On 1 March 2021, the FAMHP moved into a common building on the Avenue Galilée in the centre of Brussels, along with the FPS Public Health and the RIZIV-INAMI (national institute for health and disability insurance). The move is part of the Redesign project of the healthcare administrations. The aim is to make public services even more efficient and thus further improve services to citizens and stakeholders. Karen Wyns works at the Personnel and Organisation Division and was part of the project team that prepared and managed the move. She talks about her experiences with this huge logistical project.
For the start of this project, we have to go quite a way back in time, because originally we were going to move to the Pacheco building. Then the decision was made to move to the Galilee building. How did that project go?
I was involved from the beginning in the working group for the move to Pacheco building and later to the Galilee building. From the first meetings with the architect, we were there to make sure that all our requirements and needs were met. We had done a lot of preparation for the move to Boulevard Pacheco in the years before, so that went very smoothly.
As time went by, other working groups were also established to keep everything running smoothly, such as the ICT working group for the technological design of the building. All the working groups were coordinated from a core group. That was necessary with such a large project. Since we were moving in with two other organisations, representatives from the FPS Public Health and the RIZIV-INAMI were also present at every meeting. The move turned out to be a huge project that almost required our full-time attention.
Sustainability was central to the development of the plans for the new building. How have you achieved this in practice?
The starting point for the new building is: working together on public health in a sustainable and healthy environment. We have strived as much as possible to create a healthy and sustainable building. All the materials we have chosen for our new building are reusable. We also carefully considered which furniture we would be moving and which we would not. When moving, you have to take into account the moving cost and the ecological cost. Employees had the opportunity to take home certain office equipment that we could no longer use, such as an ergonomic office chair to furnish their home office.
We donated the remaining office equipment that we did not move to charities. The FAMHP has donated cabinets, desks, chests of drawers and tables to various schools. But also to an association that helps refugees and to the project La Maison Rue Verte that offers shelter to single women with children. So our redundant desk equipment has been given a second life.
That sustainability also extends to our new mobility plan.
That’s right. First of all, we are trying to motivate everyone to leave their car at home as much as possible. We used to work right across the street from the South Station – we just had to cross the street and could walk into our office. Now, there was some fear that the building would be more difficult to access, but there was no need to worry. We have focused on sustainable mobility by mapping out different routes to reach the building from the train station on foot or by bicycle.
We also transformed the former VIP car park in the building into a bicycle park. There is even room for cargo bikes and charging stations for electric bikes. Showers are also provided in the building for colleagues who want to freshen up when they cycle to work. So you can see that we have really invested in our vision of sustainability. You also notice the change at the company restaurant. We now work with local and seasonal products. That does not mean you can’t eat steak with fries, but there are many healthy alternatives.
Once the plans were drawn up, the biggest work began: the final move.
This, of course, required a great deal of preparation. We have decided not to move our paper archives to the new building, so the first task was to get all the paper archives to our logistics partner. That was a good exercise to see what we needed and what we didn’t. Many things have also been digitalised. All the services had to pack up their team’s equipment, and each employee received an individual moving box for his or her personal items. These had to be clearly labelled, as not every team ended up on the same floor or next to the same colleagues as before. For all the cabinets, desks and other furniture in our old building, we had to designate what we would or would not take with us and where it needed to end up.
So it was already a large and logistically complicated project, but then the coronavirus crisis added to it. Did that have a big impact?
The move has certainly been delayed. Our whole agency was so busy with the fight against COVID-19 that we often had to include the moving project as and when. As a result, many things did not happen as thoroughly for us and we felt more disadvantages than the other two organisations. They had employees working only on the moving project. We had developed a whole plan to welcome people to the new building, guiding them and introducing them to their new workplace. That all kind of fell apart and we have to make up for that now.
The return to the office will be quite an adjustment for many colleagues. How are you going to get people back out of their bubble?
We need to learn new habits again, but change is never easy. Working in a large space with many people is not something we are used to anymore. But seeing your colleagues and working together is more important than many people think, for example in the prevention of burnout. If you work from home, that is more difficult. We have equipped the building in such a way that it meets everyone’s needs and that everyone will feel at home.
Besides the classical office spaces, for example, there are project rooms for consultation with colleagues, telephone bubbles for short phone calls, quiet rooms where you are not allowed to talk or make phone calls, and cocoons for when you want to retreat and work at ease. Our infrastructure for external meetings has also advanced tremendously. For example, we have a small auditorium, a room for interpreters and the classical meeting rooms. All the ICT systems have been modernised and are future-oriented, which makes working very smooth and pleasant. We have also focused on the well-being of our employees. There are several coffee corners for informal get-togethers with colleagues. The building also has a media lounge, a relaxation room and a gym. It’s good to relax and recharge the batteries during the busy working day.
You have opted for an integrated approach where services from the different organisations sit side-by-side; there is also the common logistics service 1FM. What are the benefits of physically sitting together in one building with different partners?
This definitely has certain advantages. You can really benefit from the expertise that we didn’t have before. In particular, services that work on the same themes, such as the Training Center or the ICT departments, can share their knowledge and experience with each other. The threshold to see how another organisation is doing something is much lower. It is also easier and cheaper to purchase or loan equipment together. I definitely see some benefits, but there is still a lot of growth to come. Some of it will happen organically, but we will also create targeted actions to join forces.
In the meantime, we have moved to the new building, but it is now a matter of time to get to know the new building. How do you see the future?
First of all, we are now making up for the activities we had already planned last year, such as getting to know colleagues and making practical arrangements between the teams on a particular floor. We certainly need to encourage that. We need to learn to work more like we used to and that takes some time. The combination between remote working and working in the office will take a while to find for each service and each employee. I’m sure that with good agreements between teams and the right support, that will work out fine.