The more I speak to people active in workplace and work-practice innovation, all fingers point to the Netherlands as the hotbed of the most advanced and leading edge work in this area. That is certainly the case in the Microsoft organisation. Earlier this summer, I spoke with one of the early leaders of the Microsoft Netherlands’ ‘Work Place Advantage’ initiative, Robert Tempels. He shared with me more background behind the early thinking and some of the keys to the success.
Tempels talked about the outset which was a critical phase to laying down the foundations for success. Microsoft Netherlands started with a survey of the status quo. They then sat down and developed a set of ‘ambitions’ (9 in total) for the project. These ‘ambitions’ eventually became the acid-tests for all decisions. Whenever there was a disagreement on an issue, the group referred back to the ‘ambitions’ and asked what direction would best support the ambitions. The next step was to enlist the support from ‘both the top and bottom.” Many staff from all corners of the business got engaged, while the leadership, starting with the very top general manager of the country, led by example being the first ones to adopt the new work practices and eliminate their offices.
“You need people being passionate from the bottom up and committed leadership from the top down.”
The biggest change was not the physical environment at all though. Instead it was more of a cultural one. It was getting people to move from managing ‘activities’ to managing ‘outcomes.’ From everyone having lots of ‘generic’ tools, to people having a few ‘optimised’ tools (and sharing any other tools needed periodically).
Now, Microsoft Netherlands is a major destination not just within the Netherlands but from around Europe of people going to see the extent and approach with which the office has implemented these workplace innovations. Robert has done lots of presenting and tours on their experience to many customers and partners. He gets lots of questions and concerns from many different corners. One example that he shared of a bank struggling with these concept reminded me of my own experience which I posted about in ‘Tech Savvy Heavy Hitters.’ The bank was convinced that remote and flexible working was out of the question because of super strict security constraints which kept people from taking their computers out of the office. After some discussion with various staff, Tempels uncovered that the unbeknownst to the lock-down confident IT department, the staff had found a way to circumvent these constraints anyway. It turns out that each evening before leaving home, the staff were emailing key documents to their personal Gmail accounts so they could pick them up on their home computer and work on them there. This ingenuity underscored the powerful demand for flexible and remote working that was present in the firm as well as the over-estimation of just how secure one could be without the buy-in of the staff themselves.
Tempels has now taken his experience and passion for the area to local ‘Work Councils’ where he contributes expertise on how flexibility and mobility in the workplace can drive down carbon footprints.