Veerle Verschaeve has been working on flexible working environments for over 10 years. As an expert and consultant, she helps companies to translate strategies into an environment as well as processes and never loses focus on the people. Veerle talks to us about her vision at Create New Work, what New Work and Inner Work actually are and more!
1. As a New and Inner Work Expert, how do you define the two terms?
I help service companies by supporting them in setting up individual hybrid work environments and also involving employees in this process. In this way, we can create trust, because trust is the basis for productivity. In this way, New Work is also understood as Inner Work, which is necessary in the change from a culture of presence to a culture of trust. I support companies in taking this step.
My part in this is more the spatial and infrastructural side. But in my view, there is an interdependency between space and the inner core of an organization when it comes to trust culture. A space can be changed quickly, the inner transformation is a much longer process. I would like to use the redesign of the spaces to trigger exactly this process.
2. How did the pandemic shape New Work and what needs to be changed?
In many companies, there was a change from working in the office to "home office for all" during the pandemic. In the process, many employees noticed the problem of their own isolation, they also became distant from the company in a certain way. There are studies that show that the very people who were hired during the pandemic are the first to quit. We have to learn how to overcome the virtual distance and get back in touch, so that a sense of belonging is created.
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3. What kind of companies do you work with? Does this problem really impact everyone, from startups to large corporations?
Yes, it affects everyone! In the past, I worked a lot with corporations or with larger medium-sized companies. Now I'm a sole entrepreneur and I'm still looking for my niche at the moment. Service companies are a bit easier for me to look at because they are almost exclusively knowledge workers. Among the workforce, there is usually a demand to be able to maintain a certain amount of home office, which is why I initially set my focus on them. For manufacturing companies, the situation is a bit different. How do you deal with employees who don't work in administration? How can employees in production also work flexibly?
4. Your focus is always on the development and fostering of people and managers. How exactly does this work?
In my consulting work, it's all about taking employees and managers along with us, especially in connection with the physical change. It's particularly important to be transparent in the process. I often hold workshops in which employee representatives actively help develop the concept, since it is the employees who will later use these spaces.
It can start, for example, with designing the modules and the occupancy plan together. This process alone, in which the team is involved in the design and participation, already has a significant impact. Managers also notice that they can let go. They enter into a dialogue with the employees, good results are achieved and good spaces are created. This is then the first impulse for co-determination and responsibility in connection with the development of the new space. Of course, we hope that the developed concept becomes a reality and is carried on through cooperation.
5. Many companies ask themselves how long a change like this takes and how can it be implemented in the long term? From your 10 years of work experience, can you give us some guidelines?
The question is not so easy to answer. The duration of the implementation depends on the extent to which the companies want to change in terms of space. If they are planning a new building, then they have a period of over 2 years to design the change process. However, if only an existing office space is to be remodeled, then depending on the size of the space, half a year is calculated from conception to relocation plus 3 more months of support for settling into the new working environment. However, the more time I have, the more intensively I can interact with the employees.
Because cultural change takes a lot longer. In order to provide the best possible support, we accompany the employees for at least another 3 months after they have moved in order to help them cope with the new working environment. During this time, adjustments can also be made to the furniture or the way it is used if something is not working optimally. But the journey is not over at this point, if it ever will be.
6. You've met a lot of companies that are at different stages in the process. What are the biggest challenges for German companies?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge for German companies is simply letting go, letting employees help shape the process, and trusting that they can and will do so. This can produce great results that are subsequently supported by all sides. Another difficulty is that not all companies understand that their employees are at their greatest potential.
Likewise, being transparent is a hurdle for quite a few companies. People become vulnerable when they are open, honest and transparent. I think this is difficult for many German companies.
When it comes to transformation, on the other hand, it's important for companies to realize that it's not just about savings. Today, on average, office space accounts for only 10% of corporate spending. There should be a change in thinking, with more money spent on spaces where employees feel comfortable and become more productive exactly because of that. Unfortunately, this is not properly measurable and companies have to trust that it will make a difference to employees.
The time factor is another challenge. It naturally takes time for the changes and successes to become noticeable in the way teams work together.
My current client, on the other hand, has impressed me with his attitude. The company's board no longer wants to dictate to employees how often they have to come into the office. The working environment should be so attractive that they like to come to the office of their own accord and decide to work there. I think this approach is a very beautiful vision!
Thank you very much for the great interview, Veerle!