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Essent starts with smarter working and entrusts its communication to Plantronics headsets

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Overview 

Essent, a supplier of gas, electricity, heat and energy services to consumers and businesses, is one of the 50 largest companies in the Netherlands. It was founded in 1999 and has been part of the German RWE Group since October 2009. It employs around 5,500 people. 

Following the example of organisations such as Interpolis, Vodafone, Cisco and Microsoft, Essent is switching over to the ‘New Way of Working’, under the name ‘@nders werken’. The scale, manner and pace of this change are unprecedented. 

The ‘@nders werken’ campaign, which aims to let employees themselves choose the best place and time for their work (including homeworking), was launched in early 2011. Essent wants this campaign to achieve a number of goals:

• Boost vitality, flexibility and productivity; 

• Increase employee satisfaction; 

• Reduce the number of office buildings from 13 to 5; 

• Corporate social responsibility, including reducing commuting and making better use of office buildings, leading to lower CO2 emissions; 

• Cost savings.

Company Profile 

Essent, http://www.essent.nl

Location 

Netherlands 

Industry 

Energy 

Headset Users 

2200 

Challenge 

Increase employee flexibility and mobility and create cost savings with respect to telephony and office space by introducing the ‘@nders werken’ (‘New Way of Working’) campaign for 2,500 employees 

Plantronics Solution 

500 Voyager PRO UC V2 and 1700 Voyager PRO UC

‘@nders werken’ 

To learn about the campaign, employees attend a workshop of about four hours. This looks at the cultural change and new ways of communicating. Essent’s intention is to get employees enthusiastic about working two days in a full-time working week from an office location and three days from another location, such as at home. For the two fixed days, most of the office space has been divided up in a floor plan, with a specific corner reserved for each department.

The workshop also includes explanation of technical equipment such as the headset. After completing the workshop, employees receive a headset along with a workshop kit which they can use to order everything they will need to be able to work at home. The headset that Essent has chosen is the Plantronics Voyager™ PRO UC. This choice was made after a quick scan of the market. The project team drew up a list of functional wishes and requirements, having first defined three types of employee: the mobile worker, the office worker and the call centre worker. Both the office worker and the mobile worker were finally given the same headset, the Plantronics Voyager PRO UC. 

Micro USB 

Out of around 25 criteria, Essent’s four main requirements were determined follows: the headset must be wireless, it must have a multipoint facility (so that users can connect the headset to both a mobile phone and a laptop), must have micro-USB and must require no additional software for operation with Microsoft OCS/Lync. Micro-USB was an especially vital requirement, as it means that employees only need one adapter to charge their BlackBerry and their headset. Moreover, because of the scale of the operation Essent wanted to work with one of the market leaders in audio communications so as to be sure of timely delivery and adequate support. Plantronics was eventually chosen due to the headset’s various features, the possibility of providing a headset with micro-USB and the price.

Essent then carried out a field test with Plantronics to make sure that large numbers of Bluetooth headsets operating on the same work floor would not cause interference. A look at the white papers and technical descriptions revealed that the numbers Essent had in mind were not feasible. Bart Martens, Telecom Manager at Essent, explains: ‘The technical papers state that no more than ten people can make calls in an area using Bluetooth headsets, whereas we can easily have 15 to 20 people operating in a particular area.’ However, the practical trial, in which 25 people made simultaneous calls via Bluetooth on a typical work floor, proved positive. ‘Despite the large numbers and a great deal of background chatter, it worked without any problem. Although we’ll never have so many people simultaneously making calls, we now knew that you could have 25 people on the phone at the same time without disturbing one another, and that was one of our most important considerations,’ confirms Martens. He is happy that the trial was positive: ‘If you opt for a DECT solution, you immediately have the problem that DECT doesn’t work with a mobile phone and then you have to go for a wired solution, which is a completely different direction and not our preference.’

Opting for wired rather than wireless headsets would have been attractive from a financial standpoint. As Martens says, ‘Wired headsets are much cheaper than wireless versions, but we still went for wireless. This was purely due to their flexibility and ease of use. An employee needs to be able to walk around the office, move around, or get something out of the cupboard, and when he or she is working at home, needs to be able to get up and go into the kitchen for a cup of coffee – without losing the connection.’

