*update 22.02.2022: we’re hearing that colleagues are changing DG in order to avoid open space/hot-desking. Is this you? Get in touch, we’d like to hear from you!*
No assigned desk and a cold pasta Bolognese from the vending machine: is this the future of the European civil service? If you want a glimpse of the latest building being showcased as the future the administration is designing for the EU civil service, come with us and visit ‘The ONE’, aka L107. This, the future workplace of some 1700 Commission staff from next year, comes not long after the dynamic open spaces set up in DG BUDG, DG TRADE, and is soon to be followed by the new Publications Office (OP) (POST-Mercier) and the Jean Monnet 2 (JMO2).
First of all, the gym-like lockers  where we should leave our pens, papers, mug, mouse, language-specific keyboard and locking device, in fact all our belongings: there is no storage space in the desk area , not even a drawer to put you mobile or wallet, let alone books or confidential documents! Are we to take them with us to coffee, lunch and the toilet? The lockers are so small they are unsuitable to keep winter or wet clothes, or to store a gym bag. So, jackets over the backs of chairs and bags at our feet?
And then the desks: no privacy, no personal belongings, and constant distractions with people moving around and making phone calls or chatting. Plus, that sense of guilt you get when your phone rings or someone comes to talk to you, or even the noise your electric desk makes when you adjust it to sit or stand (for those able to reserve an electric desk) . You can be sure to go home with a terrible headache and a long list of tasks you did not manage to complete. Also, where everything belongs to everyone no one is responsible for anything: why report a fault with any broken equipment, just chose a different desk tomorrow! Any of you who have already worked in an open environment will have experienced the quick exchange of broken chairs in the morning…
When walking through the floors, we have the strange feeling of being at the airport, a place to pass through, where one would stop for a coffee or to send a couple of emails. Not an actual workplace where employees have to concentrate for – at least! – 8 hours a day.
Some of these futuristic meeting spots might seem cool and trendy at first sight and are probably handy for the occasional short chat with a colleague, but this use of space does not appear rational or practical for most Commission services.
We could list at least 10 better ways to use this space, including solutions for a less cluttered and more versatile large meeting room or several smaller rooms for concentration work or small meetings. And clearly the possibility to have assigned individual offices at least for those colleagues who need them for the type of job they do (high concentration, confidential documents/talks, etc.) or because they choose to come to the office every day!
Generation 2004 has always been in favour of listening first to the needs of colleagues and services: only if it is requested and justified, should there be open-space arrangements. In all other cases, where staff are against a change and especially where there are risks for health or the potential motivation and productivity impacts outweigh the expected benefits, open space should not be implemented: this is in line with the Communication on the workplace of the future (2019). This is all the more valid for hot desking, whose downsides are now well documented .
Overpriced ready-made meals
If you believe that you deserve at least a decent meal after spending more than half an hour trying to find and correctly set up your workstation, lock your laptop and adjust the chair (or notify that you have the broken chair, AGAIN!), and a whole morning spent in an unwelcoming, noisy environment, think again!
After cutting on office space, on productivity and on health and safety considerations while at a desk (we are still in a pandemic and studies show viruses circulate faster in open space), the administration seems to be decided to lower health standards also for nutrition: enough with the ‘Fit@work’ campaigns, the new trend is ready-made, packed meals. And look at the prices!
You can eat a healthy salad for 9.00€ (plastic included, forget the greening!), or go for a ‘pasta kit’ from the vending machine at 5.90€ (and more plastic)!
Bad eating habits can have detrimental effects on health in the medium to long term (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and more) and a negative impact on concentration and energy levels in the short term.
Why is the Commission proposing this ready-made, (kind-of) junk food while for the same price one could afford healthier options, that is freshly cooked food made with quality ingredients?
Importantly, raising the prices is sure to have a more negative impact on those with the lowest salaries: contract agents (CAs), secretaries and clerks (AST/SCs), etc.  Is this the social responsibility policy that the Commission is preaching to Member States?
And for the ‘Greening of the Commission’, is it really ‘green’ to heavily use packaging – be it cardboard or plastic – instead of the dishes we used to have in the canteens? Is it better to have fountains for water or sell thousands of single-use plastic bottles and cans? The only water fountain we could spot is in the cafeteria and not currently working. 
In just one go, the administration managed to disregard health, social impact and the environment!
Generation 2004 asks for:
- Immediate reopening of canteens and cafeterias (here’s a dynamic list of which canteens and cafeterias are currently open)
- High quality, healthy food available to all, with vegetarian and vegan options
- Prices that allow all categories of staff to enjoy a decent meal, and especially a reduced price for the lowest-paid categories, as is done in Luxembourg (CAs, AST/SCs, etc.)
However, some high-flying ‘lucky few’ still enjoy a large individual office, with better quality furniture:
The good old individual office is still there for the ‘lucky few’
Some more food for thought as we walk through the ONE, the most advanced example of the buildings that progressively will house all Commission staff:
- No canteen in a building housing 1700 staff
- Only a cafeteria with around 120 places, and just one cash register. How long will the queue be when the building is fully occupied?
- No possibility to store documents or reference material needed for your job in cupboards
- No place at the desk for personal belongings or sensitive documents (e.g. a drawer or a locked compartment near desk)
- No personalization of space, that negatively impact the feeling of belonging to a team/unit and of sharing the objectives of the DG
- Handles on door very low -> good for all people with very specific disabilities: but what about tall people or those on crutches?
