“Step by step to a good balance between working remote and at the office”
It took time to get used to suddenly doing virtually all our work from home. From video calls at the kitchen table to answering e-mails with a child on our lap. “But with the cooperation of our employees we found the way to make it work well, and we want to keep doing so”, says Hilde Garssen, Chief People Officer at KPN and a member of the Board of Management. “The right balance has to be found now that the advice to work from home is being changed; step by step we have to make the switch to working both remotely and at the office. That’s something we have missed in recent times.”
What has KPN’s policy on working from home been in recent months?
“As a large employer, KPN follows the guidelines of the government and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). With a small number of exceptions, around 8,000 office workers have done most of their work from home for two years. As an employer, we arranged and facilitated remote working efficiently; all our employees were able to choose a home office from our home office store – desk, office chair, screen, keyboard, mouse, headset and so on. Naturally our employees have also been provided with a secure online home office, with IT resources for videoconferencing, and we are working from the cloud. Of course, some of our employees are not office workers: our store personnel and our mechanics for example. They too have been able to do their work under sometimes challenging conditions.”
I’m really extremely proud of all our employees who have been doing their utmost – from their own homes – to give our customers the best possible service every day
How is it going, that remote working?
“KPN is a digital, modern company and since 2008 the potential to work from home has been part of the CLA. So it wasn’t new to us (we used to work 20% from home, on average), but because of COVID-19 we have been working from home virtually all the time. Needs must, and in general things are going well, but our employees also miss working with their colleagues at the office, the face-to-face contact and the chance encounters. Fortunately, employee commitment is still very high and there is broad support for the measures we took during the crisis and for our ideas about hybrid working in the future. And that’s why we’re doing it, of course. I’m also extremely proud of all our employees who have been doing their utmost – from their own homes – to give our customers the best possible service every day. Unfortunately, there is a downside too: working from home virtually all the time has been very demanding for our employees, because the balance has been somewhat distorted in recent times. So it’s important that we redress that balance now that it’s possible again.”
Working from home virtually all the time has been very demanding for our employees, because the balance has been somewhat distorted in recent times. So we’re going to redress that balance now that it’s possible again.
What are you going to do now that the recommendation to work from home has been changed?
“Step by step KPN is going to find a good balance between working remotely and at the office. We are tackling that conscientiously and are involving our employees in the process, because we have to do it together. Last summer we made a start with a special workshop at which teams decide, in mutual agreement, where they want to meet at the office and for what purpose. This varies from one team to another. It’s one of the elements of “Our way of working”, our internal KPN program in which we discuss important topics with one another, such as remote working, cooperation and travel. We are conducting continual surveys among our employees and we did so several times during the pandemic as well. We take a random sample every two weeks, and we conduct a full-scale survey among all employees twice a year. Those surveys invariably show that employees are happy to continue working a few days a week remotely – and we are facilitating that. In the initial weeks they will not come to the office very much, but we will gradually increase that.”
The purpose of our “Our way of working” program is to discuss important topics with our employees, such as remote working, cooperation and travel. Because we have to do it together.
What form will the new remote/office working balance take?
“I don’t think there’s one solution that covers all situations; there are several options and we will do what works best. We are taking a learning approach; together with teams and individual employees we will experiment to find out what suits us best and experience in practice what works and what doesn’t. This will be data-driven. One thing has become clear though in recent years: we will continue to work more from home and less at the office. That’s what our employees want too, according to all the surveys. We expect that our employees will work on average 60% from home and 40% from the office; we don’t yet know precisely and it will be done on a case-by-case basis. It can differ a lot from one team to another: to use a KPN expression, there are 50 shades of green.”
What does this mean for the office workspaces?
“It goes without saying that working more from home and less at the office also impacts the setup and the use of our offices; we will set them up for brainstorming, social contact, teambuilding and meetings. At the same time, you need to be able to work in peace and quiet at the office. And a safe indoor climate is part and parcel of that. “In the past few months we installed around 500 CO₂ sensors in the meeting rooms in our office buildings. Now that we're going to work more in the office again, we want to be sure that areas such as meeting rooms are safe to work in. We want our colleagues to feel relaxed and confident when they come to the office again.”