“The Plantronics Voyager PRO UC’s multipoint solution is very good, and the new version is one step better. What’s great about this version is the audio streaming using A2DP audio technology. This means that you can use the headset for just listening to music on your laptop or your mobile phone. But that’s a feature that’s nice to have, and certainly not a business requirement.”

Bart Martens, Telecom Manager, Essent

A high-quality headset with useful features

By choosing a more expensive and good-quality headset with handy features and simple plug and play so that nothing needs to be installed, Essent is aiming to encourage employees to change their working patterns. The first results look positive and show that the adoption rate amongst employees is very high. This is in contrast with the degree of acceptance by managers, which is still a little disappointing. According to Martens, ‘Managers are still in the process of making the transition to giving their team complete freedom, whereas employees are still doing the same work, the only changes being to the way of communicating, to how their time is organised and to the resources they use. The growth in the number of smart phones is also contributing to an increasing degree of integration. Making calls, even while on the move, has become normal. Today you see people making calls everywhere, on the streets and at workplaces in the city.’

Since the headsets had to be connected to a laptop, there were a number of additional requirements, such as Microsoft OCS / Lync compliance, plug and play so that there was no need to install software, ease of use and a good battery life since the headsets are used intensively. ‘The Plantronics Voyager PRO UC also met these requirements,’ confirms Martens. He is very happy with the choice: ‘The Plantronics Voyager PRO UC’s multipoint solution is very good, and the new version is one step better. What’s great about this version is the audio streaming using A2DP audio technology. This means that you can use the headset for just listening to music on your laptop or your mobile phone. But that’s a feature that’s nice to have, and certainly not a business requirement.’

He adds: ‘One drawback is that we have 500 units of the new version and often get requests from employees who would like the new version – because of the extra features.’ One of the useful features is the Smart Sensor™ technology. With this intelligent technology, the headset knows when it is and isn’t being worn. ‘Once I put the headset on, the call automatically goes to my headset, and once I take it off or it falls out by accident, the call is automatically redirected to the phone. I don’t have to do anything.’ He concludes: ‘I use the headset all day long, and it’s perfect for me! If I ever forget it or its battery has run down, I clamp the phone between my shoulder and head, and immediately get an aching neck.’ 

Freedom and connectedness 

Essent says that the ’@nders werken’ project is about trust, responsibility, freedom and connectedness. As Martens puts it: ‘As employees we need to think about how, where and when we can best do our job. Since we can be reached both on our mobile and on our laptop, we can choose how we want to work. Employees are given a single number – an 088 number – so that it makes no difference where they are working, whether it’s at a location in Groningen, Zwolle or Den Bosch, at home or whilst travelling, and whether the call is taken via mobile phone or laptop. The employee can always be reached on his or her number. If I’m using my laptop, I take the call via the laptop, and can instantly share documents and use video too. It’s also possible to call my German colleagues at RWE using video conferencing and OCS. And when I’m in Belgium I can use the Dutch call rates through OCS: I don’t have to use my mobile phone on the Belgian network every time.’

Cost savings 

Essent stands to make substantial cost savings by carrying out the ‘@nders werken’ project. One cost that will fall dramatically is telephony. With the rollout of Unified Communications, employees can make calls via a laptop, several thousand desktop phones, connections and subscriptions have become redundant and call charges will decrease. In addition, office spaces can be used more efficiently.

Another cost saving comes from a reduction in the number of office buildings from 13 to 5 and a corresponding reduction in floor space from 105,000 to 35,000 m². 

Future 

Martens sees a number of developments for the future. Integration of services, consolidation of services, a growth in VoIP (Voice over IP) and the rise of Bring Your Own Devices are just a few of these. Martens also sees Essent as setting an example for the company’s German colleagues at RWE with the ‘@nders werken’ project. ‘They’re looking at the changes we’re in the process of making in the areas of culture and technology. But RWE is ten times larger than us, so you’re talking about completely different numbers. Even so, enthusiasm about all this will lead to a transition in the longer term,’ says Martens

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