- As the 170-space bike parking is underground, you have to either carry your bike over the staircase or enter as a vehicle: do cyclists then have to get a proximity card to raise a barrier? And do they have to reserve a space, like cars?
- You will now have to take time out of your day to reserve a desk for next time and to consider whether that should be a silent zone, project space, closed room or individual desk, whether you need an additional screen, an electric desk or one of the 148 parking spaces. Also, if all of these reservations could be available at the same time on the same day, even better!.
Generation 2004 hopes you enjoyed the ride into the future of the working place at the Commission. You have seen for yourself what the administration has in store for its devoted staff! After recognizing the excellent work done by staff under the exceptional conditions of the pandemic, this is the reward: no more individual office, not even an assigned desk anymore! And not even a canteen: that must also appear obsolete to the administration, which is replacing it with a vending machine selling packaged pasta.
All these changes are not conducive to more interaction and collaboration: the only aim of the administration is to cut costs.
Is the health of staff become so unimportant that it can be traded off for some small savings? What will be the cost of this reform in terms of decreased productivity, psychosocial risks, burnout, increasing conflicts in the workplace, and sick leave? Generation 2004 asked the Commission to conduct an impact assessment months ago, in line with the Commission’s Better Regulation Guidance. We also asked for a serious pilot project with a limited number of people involved – ideally one or two floors – and a thorough evaluation of the different needs of different services and different jobs.
What is more, the hot-desking project was implemented in complete denial of the role of the Brussels Committee for prevention and protection at work (CPPT[Comité pour la prévention et la protection au travail]). This is a body whose existence is prescribed by the Belgian law, and must be consulted in all decision concerning new working environments.
It is unacceptable that such decisions are taken without any negotiation with trade unions and staff associations (OSPs) [Organisations syndicales et professionnelles] and without the necessary consultation with staff – as prescribed by the 2019 Communication on The Workplace of the Future and the draft Housing Conditions Manual (HCM). Additionally, we have been shouting for more than one year now that the Commission has no legal basis for hotdesking as the relevant Housing Conditions Manual (part 3) has not yet been approved.
As long as the administration pursues continue to cut corners, and to be obsessed with saving a penny no matter the cost, the staff will continue to suffer the consequences. And the Commission will be less and less attractive as an employer.
If you are affected by these changes to the working environment, we would love to hear from you.
As always, contact us for any comment or question you might have.
 (FAQ, 24.09.2021)
- ‘A locker is 115 cm high, 40 cm wide and 50 cm deep.’
- ‘Personal belongings (plants, extra shoes and clothing, …) and personal files will not be moved to a dynamic collaborative office space and need to be kept at home.’
- ‘Please take your plants home. They are not welcome in a dynamic collaborative office.’
- Budget airlines eliminated seat pockets citing savings in time and cleaning, is this the model we’re following?
- Note that your headset and laptop will have to travel with you to and from the office, does that affect your commute?
- Yes, your keyboard and mouse are considered personal.
- *Added 18.10.2021*
- ‘How can I bring my belongings from the locker to my workplace? Upon arrival in a dynamic collaborative space, you will receive a box in your locker to transport your belongings. It is 34 cm long, 18 cm wide and 30 cm high.’ (MyIntracomm FAQ, 24.07.2021)
- Staff discuss office-related Covid infections on Have Your Say.
- Check out the comments below this MyIntracomm article to see the experience of the first colleagues to move to L107.
- Buildings policy in Brussels has layout info and links to DG-specific FAQs for BUDG, CLIMA, CNECT (restricted access), DIGIT, HR, ENV, EPSO, OIB (Teams), REGIO, SCIC
- No mention yet of who has the right to book such a desk and where they will be placed, but it does look like staff who won the right to a specific chair in the past now have to find that paperwork in order to continue using it: will this be applied to desks too?
- ‘A number of electric desks adjustable in height between 65 cm and 125 cm are available on each floor.’ (FAQ, 24.09.2021)
- If you have a chair suited to your body type (eg very tall colleagues, etc.), prescribed by the Brussels Medical Service or recommended by the Internal Service for Prevention and Protection at Work, it will be moved. Proof of this prescription / recommendation will have to be provided to the LPT [Logistics Proximity Team] prior to moving. (FAQ, 24.09.2021)
- Update 19.10.2021 (thanks for the feedback colleagues!) remember that some colleagues require that their workspace be quiet or not brightly lit etc.: not all disabilities/special adjustments relate to desk/chair height. We recommend that anyone in these circumstances gather their paperwork and present it to HR to ensure that they make ‘reasonable accommodation’ for you. If you want our assistance, contact us!
- ‘A UNISON survey conducted on hot desking among social workers in 2012 found that:
- 90% reported a negative effect on morale;
- 90% said that it increased stress levels;
- 80% said that their access to peer support had deteriorated;
- Just 15% felt that flexibility and efficiency increased.’
- (Unison, Bargaining on hot-desking policies, January 2019)
 Luxembourg has different prices in canteens depending on staff category, does this happen anywhere else? Please let us know! (See also Point 4. Mesures sociales prévues pour le personnel à faible revenu)
 The Publications Office (Mercier building, Luxembourg) currently has almost 600 staff and only 2 water fountains (there are no kitchens), so 1 fountain and some kitchens for 1700…there is room for improvement.