New ways of working at Essent

2011 –“In the past you went to your work. The workplace and the social context were organized, the job was extra so to say. Things are the other way around with the New Way of Working. The job is organized The question is now: how do we organize the social aspect and the bond between colleagues in a team?” say Jacoline Boonman, program manager ‘@nders werken’ and Edwin Helwerda advisor Employment conditions, in an interview about the program at  Essent. ‘@nders werken’ refers to a new way of working and is the name of an organizational development program  at  Essent.

Essent expects benefits of the new way of working for the company and for the workers; savings on travelling and office room for example and a better work-private balance for example. Besides Essent wants to be a modern and attractive employer on a competitive labour market. Essent does not take half measures in the program ‘@nders werken’.  In a large pilot with detailed measurements at the beginning and end and in between, it investigates what works and what not. The coaching of the teams that practice the new way of working is intensive.

Essent is anenergy company  thatdelivers gas and electricity to consumers and to companies.A large part of the energy is produced by Essent itself in power plants and waste incineration plants, but more and more with sustainable sources such as wind and biomass. Essent is the largest energy company in the Netherlands. With 2,6 miljon private and business clients. As producer of sustainable energy Essent is trendsetter in the Nehterlands. The Netherlands is the home market, but the company is active in Germany and Belgium as well. After the split  of the network company Enexis in 2009, there are 6.000 employees at Essent and it has a yearly turnover of 9 milliard euro (2008).

Essentexpect a lot of profit from ‘the new way of working’. The main question is; how to organize it? Or: what strategy Essent has to choose the next years in the field of mobile and flexible working, what measures are effective and what has to be organized before implementation?
There are several reasons to start the new way of working. Essent bothers – like others – traffic jams at home – work traffic and while travelling between plants. The home-work distances are big with an average of 29 km. (single journey) and some more than 200 km. It saves time and it is safer when employees don’t travel or treavel less. Essent supposes that this will contribute to a nice work –life balance as well. Offering mobile and flexible work will improve the position of Essent on the labour market and  is an important aspect of good and innovative employer ship.

With the name ‘@nders werken’ Essent started a program to experiment with working flexible and mobile. 2009 is the year of the pilot, after the pilot the program team  presents a strategic plan to the Board of directors. Then the new way of working will be implemented further in the organisation. With @nders werken Essent experiments how different working profiles within the organisation manage different forms of flexibility. What will be the consequences for productivity and for organizational goals? These are the questions. Teams that join the pilot choose for a light, medium, or heavy variant of the program. The manager decides for the whole team.

  •  Light: working at home incidentally  (for example working at home for the first two hours and then of to the office, to avoid traffic jams)
  • Medium: one, two or three days working at home,      from an Essent-location near the home town or an external workplace at a      rail way station for example.
  • Heavy: (almost) completely working at  home, a Essent-location near the home      town or external work place.       Employees don’t have a permanent post (contraire to ‘medium’). They      are not housed as a team in any Essent-building.
  • Each pilot-team can count on support. Essent      defines hard and soft aspects:      

   hard aspects are such things as infrastructure, office equipment, a contract about working at home, workplaceconcepts, working conditions etc.; but also technological equipment to work flexible are ment;

soft aspects concern the application of new ways of working in practice. Essent gives this a lot of attention, by coaching and monitoring.  That determines the success of the pilot.

Implementation and promotion
Essent undertook  the preparation and the implementation of the pilot energetically. About six months after the decision to experiment with the new way of working, the pilot started. Right from the start all supporting departments were involved: IT,HRM, Safety, Communication and Facility services. The team works under a steering committee that reports to the Board of Directors.

Measurement at the start
The compnay want to measure the effects of the new way of working in detail. Employees who take part in the pilot fill out a questionnaire at the start. How many hours do they work at the moment> How often at home and how often at the office or plant? How many kilometers do they travel each day? How content they are with their work-life balance? Etc. After two months they complete the list with questions again and after four months once again.  

The communication about the new way of working is focussed on the groups that are actually participating.  There is communication via intranet and – in case teams are participating – by workshops and by the management.

Participating in teams and selection
22 teams are participating int he pilot. In total 250 to 300 employees. De teams  are selected  on the basis of three criteria:
which managers/teams want to participate themselves?
Is there a right distribution of different working profiles?
Is there a right mix between light, medium and heavy ways of new working?

There was enough spirit  to join in the pilot (1). It was not possible to accept everyone because of the amount of applications and criteria 2 and 3.
To explicate criterium 2: the employees of Essent are divided over seven working profiles, based on job profiles.: from higher and middle manager  to account manager and assembler. For each of these profiles there are specific requirements and characteristic working conditions. In the pilot  a representation of all profiles is realized and per profile is tried to describe the consequences of the new way of working and what measures work best.
For an explication of criterium 3, see above under Measures

Solid start and coaching
Each team had a kickoff workshop. In this workshop the team discussed what the new way of working would mean for them and the ‘soft side’ of it was explained.

Such a kick off meeting cannot be missed: it is there that things are put clearly and that there are made appointments. How will the new way of working affect the visibility of colleagues, what  will be the consequence for the cooperation and the appreciation of your work? Questions like this, vagueness’s and  resistances came up and could be coped with by the manager and the program team.

The teamleader or manager has the lead in the coaching. Will the productivity stay at the same level? Is there anyone who starts to work extra in the evenings or weekends? The manager does not stand alone, however. There is an expertteam as back up and on every department there is a person appointed to ‘@nders-werken specialist’.
After the pilot the program team will present a strategic advice to the Board of Directors, who will decide about the follow up of the program.

For the employees:

  • Opportunities to be more flexible in working times,  travelling time and working place;
  • A good work-life balance
  • Opportunities to do the same amount of work in less time, with less travelling time  and less time in meetings.
  • For the employer:
    Clear insight in revenu and obstacles of different measures
    Expand ‘good employer ship’;
    Become an attractive employer for high educated employees;
    Optimal use of the workers potential, distance is no more an obstacle;
    Cost savings on accommodation,  for instance 

Essent cannot say much about the costs and benifits at the moment. The theoretical business case that I the basis for the pilot is confidential. Of course the program team spent hours in the organizing of the workshops and in internal communication. While the results still have to be seen, Essent presumes a lot less costs if the company changes to a new way of working. Essent expects to need less officeroom: 0,6 working place per employee instead of 1,1 at the moment. In travelling costs Essent expect savings as well. However Essent will have to create workplaces in accordance with the tele-workplace regulation,  at the homes of the employees

How do you start a program to introduce a new way of wroking? Essent gives the following tips:

  • Start with an extended measurement of the starting situation. If necessary involve an external partner to do this. (In the case of Essent this was done by Rotterdam School of Management). Only then you will know exactly what the results are.
  • Commit all people you need in the program team. Don’t approach the program from only one perspective (for example costs saving in accomodation), but choose a holistic approach.
  • Create support by trying to find teams and managers (all directors) who want to participate in all business units.
  • Create a clear frame work (working profiles, when will someone work at home)
  • Within this framework, give as many room to experiment as possible, but don’t practice a wait and see policy. Keep an eye on it and correct if necessary.
  • The teamleader/manager stays the first responsible to manage the team.

This case description stems from the foundation TelewerkForum. The mission of this foundation is to promote New ways of working in the Netherlands. More information on the website:

Keywords: New ways of working, Smart travelling