Jun 15, 2020 in Viewpoint

How to help employees adapt to a brand-new office

Danone opened its brand-new, state-of-the-art office building a year ago. A year in which a lot has changed for employees. Nick van der Kloor, HR site manager at Danone, guided employees through the transition to a new working concept and a new office. An interesting journey, with lessons learned. Together we sat down to discuss the shift to a new office space and the changes due to COVID-19. Which challenges did Danone face and how did they deal with them?

Esmeé van Vliet
by Esmeé van Vliet
Smart office Danone
Together with Nick van der Kloor, we sat down to discuss the shift to a new office space. Which challenges did Danone face and how did they deal with them? © Sebastian van Damme, Stijn Poelstra, Dimitri Valentijn, Michael van Oosten

A new smart office for Danone

“Our old office, located near Schiphol, didn’t suffice to the needs of employees anymore. The workplace didn’t support collaboration or informal meetings, and there wasn’t a suited area that could gather the majority of employees. It was time for a change. Danone decided to build a brand-new office on another location in Hoofddorp, Amsterdam. The new office had to be a healthy and safe environment, to take care of the well-being of employees. Also, the new way of working –activity-based– would provide employees with a diversity of workplaces: places to play, brainstorm, and work on projects together.”

Involving employees

“An important part of moving into a brand-new office is the involvement of employees. At Danone, we created ambassadors, focus groups, and team champions that knew all about the new office and the new way of working. Some employees we’ve picked out ourselves, others could sign up to volunteer as a so-called influencer. There were multiple topics employees could sign up for. A good example is the new restaurant. A group of employees helped our project team to select the food concept. This wasn’t just talking about what we would like: we visited restaurants and had multiple tasting sessions. This way we wouldn’t just choose something we thought would be the right choice, but actually made that choice together. However, sometimes the influencers didn’t have enough time to promote the concept because of their daily schedules. As a company, you have to make sure employees have the time to help.”

Changing behavior in a new work concept

“Implementing activity-based working means your asking employees to change their behavior. But changing habits isn’t done overnight. It usually takes six to nine months to change patterns. So, we tried to set up some easy rules about the new way of working together with a group of employees. For example, longer calls should take place in the designated areas instead of the working area. Unfortunately, our focus shifted two months after the move – and for us, this was the biggest learning. Because as soon as we stopped actively doing change management, the engagement of employees lowered. Even when the change process has gone fluidly before and during the transition, the aftercare is just as important. Maybe even more.”

Keep change in mind while moving to a new office

“So, change management is really important before, during, and after a move. But what companies sometimes tend to forget is the fact that the employees in the office change as well. Teams grow bigger and influencers leave. This can result in less effective use of the office space and employees showing claiming behavior. As a company, you have to stay open for feedback and be willing to change the work environment, even if it was perfect once. At Danone we’re working together with research parties to gather insights and collect data, from Mapiq for example, to make sure we keep track of the needs of our employees.”

Returning to the office after COVID-19

”But this isn't the only change employees had to adapt to in the past year. COVID-19 forced employees to work from home and the office has been closed for over 12 weeks now. Health and safety have always been our main priority, so right now we follow and adapt to the rules of our local authorities, as well as our crisis teams. Working from home has taught us a lot. 80% of our employees still feel like they can collaborate and work well together with their teams, thanks to a good set of digital tools. However, colleagues miss (spontaneous) social interactions, the office can ensure. We’re working on a back to the office strategy, that allows a limited number of employees back each day, keeping a safe office capacity. This requires a new change process, that supports employees. It’s important to keep employees –just as when we moved into the new building– informed and equipped with the right tools and information. We have to adapt to the new reality, and find our new rhythm, together.

The smart office of Danone

More about the smart office of Danone? Mapiq implemented smart technology in their state-of-the-art building.

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