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Monday, June 11, 2012

NEW WORK MODELS: Expert Interview with Birgit Peeters, Director at Aquincum

The last expert Interview blog with Magdalen Simm  having been a real success, I decided to publish very quickely the next expert interview. This time with Birgit Peeters. Birgit is the director of Aquincum, a management consulting company specialized in the design and implementation of new work models such as teleworking, jobsharing and age management.

The relation between new work models and the accompanying partners is for me really obvious:

My clients are all involved in a dual-career  relation ship and they are all facing the challenge of adapting their working schedule to their family obligation. Moreover when making the big step to quit a job at home to relocate in a new country, many of us have the ambition to improve their quality of life and to better balance the work-life equation.

I met Birgit during a networking event in Lausanne some time ago: we had so much to share that the time reserved for the apero was not sufficient, we follow-up the conversation over the next week and are now in regular contact and have decided to share a bit of our passions with our readers during a joint interview.

Sandrine: “ Birgit, can you tell us something about your accompanying spouse story?

Birgit: “Yes, I do. I have lived professional experiences abroad in Italy, Brazil and France before meeting my husband. I loved it so much that I proposed my husband to have a professional experience abroad. Asia or Latin America was our dream, but Geneva it became thanks to the company he works for ! At that time, our 2 daughters were born in Belgium and I quit my job as a general manager of a SME. After these important decisions, time to move ! In Geneva, I was happy to be able to pass some “little children” time with my girls, but I knew that I wanted to get back to work. The typical “mother/working girl issue” then rose: how to manage kids and work especially when you are a competent women willing to work hard but not interested in a 100 % full time job nor in a half-time half-challenging job ? Some might think “just make up your mind, you cannot have it all”. But I disagree. The actual labor market designs whether full time jobs whether half-time jobs. There is something in between and that is called jobsharing. This is when I decided to help advising companies with their work organization design in order to make them more flexible. These are called “new work models”, I call it “other working ways” or “travailler autrement” in French. Aquincum is the name I gave to my company.

Sandrine: “Aquincum, what is the name standing for?”

”It has no meaning at all, it refers to an ancient Roman cite. I just liked the word and it starts with an A, often first in a row . “

Sandrine: “Can you tell us what new work models mean?

Birgit: “Thank you for this question. New work models are organizational models that intend to adapt work organization in order to find a win-win solution for both the companies and the employees. The expression “New work models” might impress at first glance but it does not always mean that the company should change the whole organization. It will depend on different factors. Aquincum is specialized in 3 work models :

-        Teleworking, working anywhere and anytime, an intelligent way to offer flexibility.
-        Jobsharing, a fantastic model for employees wanting to keep working in interesting jobs while the company can continue to keep the talent, guaranteeing service for clients.
-        Age management indicates that you respect personal life matters in the way you manage your people, that you are aware of your work force generational composition and how they work together and finally that you start thinking on valorizing all ages and preparing knowledge sharing and transfer.

You also have other ways for making work more flexible such as flexible hours. I consider these as “soft flexible work measures” not taking advantage of the full potential that the other approaches offer. But I am of course not against it .”

Sandrine: “Can you tell us about the way you help companies to implement new work models?”

Birgit:” If a company decides to act, ideas are not often clear. A huge risk is putting energy in one-shot actions, this rimes with a world expecting fast and easy results. But there is nor best nor quick way for implementing new work models as you deal with people and organization. So what I first try to do is to help them to see clearer. Why should the company care ? What are the advantages ? So I help them defining the objectives and the way we can get there. Once you have the vision and the buy-in of managers, then you can start to work. Aquincum accompanies the company from A to Z, tailor-made. Depending on the objective, I then offer my advice and expertise. For example, one company needed advice on how to best implementing a teleworking policy. I then helped them out with the Hr part (working at a distance), the juridical part (contracts) and the logistical part (working tools and methods). “

Sandrine: “ You know how much I am a supporter of jobsharing, can you tell us a bit more about the advantage of jobsharing for the employees and for the companies?”

Birgit “ Yes, I do, but tell me Sandrine, you are working in a different field, so why are you such a big supporter of jobsharing ?

Sandrine: “ Well not that different in fact…My work is to help the spouses or partners of expatriate to pursue their career development here in Switzerland. When someone has left a job, a network, family and friends in the home country, the organization needs to be re-invented here, a new work-life balance to be found.
Most of the jobs I had in my career could have been fulfill in jobsharing and I wish there could be more opportunities in Switzerland for the spouses I am coaching to jobshare.”

Birgit: “Thank you Sandrine.
The employer can keep a job in “full time” position. This is often wanted for many activities. The full time job gets then done by 2 distinctive persons, 2 heads for the price of one ! Continuity is guaranteed, this is important in many sectors. And the company can attract talents and can keep talents on board.

