Optimal accommodation of expected growth

Optimal accommodation of expected growth

Bol.com has been growing tremendously over the years and faces the challenge of accommodating this in the existing office environments. As of 2019, we have been measuring the current busyness and occupancy rate at bol.com offices. These measurements serve to create a starting point. Smart Workplace published in their fifth edition (2019), the following article about the challenge of bol.com. The article is written by Peter Bekkering.  

In the coming years, Bol.com faces the challenge of facilitating growth in an existing office environment. Together with JLL, they looked into more effective use of the existing environment through workplace research and physical interventions. What also plays a role here, is the different mindset of employees and the possibility of working from home nowadays. Amid all the changes, the biggest challenge is to ensure that Bol.com remains a pleasant working environment.

Dorine van Ierschot has worked for Bol.com for almost five years, where she started as a contract manager. As a Senior Workplace Management Specialist, she is responsible for strategic accommodation. Van Ierschot started in 2014, simultaneously to when Bol.com exchanged the housing within Utrecht from the Keulsekade to the current accommodation at the Papendorpsweg. “Bol.com started in 1999 as an online bookstore with seven employees, in a portacabin on a parking lot in Utrecht. We have recreated that portacabin, and it is now in our museum in the current complex. The current complex now comprises 2200 workplaces for 2600 employees. These are spread over 4 office towers (B, C, E, F). In 2021, another tower will be added (A) with 6700 square meters LFA and 570 workplaces. Moreover, we also have room in Tower D to grow even further.”

Bol.com has grown considerably in recent years: “Currently, we employ around 300 new employees a year, but there have also been times that we employed 100 employees per month. Besides, twice a year we receive a large group of interns. Seeing the continuous growth of recent year and the expectation that this will only continue to grow in the coming years, we must continue to anticipate this. At first, we looked at other locations but last May we finally decided to expand our accommodation at this location.”

JLL has been involved in the relocation of Bol.com from the start and has guided them to the third office building. JLL is helping Bol.com to gain insight into the capacity. “The question is for how long we can move forward with the current number of square meters, and what we can do to achieve that. We also look at the needs of the different teams and how we can respond to them. Every team needs specific spaces and certain tools. We also look at how and where we can best position the teams in the building because there is a lot of cooperation between the teams.”

Occupancy rate
Since the beginning of 2019, Measuremen has been measuring the business and occupancy rate in the building. Every quarter they continuously walk through the building for two weeks and measure the occupancy on one floor. “In this way, we can identify where – on which floor, and with which team – the challenges are in terms of crowds. Together with JLL, we then look for solutions, to ensure that it remains a safe and pleasant working environment. We also explicitly look at issues such as acoustics and indoor climate.”

The measurements of Measuremen mainly serve to create a starting point. “Together with JLL, we look at how we will measure in the subsequent stage. Different tools are possible for this. JLL and Bol.com must investigate together what tool works best. “It is the first time that Bol.com uses such data:” The information is very valuable for us. It provides information about workplace occupancy, but also about meeting culture for example.”

The results lead to adjustments in the short and long term. Where in the long term it is mainly about housing issues, this autumn Bol.com has started the “Cosy” project: “Cosy includes everything needed in order to stay in this building. Such as workplace research, expansion of facilities and working methods. An important standpoint is that employees will decide where they will sit, based on their agenda. For example, if you have many meetings, you don’t need a fixed workplace on such a day. In this case, it is better to put your things in a locker during meetings and to work at landingplaces between meetings. However, I do realize that this is less of a suitable solution for some departments, such as Legal and Finance departments.”

To use workplaces more effectively, a different mindset is sometimes required. Cosy also pays attention to this: “We try to ensure that people leave as little pens, paper or telephones on their desks as possible, or that they hang a coat over a chair (Signs of Life), as this leads to people not sitting in that specific workplace. Employees also look more closely at the tasks for that day, when choosing the right workplace.”

Physical interventions
To make more effective use of the existing space until the expansion, physical interventions are also being carried out on the building. “For example, places like the atrium and the restaurant are not yet efficiently laid out. That is why, together with JLL, we are going to redesign the restaurant in such a way that it can become a meeting place when there is no lunch.”

At Bol.com, increased attention has been paid in recent years to the work-life balance and the vitality of employees. “We work hard, but there is also time for pleasure and vitality. That has to do with the average age of our employees, which is 35 years. For this specific group, the work-life balance and vitality are important items, explaining why we respond to it in all sorts of ways. For example, we facilitate gym and boxing lessons, yoga and bootcamp and we internally offer physiotherapy. We also do projects around drinking water, or for example, invite different speakers to talk about the importance of sleep. Another good example is ‘Steptember’, a challenge in which employees were given Fitbits. The challenge included taking the most steps as a team, wearing the bracelets. Employees find it important that they can also do it during working hours. As a result, they are ready when they leave the building. And again, that is important because of the work-life balance.”

Travel time
Bol.com also measures employee satisfaction regularly. An important item that emerges from this is travelling and/or mobility. The head office is located in a business park, which is at a considerable distance from the station. “Seeing the fact that travel time is an important item and that we, as a company, want to stimulate using public transport for sustainable reasons, we arrange shuttle buses that drive to and from the station during rush hour. We notice that this encourages employees to use public transport, seeing that we make travelling more fun and easier in this way. This is important because the majority of our employees come from Utrecht, and to a lesser extent from Amsterdam.”

Bol.com recently changed the name of the department “Facility Management” to “Workplace Management”. This department has been housed within HR for several years, which at Bol.com is called “People&”. Van Ierschot: “We made that change at the time because we noticed that as an organization, we made many choices from an HR perspective. We also cooperate closely with IT, seeing that many projects and decisions are a combination of People&, IT and us.”

Van Ierschot considers the greatest challenge in the coming years, to ensure that Bol.com remains a pleasant working environment amid all changes. “Employees and the business should not really feel what we are doing behind the scenes when it comes to housing. The working environment at Bol.com has always had a certain dynamic and we want that dynamic to be maintained. Besides, we also want the working environment to remain safe and pleasant. The project is called “Cosy” for a reason. Cosiness has always been in Bol.com’s DNA, and we want it to be preserved.” 

At the end of November, JLL presented the housing advice to Bol.com. Owen Zachariasse of JLL believes it is important for his company to take the time to come up with thorough accommodation advice: “JLL has always had the goal to provide exceptional service to its customers. Our ability to generate, analyse and deliver specific and valuable advice based on data enables us to serve our customers in ways that are more effective than ever before. At the same time, the people are at the centre of JLL and we are committed to creating impactful work environments for people, teams and organizations. Quantitative and qualitative data analysis helps us to do exactly that.”

In the meantime, it is an additional challenge that by definition, such advice must be flexible. Van Ierschot: “The growth cannot be predicted for the next five years, we are happy if we can do it for one year.”

In addition to the Utrecht complex, Bol.com is building its second distribution centre in Waalwijk. A smaller distribution centre is currently being rebuilt in Nieuwegein, only for larger products. “This concerns products such as washing machines that cannot run on the conveyor belt.” Because Bol.com also supplies in Flanders, there is also an office in Antwerp.