Dutch Ambassador Jan Versteeg seems to be the most popular foreign envoy in Athens these days. Versteeg, who used to work as a windsurfing instructor before joining the Dutch diplomatic service, has undoubtedly brought a breath of fresh air with him.
His first major initiative in Athens was the Orange Grove, a project which appears to have met with great success. Set up on the ground floor of the Dutch Embassy on Vasileos Constantinou Avenue, the project launched in September 2013 as an incubator for Greek start-ups. A select group of aspiring entrepreneurs were given free workspace, legal support, counseling and, most importantly, access to a broad network of academic institutions and business community representatives.
At the first official presentation of the project, Versteeg himself posed the question whether it was up to a foreign embassy in Athens to help Greece’s youth. His answer was everything you would expect from an open-minded, forward-looking diplomat. Versteeg said: “Yes, I think it is up to us. You see, a great deal has happened in the past few years which resulted in the cultivation of negative stereotypes regarding the north and the south. But the future of Europe is a common future, and we shall come out of this crisis together.”
Now the courageous Dutchman has returned with yet another original idea. Visitors can now choose one of the embassy’s open days (between noon and 5 p.m.) to see what a 21st-century working environment looks like.
The offices, in a privileged location overlooking the Panathenaic Stadium, were recently subject to a radical renovation program to reflect a new spirit of flexibility and teamwork. Based on a design by Athens-based Dutch architect Joost Frijda, the small rooms were integrated into a single, large space.
Stylish sofas, tables and plants, which hang upside down from the ceiling, catch the eye. Works by Dutch artists hang on the walls. Interestingly, the signage in the space is reminiscent of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
Versteeg explains: “We have not only changed the environment, but also the way in which we work. It used to be that each of us had their own office – me too of course. Now the desks are fixed but we all sit at different desks every day. We are all equipped with portable computers to maximize our independence. Because we work together, we need to control our voices. On the other hand, it is much more interesting to be able to move inside the space as well as sit next to your colleagues. Tasks get done faster and limits just disappear. There is more transparency and interaction,” he says as we sink comfortably into the so-called the “Love Seats.”
“Our aim was to encourage individual initiative and team spirit. We would be glad to guide open-day visitors around our offices as well as the Orange Grove.”