The journey to ABW at PwC Netherlands

Luc catches up with Maurice Verwer from PwC in the Netherlands, to share more of their story of ABW.

Back to the beginning: how did it all start?

Back in april 2013, when I started as FM director at PwC, I found a workplace that didn’t suit a young and innovative organization, such as PwC. The average age of our colleagues is around thirty years. From earlier jobs, I was already familiar with new ways of working, my biggest challenge was how I could get this topic on the agenda within PwC. As if it was written in the stars, I received a call from my Australian colleague, who introduced me to Luc Kamperman, managing partner at Veldhoen + Company. He told me Luc had helped PwC Australia to develop and implement activity based working successfully in the previous years.

ABW PwC Netherlands ABW PwC Netherlands Stairs

In consultation with our HR director, Veldhoen + Company has supported us in writing a proposal for the managing board. This proposal convinced the managing board, so we got approval to co-develop an ABW concept for PwC Netherlands. We decided to apply this concept initially to our Rotterdam office (ca. 1,000 employees) for learnings and to generate excitement for the new way of working. At the moment, we are also refurbishing our Utrecht and Amsterdam offices, all according to the ABW concept we built for PwC Netherlands.

Did you reach the goals you had in mind for ABW?

Yes we certainly did, we attained both the quantitative and the qualitative goals. PwC has used the Leesman Index to measure the effectiveness and satisfaction of different offices. The Rotterdam office has received very good reviews. Furthermore, we believe that we have increased internal transparency, increased collaboration between teams and herewith we have improved our image as a modern employer. In this sense, the philosophy of ABW came at the right time, as PwC was already looking for new ways of attracting and retaining top talent. Moreover, there’s a growing positive vibe around ABW within PwC. Largely due to the success of our Rotterdam office.

ABW at PwC Netherlands Coffee Bar ABW at PwC Netherlands Vertical

Currently, both the ABW concept, as well as the implementation of the behavioural changes that are needed to change people’s work routines, are very solid. Our biggest challenge is to keep the look and feel of our offices up to date. We don’t see ourselves as the Google’s and Facebook’s of this world, so we are seeking the right balance between a formal and informal appearance. Obviously, opinions about where that balance should be still differ, but we feel the overall view on this has changed towards a more informal appearance over the last three years.

Was there anything that surprised you during the process of implementing the ABW concept?

The change to an ABW office – also meaning we have no more private offices for partners and directors – obviously was accompanied by several challenges, but in the end turned out very positively. Personally, it surprised me that some youngsters in the organization found it difficult to have to sit next to a partner or director. So, on one hand ABW has helped us to be more collaborative and connected, on the other hand being more connected to partners and directors turned out to be somewhat intimidating. In the end, both groups needed to get used to the new situation.

Somewhat of a surprise, or perhaps more of an insight, is that new occupancy measurements, using real-time sensors, have taught us that the occupancy in Rotterdam has risen from 40% to over 55%. Our initial intention was to increase our occupancy to 70%, so there’s plenty of room to further improve the efficiency of use of our current workspace. Please note: cost savings on housing have never been our main goal of implementing ABW, but saving money, while reaching other goals for sure is a pleasant cherry on the cake.

What is the next step for PwC Netherlands?

Next to further rolling out the ABW concept in the Netherlands, our other European colleagues are becoming increasingly interested. Some colleagues visit our office to absorb what they see, hear and feel and start on their own journey. For other colleagues, such as in Germany and Belgium, we actively help them to organize the step towards ABW, by investigating how we can implement this concept with a “couleur locale”.

How did Veldhoen + Company support PwC?

I am very happy with the guidance of Veldhoen + Company in getting it internally accepted, the process of co-creating a bespoke PwC Netherlands workstyle and workplace concept, and to make it mature for wider roll-out. Moreover, the collaboration with Veldhoen + Company over the last three years has helped us in building internal capabilities and competences, so we’re able to further roll out this concept ourselves.

Luc Kamperman: It was a great experience to guide PwC both in Australia and in the Netherlands in implementing their own version of activity based working. Because of the highly professional project organization at PwC, we were able to optimally fulfill our role as external guides and inspirers in the process. I am also very pleased with the collaboration with interior architect Kraaijvanger, who translated the concept into an interior design that supports activity based work style, and ISS, who attuned their services to the ABW concept.

Photo credits: Kraaijvanger

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