B.I.G. Talks – Shaping everyone’s workplace in a global organization


Working nomads or back to the office? Flex or fixed desks? All in on digital coworking or valuing face-to-face moments? A lot of the future possibilities for how we work together bring up many new questions. And all in all, it seems like the black-and-white options given above aren’t going to work for everyone, definitely not in a company that is as large and diverse as B.I.G.. Vanessa Dutrieue – Talent Development & Learning Director – and Ingrid Vergote – Comp & Ben Director – shed their light on the future of our workplaces and bring a nuanced message of individual freedom, a culture of togetherness and the need for stability in a rapidly changing world.

The office of the future is in the eye of the beholder

What does the office of the future look like?

Ingrid Vergote: “I don’t think it’s possible to have a singular vision on the office of the future. I have an operational look at how we work together, and what I see in the field, is that working together depends on who is in the conversation, it’s a personal thing. What works for you, might not work for me. And that can be caused by personality, but also by the type of work you do.”

Vanessa Dutrieue: “I have to agree and I think Covid-19 highlighted that aspect heavily. While it changed the system and made many things that were previously unthinkable possible, it also showed the pros and cons of both approaches. While some people enjoy time at home to get focused work done, others can’t get into the zone if they are not in an office environment. That tells me that however we evolve in our way of working, we need to keep offering the best of both worlds, we need to find a balance and find boundaries that hold solutions for all your employees.”

Ingrid Vergote: “In the end, it all comes down to a good mutual understanding. When you’re connected and communicate, you can find solutions.”

Vanessa Dutrieue: “And the job of HR employees is to create the framework for everyone. Home office policies, creating spaces to work together, making sure software is available to work remotely…”

Are there other changes in the system that are coming up? Do you think we are moving towards more flexibility in how we work?

Vanessa Dutrieue: “We need to be careful to separate hypes from trends. For instance, flex work was all the rage before Covid, but what we’re seeing, is that people remain creatures of habit. Even when you tell people there are no fixed places at the office, they will still sit at the same desk every day. So flexibility is nice, but it all depends where you offer it.”

Ingrid Vergote: “People react to change with emotion, it’s human nature.”

How have we been changing our work culture at B.I.G. then?

Vanessa Dutrieue: “We are very much in the midst of a transformation journey. And it’s mainly a cultural shift. We want to empower people, include them, make them feel heard and seen. I’m very happy to say we have a CEO that embodies that sentiment as well.”

Ingrid Vergote: “The level of hierarchy is going down, which brings advantages. Everyone is being invited to speak up and does so, with respect. That’s nice to see.”

Vanessa Dutrieue: “Our workforce is also becoming increasingly diverse. We’re still looking for the best person for the job, but we see that people are less bound to location for deciding where they want to work.”

Ingrid Vergote: “Our systems are also evolving in that aspect, but this increase in diversity is mainly seen in our white collar workforce. Blue collar employees attach more importance to geographical proximity.”

Transformation is also something that has to include new digital coworking tools. Who is in the lead in that field?

Ingrid Vergote: “IT and HR have to make that happen together. HR has to create a framework for IT to operate in. After that, it’s important for IT to find the right software and implement it company-wide, which is not always an easy task in large organizations.”

Vanessa Dutrieue

Best practices for out-of-the-ordinary organizations

What lessons did we learn from the Covid pandemic?

Vanessa Dutrieue: “We went from one extreme to the other because of Covid. There was initial panic, because we didn’t have policies or systems ready for homeworking, but just like in many companies, we caught on quite quickly. At the time, there were a lot of practical issues like insurances that we needed to look into, which is something no one is even thinking about anymore when it comes to working from home. But mainly, the pandemic brought a cultural shift that was needed. It changed the management style as well to one that is more based on mutual trust. There was doubt about certain practices, but Covid forced our hand and showed us that it can work.”

B.I.G. is a global player with offices and production sites worldwide. How do you implement your vision in such an environment? How do you handle the differences between sites?

Vanessa Dutrieue: “It’s not easy to do. Different sites, sometimes multiple HR entities within production sites… You can have a policy at the group level, but it needs to be implemented locally and adapted to the needs of the people working in that place.”

Ingrid Vergote: “And at the same time, it is important that changes get implemented everywhere. That every production site reaches the same standard of quality, no matter the country or the type of team working there. That means that you have goals for the company that get translated to different action points for every production site. While we have a lot of room for improvement in that area, we are improving in that aspect. People that have been with us for a long time, see the drastic changes.”

Vanessa Dutrieue: “As an industrial player on the market, it’s important that you care for all of your employees equally. You need to create a place of togetherness for everyone, which means that facility management and HR need to work together closely.”

Together is also a word that is central to our purpose, ‘Shaping sustainable living, together’. How can you implement that into our working environment?

Vanessa Dutrieue: “By communicating clearly on what you do and how it is linked to your purpose. It helps to both remind people of what we’re trying to achieve together and to help them understand why we are doing what we are doing, what we are prioritizing and how everything fits into a bigger plan.”

Ingrid Vergote: “Your purpose can and should be a way to break through the silo’s that can be present between teams, divisions and departments. Your purpose is the glue that holds it all together.”

vanessa en ingrid