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National Cooperation Week 2019: experiences and findings

21 October 2019

In the second week of September many Dutch organizations participated in the so called Nationale MeewerkWeek (“National Cooperation Week”). For one or more days, managers and boards joined employees on their shifts. This offers the latter a chance to express ideas, concerns, complaints, or simply explain how they experience the way management runs shop. This year’s participants included MVO Nederland, CSU, PSV Eindhoven and bouwens&. What did founder and director Michael Bouwens learn?

Demanding employer

At the start of our conversation, Michael immediately stresses that the Nationale MeewerkWeek works both ways. Yes, it’s an opportunity to improve processes using input from those who are out there every day. But for bouwens& it’s also a way of showing their people know how much they are appreciated by the head office. He knows very well that the company that carries his name sets a high standard for its employees. Michael: “We have been aiming to deliver the highest quality in personal service for the corporate world since day one. At the same time, we want to be preferred employer for the best people in our business. We won’t maintain these positions by slacking.”

Michael en Sebastiaan 1

The guest is everything

At the Amsterdam HQ, every Planner, Recruiter, HR Employee and Manager is aware of the fact that being a receptionist or security agent might seem a straight forward job, but it definitely isn’t. Every bouwens& employee is expected to be ready and willing to go the extra mile for the client’s guests and visitors. That takes energy, persistence, and character; something that is overlooked too often, says Michael.

Security and hosting in three buildings

So he decided to join Guido, Security Host on three locations during a single shift, and see what it’s like to do his job. Guido does the opening and closing rounds, part of the 24/7 security service, and support at reception for three clients on the Amsterdam Zuidas. That is not a walk in the park, even if we only look at the distance Guido crosses every day. “What struck me most is the rapidly changing intensity of the job. Also, I have to admit I slept like a baby after all that walking.”

Hospitality: a serious business

Another factor to consider is the variety in clients with which bouwens& works. On the mainly financially and legally oriented Zuidas, working overtime is a given and staff and board consist of critical consumers of corporate services. This requires a certain approach. At Brocacef (Hospitality Hosts Roos and Paul) and the Prinses Máxima Centrum (Security Host Sebastiaan) being successful means meeting a completely different set of conditions. Luckily for bouwens&, Michael’s days on the floor confirmed what he suspected. “It’s remarkable how meticulously and carefully our men and women do their jobs. They know that people are counting on them and perform consistently to not disturb any of the processes they are a part of.”

Michael en Sebastiaan 2

Office versus location

Of course there is always room for improvement, says Michael. One of the things he noticed in his conversations with Guido and the other hosts, is a shared misconception about the way head office goes about making decisions. Sometimes the hosts feel that impactful decisions are taken lightly and made without regards for the consequences they might have on the floor. Which is absolutely not the case. Michael explains that Planners and Managers often try every possible combination before seeing themselves forced to take a decision they know is not perfect for all involved. This happens when a project or event simply has to move forward, or a client demands change. Vice versa the head office knows a lot about the work they’re managing, but at times fails to understand the intensity of the job.

"Let our hosts have coffee with our planners and really let them know how they feel. They are always welcome, just as I am directly available to each of our employees."

The solution for these and other challenges on the road to a perfect service is not another spectacular new plan, according to Michael. Only continuous communication about everybody’s role and expectations can improve the level of service towards the client. “This seems more logical for the people at the office, because they have an overseeing position. While actually we invite all our people from all locations to come to the office and share their ideas. Let our hosts have coffee with our planners and really let them know how they feel. They are always welcome, just as I am directly available to each of our employees."

Know your accounts

There are different ways to improve communication and develop smart solutions. Managers will be spending more of their time on location with the hosts in order to have a more direct insight into the client’s location and its demands. Managers will oversee fewer accounts and spend more time with their respective teams. The idea is to recognize bottle necks and avoid often expensive last-minute solutions.

Michael en Sebastiaan 3

Practical solutions

Some of the lessons learned during the MeewerkWeek were of a more practical or logistic nature. For instance while following Hospitality Hosts Roos and Paul, who work for Brocacef where they provide an inviting environment. Michael noticed that many of Brocacef’s employees’ guests are scheduled at the front desk or via e-mail. Roos and Paul have to process this information, which costs time. A system that allows employees to schedule their own guests would save time that could be spent improving service.

Work together, improve together

Working with his people has been so exciting and educational, that Michael decided to start a quarterly tradition. He hopes to learn more and more on how to improve his business and facilitate his people. This year’s MeewerkWeek has mainly reaffirmed his strong belief in the joint effort that is an absolute essential condition when striving for a flawless service for the client. Always wanting to do better is a must, in which Michael is inspired by athletes such as Federer or the Dutch football Lionesses. Knowing your flaws and those of your team and always aiming to improve them, especially when things are not going as planned. Trusting and supporting your team, simply because your team is the best. “Roger Federer has won everything (except the Olympic medal, red.), but wakes up every morning with the intention the do a little bit better than yesterday. It might sound cocky, but I recognize this attitude in our people and that fills me with pride.”