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Aquafin: committed to the (digital) future

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Clean waterways, rainwater management, solutions for flooding or drought... At Aquafin, jobs have a social added value - that much is certain. Employees can also count on a future-oriented organisation that is increasingly digital and offers a lot of autonomy.

    Sabine Schellens
    Preparing our people for the future is a priority.
    Sabine Schellens
    Sabine Schellens, HR & Organisational Development Director, AQUAFIN Inc.

    Aquafin has 1,100 employees. More than half of them work in water treatment plants or on sites all over Flanders, while the other half provides support services. In addition to its head office in Aartselaar, branch employees can also work in a well-organised network of satellite offices and flexi-workstations.

      Time and location-independent work

      HR & Organisational Development Director Sabine Schellens: "For several years now, we have been creating the framework for time and location-independent work i. This is a lot more difficult when it comes to the operation of the installations, but we also build in as much flexibility as possible for those teams."

      The fact that the water treatment company was not new to the defining trends of the future of work naturally came in handy at the start of the coronavirus crisis. Sabine: “The complete switch to teleworking gave us a few practical headaches.”

        Seeking to connect people at team level

        “However, some issues emerged over time,” she continues. "Such as: how do we distribute the workload efficiently and correctly? How do we keep everyone motivated to pursue our targets? But also: how do we keep learning from each other?" 

        These were all issues that could be brought back to connection and unity. While this happens automatically on the workfloor, it rapidly threatens to deteriorate in the isolation of the home workplace. 

        Sabine: "That’s why we immediately gave the teams a lot of freedom to work on their own internal organisation, knowledge-sharing, planning, fun factor and so on. Our managers received the necessary support for this during workshops in cooperation with SD Worx."

          Sabine Schellens
          In the isolation of the home office, however, there is a danger of a lack of connection.
          Sabine Schellens
          Sabine Schellens, HR & Organisational Development Director, AQUAFIN Inc.

          Meaningful jobs and autonomy

          With the desire to go all the way with this, everything is going well at Aquafin. Both general employee satisfaction (7.5) and engagement (7.9) score higher than the industry benchmark (7.4 and 7.1 respectively), according to the well-being survey carried out by SD Worx for the company.

          Sabine: "Our people appreciate the job autonomy that they get, they find their diverse range of tasks interesting and meaningful, and they are proud of Aquafin as an employer. The fact that our activities have an impact on every citizen’s living environment and quality of life is very satisfying and an important incentive."

            Sabine Schellens
            The fact that our activities have an impact on the living environment and quality is very satisfying.
            Sabine Schellens
            Sabine Schellens, HR & Organisational Development Director, AQUAFIN Inc.

            Professional knowledge and soft skills

            Aquafin image 1

            Satisfied employees make satisfied customers. In Aquafin’s case, these are the towns and municipalities and the Flemish Region. For even more efficient customer service, the water treatment company is focusing on digitalisation and process automation. To do this, we need to strengthen our efforts, but current employees also need to jump on the bandwagon. 

            Sabine: "In-depth expert knowledge remains the basis, of course. But the priority is to prepare our people properly for the future because it will be increasingly digital. In practice, this involves sharpening a number of soft skills such as flexibility and versatility, working together as part of a team, coaching leadership, etc."

              From job to career security

              The well-being survey also revealed that many employees themselves are asking for growth within the organisation. Sabine: "Some wish to develop further in their own area of expertise, others are curious about the next step in their career path, horizontally or vertically. 

              Through growth interviews and individual job coaching, we encourage internal mobility to fill part of our vacancies. Gradually making the transition from job to career security is the message, because change is the only constant."

                Evidence-based HR is the future

                However, Sabine emphasises that it is important to do this gradually: "The tempo of change must not be too high, otherwise people will switch off. We wish to take a thorough look at things, lay solid foundations and thoroughly evaluate and adjust after each and every step.

                Talking about evaluation: the HR director strongly believes in evidence-based HR. However, she realises that there is still some work to be done in this area. “Today we are already able to monitor a great deal, but in the coming years we shall be automating our HR systems and processes even further.

                  Smart mobility in full roll-out

                  In addition, the HR department has many new projects in place, including in the area of smart mobility. Sabine: "The bicycle lease plan is now a reality and, to date, 1 in 3 employees have signed up. We have also investigated options within the mobility budget and are working on the further greening of our vehicle fleet. Today, this is already the case for a quarter of our fleet."

                    In order to reinforce their commitment to smart mobility and time and location-independent work, Aquafin and more than 100 other employers have signed the 'Baanbrekende werkgever' (a pioneering employer) charter of the Antwerp Management School, De Lijn and Jobat. 

                      Solid basis and sound advice

                      Aquafin has been relying on SD Worx as an HR partner for many years. Sabine: "The payroll service provider is the backbone of our payroll, but our collaboration now goes much further. We call on their legal expertise or their specialists for specific projects. Every time, we can count on a team with the right skills and expertise that is a genuine trusted partner alongside us in the organisation."

                      "What I appreciate most about SD Worx is their readiness to listen," concludes Sabine. "After all these years, they feel perfectly at home on the workfloor and ask the right questions. On this basis, we always receive sound advice. If it sometimes goes against our own line of thinking, I find that that can only be enriching."

                        Sabine Schellens
                        What I appreciate most about SD Worx is their readiness to listen.
                        Sabine Schellens
                        Sabine Schellens, HR & Organisational Development Director, AQUAFIN Inc.

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