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The demands made on our working world are changing — and we’re changing as we adapt to them. In order to react optimally to these changing requirements, we need a working environment that adapts to our needs — a working world of the future.
When I started to examine the topic of “new working worlds,” it was initially a leap into the unknown. I had no idea what to expect. A tiny spoiler: It’s about a lot more than furniture.
Enable flexible working
External influences — digitalization, the desire for more agility and creativity in our daily work, Industry 4.0 — crowd in on us and challenge us. As a group, we are reacting to the new expectations and challenges of our colleagues, and we want to prepare them as well as we can for the changing conditions of their daily work. The fact is that the traditional ergonomic workplace that has existed for decades is no longer sufficient. We need to offer the employees even more flexible and more mobile ways to do their work.
That’s why we need a working environment that can equip us more effectively for the multitude of demands that are placed on us.
Today many transformations are taking place inside companies — and in the nature of the office. These transformations are moving us away from the traditional office setting that most of us have been used to for many years, and toward activity-based working with flexible work zones and the principle of sharing.
The seven zones of me@work
Our activity-based concept of working worlds is called me@work and is based on seven zones that are arranged within the area in a spectrum going from loud to quiet. Depending on the activity each employee is engaged in, he or she looks for an appropriate place to work with a level of ambient noise that matches the activity.
What does this mean in concrete terms? For example, your day in a me@work area might unfold as follows.
You arrive at your workplace in the arrive@work zone, go to your locker, and take out the things you will need for work today: your laptop, mouse, keyboard — and possibly a notebook and a pen. The question you now have to ask yourself is “What do I have to do today, and which working environment will give me the best support for getting this work done?”
Your first meeting of the day will soon begin. It’s not really worthwhile to occupy a desk, because you can also check your e-mails in the meet@work zone as you drink a cup of coffee or reread the files you’ll need for your meeting. You might also meet one of your colleagues — thus maintaining and expanding your network — and share a few ideas with him or her before the meeting.
Together, you and your colleague set out for one of the conference rooms in huddle@work. There you’ll find various setups for collaborating with your colleagues, ranging from a traditional conference room for meetings or phone and video conferences to rooms for creatively sharing ideas and project areas for workshop sessions.
After the meeting, you don’t have any immediate appointments with your colleagues, so you start to summarize the results of the meeting. You can basically do that anywhere — but the best place to do it is in perform@work. You can use one of the height-adjustable desks in either a sitting or a standing position to start doing your follow-up work and dealing with your documents. Thanks to its differently designed workplaces, me@work offers an ideal working environment from the standpoint of ergonomics, because they invite you to switch between different zones and thus they encourage you to move around.
What if the telephone rings? To avoid disturbing your colleagues, you step into one of the phone booths so that you can have a quiet conversation.
After that’s over, your supervisor comes by to tell you that he urgently needs you to make a presentation — today. Now you really have to focus. The best place for you to prepare is in focus@work. Here there are clear rules: no talking, and no phone calls!
But what happens if you run out of steam, feel sluggish, or have a late-afternoon slump? In chill@work you can relax and recharge your batteries. You can find several versions of this zone in the area, with different degrees of background noise and different kinds of equipment. You will find the foosball table in the louder zones, and if you need a power nap you might prefer to withdraw into a quiet zone.
Of course most of us can’t work entirely without paper, so you can do your printing, scanning, and photocopying in file@work. Every day can be different at me@work. You can decide on all the details yourself. With the help of the zones and modules, you can find the right working conditions for your particular activity at any time.
Collaborating to create a more efficient working environment
We want to see even more networking and communication on the work platforms, and we specifically want to support cooperation. We also want to continue promoting creativity, agile working methods, and spontaneous encounters. If we have satisfied and motivated employees who feel comfortable in their working environment, all of us can be even more successful.
But in order to make sure we’re doing the right thing instead of just chasing after a short-term trend, we are regularly in touch with our colleagues from all the divisions and also with the Fraunhofer Institute. We are participating in the Institute’s joint research project “Office21”, which gives us the opportunity to engage in discussions with scientists and various companies concerning concepts of working worlds. The focus of these discussions is not only on the office but also on the transformation of work in itself.
This transformation is a complex process, and not everyone accepts it in the same way. That makes it all the more important to make sure that the employees help to shape the process and are part of it from the very start. There are many unanswered questions, uncertainties, and perhaps also reservations that we want to address. As a result, we are doing things such as cooperatively examining the individual tasks of the employees, deriving “activity types” from these observations, and using these conclusions in our planning of the platform. Why are we doing this? Because we want to create a platform that is right for us and our various activities.
That’s why at me@work we are deliberately no longer talking about an open-plan office that offers a “one size fits all” solution — in other words, a standardized office area for all users, with a focus on the building and the furniture in it. At me@work, the activity-oriented multi-space, it’s clear that the focus is on the individual!
New working worlds — new ways of working
We are currently in the test phase of the me@work concept. The first buildings in which me@work has been implemented have already been occupied. These buildings include our new corporate headquarters in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim.
We moved into these buildings about three months ago, and we are now conducting a survey of our colleagues to find out how comfortable they feel in their new working environment and whether they have any suggestions for improvements. Of course there are still some colleagues who miss their personal desk-based work stations — but most of the colleagues have assured us that they no longer want to go back to their old working world.
We’re very glad about that — but this doesn’t mean that our project is over. We are using these experiences, insights, and feedback to continuously refine our concept and implement it optimally in our upcoming major projects.
We want to consciously examine the way we work, ask ourselves every morning what we’re planning to do that day, and consciously decide which work zone will best support the activities we will be engaged in. We are responsible for shaping our working day.
We want every employee to come to the same realization: Yesterday I had a workplace — today I’ve got lots of places where I can work.