The future of work is brighter with hybrid work

Audri Hensels
Audri Hensels
Audri Hensels
Product Owner Hybrid working
Reading time5 minutes

Office spaces are becoming meeting places, behavioral psychologists are helping teams, and the bank is becoming an employer for more people across the whole country. Product owner Audri took us on a tour of hybrid working at Rabobank.

We met Audri at Rabobank in Utrecht, where she told us all about her work as Product Owner. She has been working to promote hybrid work at Rabobank since June 2022. “During the pandemic, everything suddenly had to happen at home, but it actually went surprisingly well. After this ‘forced experiment,’ we decided to keep the good parts of remote work. Hybrid working combines the advantages of working from the office with the advantages of working from home or anywhere else.”

"The motto for a good hybrid balance: plan your week, align with your team, and pick your spot." 
Audri Hensels

Advantages of Hybrid Work

What do Rabobank colleagues enjoy most about hybrid work? “Less time commuting is seen as a big advantage for many colleagues. They are able to be more flexible about how they use their time, so they can get more out of their day and better combine work with the rest of their life. Colleagues report greater satisfaction with their work-life balance. Since they don’t have to be in the office every day, people who live further away can also work at the bank. Hybrid work has advantages for our customers too: they can schedule remote meetings with us, and we have received a lot of positive feedback about that. The cherry on the cake is that our CO2 emissions are lower because we’re commuting less.”

Audri explained the three basic principles of hybrid working:

  • Digital first
  • Schedule time together with your team
  • Schedule time to be with others

These three principles are equally important, according to Audri. “If it can be done digitally, we do it digitally. That gives us a lot of work independence and flexibility. We also make arrangements about when our teams are going to get together. Seeing each other in person regularly ensures a stronger bond among team members. It’s also very valuable to interact spontaneously with colleagues that you don’t normally work with; that’s something you have to make time for too.”

Audri Hensels in a teams meeting

From an Office to a Place to Meet

“Working completely remotely isn’t for us. We want to be able to look each other in the eye. Nevertheless, hybrid work has definitely changed the purpose of the office. Instead of your typical office with individual desks, we want to be a place where people can come together—something more like a clubhouse. That’s why we have started calling our offices ‘RaboHouses.’ We are working hard to transform the spaces so that they better suit our current needs for working together.”

“The transformation is a big challenge since hybrid work is new for everyone. There isn’t a company in the world that has cracked the code yet. It’s still one giant experiment—we are constantly learning, measuring, and adjusting.” Audri points out a different corner of the building that’s cordoned off: “We’re renovating that part over there now. It’s like our sandbox, where we can explore what works. We design the spaces to be flexible so that the places we meet can always be used differently. What is a brainstorming room one day can be an open space with a bar the next. We want the spaces to be cosy, with warm furnishings and different types of seating that encourage spontaneous encounters.”

"We are in full experimentation mode so we can discover the best way to arrange hybrid work." 
Audri Hensels

Hybrid Work in Practice

When we asked Audri whether she works from home too, she laughs. “Yes, and I did before Covid too. I’ve worked at Rabobank for 20 years. Remote work was possible before the pandemic, but it’s really different now. I used to always come to Utrecht for meetings. Now it depends on whether it’s for a functional meeting or for cooperative work. Meetings with a set agenda or meetings that are just about giving an update about what you’re working on are easy to do from home. But more intensive cooperation I prefer to do at the office. It’s easier to brainstorm and inspire and learn from each other in person. It’s important to strive for an optimum balance, for what works best for you, your team, and the organization.”

“The motto is: plan your week, align with your team, and pick your spot. We note that most people tend to spend about 60 percent of the time working from home and 40 percent at the office. Teams are free to decide what works best for them and the organization helps them do that. Lots of teams choose to have a few days they work together in person, when they come to a RaboHouse. My team has one every three weeks. My personal opinion is that it’s nice to be in the room together if we need to do conceptual work. That way we can sit together and use the whiteboards, and still have time to go for a walk together. That’s how we achieve new insights.”

Audri Hensels is drinking coffee with colleagues

Study: Step-by-Step Improvements

“In December 2022, we conducted a study in which we asked 950 employees their opinion. We wanted to find out what their main reason for coming into a RaboHouse was and which activities they preferred to do at the office. We put that knowledge to use our work. When a new space is ready, we keep doing research. For example, we look at whether it works the way we expected or if there are certain aspects that are being either underused or overused. The conclusions we draw are used in designing RaboHouses throughout the country.”

“It’s important to do research. We don’t want to impose things from ‘above’ only to discover that our colleagues need something else. Everyone’s opinion is important. We take surveys, we do experiments in the office, and we organize co-design sessions. During the latter, we work with teams to find out what is needed to improve hybrid work. In collaboration with 17 teams, we have determined 10 things that are integral to overall satisfaction with hybrid work in the broadest sense. We’re going to experiment with them in order to improve hybrid working at Rabobank step by step.”

Team of Experts for the Future

Audri has assembled a team of people with expertise in different areas, including behavioral scientists and data scientists. “If we want to shape the future of work really well, then we have to have a smart approach. The behavioral scientists are helping us discover how to encourage employees to better spread their presence at the office over the week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are popular days for people to come in, but we can’t all fit in the RaboHouses all at once. We are creatures of habit though, so these things don’t just change over night. That’s why we need to raise each other’s awareness in different ways, for example, by visualizing how busy it is at a given time. It’s similar to they way they do that on the train these days, where a visual depiction can encourage people to travel outside of rush hour. It’s all the little things that add up.”