Use it or lose it at the Commission

*Update 30.08.2023: opaque and short-notice permanent closure of (well-used) childcare facilities at Grange site* *Update 13.03.2023 here is the presentation on hotdesking from our 10.03.2023 event.* *Here’s our collaborative note to HR on the topic of the building policy (12.12.2022) and on the topic of the North Light building in Brussels(10.02.2023).* Original article: Use your own allocated desk as much as possible, or you might find yourself soon in hot-desking (or as the Commission calls it, a ‘dynamic’ environment). In fact, this non-optimal use of workstations was the reasoning used as a basis to move colleagues to hot-desking environments of the most extreme type – large open-plan office space with no assigned desks, where furniture, individual storage space and quiet rooms are reduced to the bare minimum.

‘We don’t need all those empty desks!’ (but teleworking is voluntary….er)

The desk/staff occupancy calculation was already made a few years ago based on the data in Sysper on absences linked to trips (‘missions’), training, sick leave (yes, we hear you: being sick doesn’t mean that I don’t use my office…but when the numbers have to add up, everything counts!), and so on. Then Covid came and it was the perfect storm that allowed the Commission to push forward with hot-desking, a push even for tasks which are not particularly well suited to such an environment, editing and proofreading at the POST-Mercier, anyone? It doesn’t matter that hot-desking is a concept already considered outdated and many companies which had adopted it in the past went back after experiencing its disadvantages [1]. The key idea is to cut costs.

‘We don’t need all those canteens!’ (but we’ve not to eat ‘al desko‘?)

Canteens and cafeterias in Brussels seem to be going down the same road: use it or lose it! They were closed for a long time due to Covid (especially in comparison with the canteens in Luxembourg), and remained closed even after they had reopened in all other Commission sites. Then only a few of them were reopened in Brussels — to cater for over 21 000 colleagues! — the perfect excuse to not open more was quickly found: staff are not using them enough! Well, maybe because the closest available canteen is too far away or because of the reduced offer and spiking prices or because the dynamic list showing what was open was only made available at a later date? One cafeteria that was reopened was even closed again after 2 months because apparently there were not enough ‘customers’ (it is not clear since when our employer treats us as customers…). Had it been left open also in the autumn, and not only in summer while staff are on holiday and building occupancy artificially low, we guess that the results would have been different or at least more robust and representative.

Again, the bottom line for the administration is: if you don’t use it you will lose it! Never mind the conditions that might affect the use of certain facilities. Or the fact that the employer should in any case provide a decent environment in which to work and the relevant, corresponding services, irrespective of commercial considerations.

‘We don’t need all those TWA days!’ (but the year isn’t over yet!)

Another example of this twisted logic: as ‘only’ 40% of staff used the possibility to telework from anywhere (TWA) so far, and only for 6 days on average, the administration concludes that the current 10 days are more than enough. Again, never mind whether this possibility, as with all other flexibility measures, is to be used if and when necessary, and not all staff have the same needs at the same time. Just think of time credits, part-time, leave on personal grounds (CCP) [Congé de Convenance Personnelle]. Above all, is 40% of staff too little? What percentage would be enough? In our view this percentage is rather high and clearly indicates that teleworking from abroad is a real need for a large part of staff. Especially if we consider that some of our colleagues cannot telework (drivers, staff taking care of children, of maintenance, etc.) and that these data are only incomplete, as the year is not yet finished and many more colleagues might request TWA before the Christmas holidays.

Generation 2004 opposes this twisted ‘use it or lose it’ logic!

We are convinced that staff have been showing outstanding flexibility, especially during the recent crises: the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, skyrocketing inflation. This, together with  building closures in summer and winter, combined with no compensation for teleworking costs during Covid might soon result in the goodwill of staff  running low.

We encourage the administration to show the same flexibility and provide staff with all the necessary facilities and equipment to carry out their work. In particular, we reiterate our request that canteens and cafeterias reopen in Brussels – as they are on other sites; that exceptional TWA be granted in cases where buildings are closed this winter; and that the movement of colleagues into hot-desking be stopped until:

  • an appropriate evaluation of the implementations made so far is conducted,
  • the inevitable mistakes made corrected,
  • guidelines on processes and communications be published, and
  • the corresponding building rules updated (the draft housing manual of the Commission setting out the rules for hot-desking has been in work since 2015 and has still not yet been approved).

Generation 2004 believes that the first asset for the Commission is its staff and that the administration has an obligation to protect their physical and mental well-being. This outweighs any financial considerations. We want staff to be consulted and informed on changes: transparency and decency are very good for morale! Change is inevitable, involve your staff in the process! Generation 2004 opposes all justification of change done exclusively via budgetary reasons: engage with staff! Our health and well-being cannot and should not be a lower priority than making savings!

For any other questions, do not hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below.

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[1] Open-plan work spaces lower productivity and employee morale, Jia Wertz, 30.06.2019


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