of the disastrous management and the failure of the transition to open space of DG BUDG in the Breydel 2 building (BRE2), which at request of the staff representatives imposed the intervention of the Legal Service to remind DG HR, DG BUDG and OIB of the applicable rules, has not been retained (Workplace Of the Future: Secession of DG BUDG? ). …and that we are more than ever in the bad taste parody of “Animal Farm” where “some are more equal than others are”

How far apart we are from the “LEADING BY EXAMPLE” approach and “CULTURE OF TRUST” stated by Commissioner Hahn!

We are sure that Commissioner Hahn will appreciate this memorable implementation of the principles he constantly preaches of “leading by example” and of the “culture of trust” … even more so as DG BUDG is under his direct political control.

However, we must recognize here that Ms Ingestad seems to have at least better understood what “leading by example” could mean, as she had the decency to agree to submit herself to the open space/dynamic office layout and we imagine that she will ask the management of DG HR to do the same.

DG BUDG is so far the winner of the international architectural competition for the prize for the “Biggest, most beautiful, brightest individual office of a Director General of the Commission”!

At the end of the process, of course, with the agreement, of the final winner, we will organise guided tours for the rest of the staff, who will be able to escape from their dynamic offices for a while. 

Indeed, the organisation of the workspace for managers is far from being an insignificant detail

Studies in this area have always confirmed that changes in culture within an organisation also involve symbolic but significant measures such as the abolition of the hierarchy in offices.

In particular, in organisations based on the “culture of monitoring and fear”, hierarchical power is directly transposed into size and office furniture. For example, the most powerful manager has an angle office set apart, large enough to fly a kite in it all designed to discourage any intrusion on the part of subordinates.

Therefore, shifting to a true “culture of trust” also requires a focus on the availability, transparency and abolition of physical hierarchies. For the organisation of workspaces, as is the case for markets, “transparency leads to fairness.”

Are we facing a memorable example of “Do not put your money where your mouth is” approach?

Let’s just remember here some principles (when it comes to office space) that should help the Commission to reach its goal of building the culture of trust among the staff, being an example of excellence in how it works, and an even more attractive place to work:

· Thinking about new workplaces as being mainly about changes in office space or technology, misses the point and can lead to undesired results. At best, it will be a wasted opportunity for improvement, and at worst, performance and morale will decrease;

· No one-size-fits-all mix of working methods, technologies and workspaces. Requirements will vary between Directorate-Generals and departments and teams within them;

· Individual offices are the best match for work on complex tasks requiring a high degree of concentration or work requiring remote collaboration using frequent audio- and/or personal video-conferences;

· Two-way communication before and during the implementation process is vitalA consultative approach to designing the new workspace requires good processes for dialogue and taking on board feedback. Consequently, the staff affected should be highly involved in the process, including expressing their needs for the workspace and helping to make decisions about the final design. They may call upon relevant staff representative organisations to assist in that process.

Are these wise words solely from R&D? Not at all! This comes from the Communication to the Commission and a staff working document regarding the Workplace of the Future in the European Commission ( link).

DG HR and OIB are now just doing the complete opposite of what they proposed a year ago!  ( OIB TV… Back to the office in “The One”?)

We ask Commissioner Hahn to ensure that DG HR and OIB finally put their money where Commission’s staff mouth is! 

We urge Commissioner Hahn to impose on all services of our institution – starting of course by those that are directly under his political supervision – the application of the principles of the above-mentioned Commission’s communication and to restore staff trust and confidence, by:    

· reestablishing a true and fair dialogue with the staff and its representatives,

· enabling the CPPT to duly carry out its missions receiving well-prepared files and with enough time to study the files properly,  while having the possibility to discuss them, being no longer confronted by DG HR and OIB’s summons;  

· ensuring that DG HR stops once and for all being visibly overwhelmed by events by securing for itself a real governance role in these procedures;

· ensuring that OIB returns to its role of an implementation office, simply responsible for the implementation of the Commission’s decisions, no longer pretending to impose “its vision”, and disguising itself as an open space/collaborative office sales office ….but only for the “regular staff”, while pampering the management by defending tooth and nail their individual offices, and even the better quality of theirs chairs, going beyond the last frontier of ridiculousness! (Spacious individual office, parking spaces and luxury chairs for managers and dynamic offices for staff). 

R&would like to warmly thank the DGs who have clearly expressed their dissatisfaction with the current management of the workspace file, recalling that proper consultation and involvement of staff is essential as the staff is the Commission’s main asset.

And they have also rightly recalled to DG HR and OIB the academic research about the shortcomings of dynamic open space.

This is by far the best way to ensure a credible leadership and to restore the confidence of their staff.