Let’s be very clear : what does the company want ? Full time positions filled in by one person. But if the search for the ideal situation does not work, what is the opportunity cost of doing nothing ? The company looses time,energy and money for the strive of that perfect situation. Their own talented people do not come back after a career break. So jobsharing is like a marriage between companies’ and employees’ needs and wishes : full time position is guaranteed and working time is reduced for both jobsharers.

Jobsharing is not for people who wish to do “just an interesting half-time job”. Jobsharing is a mutual commitment with a collective outcome based on trust and good communication and it is more than a half-time job. This fact and the perception that it is somehow a bit more expensive are the proper unfounded limits of the model. Yes, it asks a bit more initial organization but when set up clearly taking into account a check-list of factors, then it can only be win-win. And what is more expensive ? Having job discontinuity or having job continuity, not taking into account the expenses to recruit again externally….Jobsharing recruitment can be done inside the company if you create a jobsharing policy and culture and a communication program to support it. The worst is not knowing what your employees want or intend to do…that is expensive !   

Sandrine: “I agree on the advantages, but are their any pitfalls”

Birgit: “I think the biggest pitfall is not considering jobsharing. Due to the existing perception of jobsharing, companies exclude the possibility. Moreover this exclusion is based upon personal reasons due to this wrong perception. So, in order to avoid that big pitfall, I esteem a company should understand what jobsharing really is about. I can help with that. Can you imagine, I recently read an advertisement for a full time job available in jobsharing. Great, but the communication failed, it did not explain anything about the model? How can you apply to such an advertisement if nothing is clear? This simple online communication did not inspire confidence to work for that company. So, I also help companies positioning themselves properly towards jobsharing.

Another perceived disadvantage of jobsharing is that it is not applicable for certain activities. I think that this is a misunderstanding or a laxest attitude, again, looking for that one perfect full timer. The manager should be obliged to offer jobsharing and when it is not possible, he should then proof that the activity was not suitable for jobsharing. You should include actual full time jobs to be done on a jobsharing basis and not only consider the half-time positions. By the way, according to the Swiss federal office of statics, 24 % of women with a higher degree are  non active, while 61,3 % of these women are busy doing half-time jobs. But what kind of half-time jobs ??? That is a whole bunch of potential talent to offer interesting jobsharing jobs or to put back to work, if they wish so.”

Sandrine: “Birgit, what would be your advice for people wanting to jobshare ”

Birgit: “Jobsharing can be a wish, but it will stay a wish unless you talk about it with some external resource enabling you to prepare your jobsharing proposal. Preparing your jobsharing proposal means knowing what you want, know if you are suited for jobsharing and writing it all out in a jobsharing proposal. That is the first step. The second step is on how to approach and convince your HR department. I truly believe people can make a difference so you should dare to ask for it. Your chances are bigger if you have thought it all over and put yourself in the place of your manager and/or your HR department. What is in it for them? Should you consider asking an external resource to help you approach the HR department ? Open questions but no “suit for all” solutions.”

Sandrine: “So what would be your advice for companies considering jobsharing ”

Birgit: “First of all, jobsharing is not just something you should do without giving it a good thought. Brainstorm, be open but then fix a very detailed business case. For example, that could be “we want to increase the number of competent women coming back after pregnancy break”. Or “we would like to decrease the number of highly effective talents leaving our company offering more flexible work schedules”. An independent expert has the required distance to help the company with this. Secondly, yes, a feasibility check needs to be done, I do like anticipation a lot too, but sometimes the Nike slogan “just do it” comes in. If it is scary, you can always start with a pilot. But most of all you need a vision and managerial commitment to go for it. Finally, I would say to outsource a part of the job. Good results are a combination of availability, commitment and expertise. A company on its own does not always have these 3 ingredients at disposal especially not for niche strategies. Aquincum helps you out from the conception to the implementation of jobsharing in your company. Somehow I may call it “project/change management in the jobsharing area”. My motivation is to help both people and organizations on achieving the best possible flexible solutions for both. And that does not work without a bit of creativity and putting water in wine…just like in marriages .”

Sandrine: “So what would be your own wish or dream?”

Birgit: “First of all, that more companies activate themselves to do something about today’s challenges: continuity of their own activity, war for talent, respecting competencies of employees, inclusion, diversity, new working models.  Secondly that Aquincum continues to be real added value and can continue to help making it better. And finally, that this job continues to give me the pleasure I have doing it today, enabling me to meet great people and to get the best out of me.”

Sandrine: “I wish all your dreams will come true and I thank you very much for sharing this blog with me. Thanks Birgit.”

You can find more information about Aquincum and about Birgit Peeters on her
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