The modern office: more of a meeting place than a workplace?
Advocates of the classic office have not had it easy in the past two years. While they could still cautiously hope in the first wave of corona that the incantations of the “new normal” would disappear just as quickly as the smell of banana bread from the lockdown kitchen at home, the impression that the employees felt the new won’t give up the flexibility we’ve gained so easily.
But the apologists for the new, universal freedom, who saw the office as a relic of bygone times, were caught up by reality just as quickly: Because the first wave was quickly followed by a counter-movement, in which desks filled up again because the Employees were fed up with their own four walls.
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However, the strict separation of the two spheres of office and home office continued to decrease as a result, the positions became more conciliatory and a “hybridization” also began in the discussion. This in turn provides a welcome opportunity to talk about how we as a society want to shape work, in times when we don’t have to.
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But despite this dynamic, the impression should not be given that there is no clear vision in the industry of what the future should look like. On the contrary, a philosophy is taking shape that is supported by technology providers as well as consultants, software developers and MSPs.
This means: The place of work is secondary, completely different values will be important in the future, above all freedom and flexibility. But only in connection with the necessary trust can the necessary “sense” arise, which takes the place of control, as Jens Reichardt from the IT service provider Spirit/21 stated at the IDG Round Table “Hybrid Work”:
“In the future it will not be about arranging working models, but about creating incentives through meaning. The ideal situation would be that the employee likes to go to the office at certain times. This can be achieved, for example, with meeting rooms in which one really feels comfortable, or with phone boxes, which allow privacy even in busy offices – and all of this requires space, which is also created through flexibilization.”
For Mark-Oliver Schuller from CGI Germany, hybrid work has two main components: organizational and psychological. After all, it is “of course initially liberating to work independently on solving a problem worldwide. But only if I convey a sense of identity and belonging can a remote team be formed instead of a network of freelancers.”
The classic modern work question “technology or organization?” can therefore be answered with a clear “yes”. All roundtable participants share the view that functioning technology is a basic requirement for the optimal employee experience. Because just because the technical prerequisites are given in theory, their correct use is by no means a matter of course. Christian Malzacher from Bechtle emphasizes that it is still the technical issues that the system houses are dealing with. In particular, the implementation of hybrid meetings often still fails due to the correct integration of remote participants:
“The right infrastructure is a basic requirement for successful meetings and workshops,” says Malzacher. “Cameras, microphones, screens and whiteboards should be placed and coordinated with each other in such a way that remote employees can also participate properly. This is the only way to use the advantages of both worlds and to establish hybrid concepts in the long term.”
And Martin Bauer from Cluster Reply adds: “Productive meetings are the be-all and end-all, regardless of the working model. Carrying them out is definitely a skill issue. A workshop doesn’t feel unproductive when it’s hybrid, but when it’s poorly organized. ”
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The discussion also focuses on the fact that these “two worlds” are and may be flexible terms. Because for the experts, “hybrid work” is by no means just the combination of home office and office. Rather, it is about a meta-state that includes the constant change between both places as well as mixed forms and gray areas. For example, do co-working spaces belong more to the “home” or to the “office”?
Gregor Knipper from the hardware manufacturer Jabra also finds that the term “hybrid work” is often used incorrectly: “Hybrid is basically the best individual mix of work in the office and from wherever. All too often companies here only have ‘ “Home office” in mind. We see co-working spaces in particular as a great alternative. These inspire because of their often unusual architecture, act as a source of inspiration thanks to the colorful mix of their “co-workers” and enable new contacts with other companies.”
According to the roundtable participants, the office as a whole is facing a redefinition, at least if it wants to survive in the long term. As remote collaboration becomes even more common in the future, companies are challenged to transform offices into places where a sense of belonging is fostered. This is only possible by investing in your own premises. Companies should not only use remote and hybrid work to reduce their “real estate footprint”, but also build common areas that really serve to strengthen the company identity.
In the end, human beings remain social beings and the coincidence factor, which has already produced a brilliant idea from an encounter at the espresso machine, must continue to be made possible. Employers should invest saved costs in “Moments that matter”, for example events and team days or also in support in important life situations.
For Martin Kraus from ServiceNow, the employee experience should therefore come first. “If I don’t have to go to the HR office for every issue, that’s a big improvement. Employees are used to doing a lot of things without direct interaction and therefore much faster.”
Kraus suggests providing your own employee apps, which are more than simple desk booking systems, but also intranet, social network or information hub. “A better employee experience is what creates a hybrid work experience in the first place. And if it’s really necessary, physical meetings must still be possible.”
In addition to the office as a social space, there are also other, much more concrete reasons not to overdo it with the “always-and-everywhere culture”.
“Employers should not use the newly discovered freedom to gradually introduce the 24/7 model,” emphasizes Jens Reichhardt. And Markus GrünebergMarkus Grüneberg from the identity and access management specialist Okta emphasizes:
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“Routines are important and that’s why I’m not a friend of this absolute flexibilisation, as it is currently taking place – also in legislation: Labor rights that have been fought for with great effort – sometimes over centuries – threaten to be marginalized again as a result. This starts with workplace ergonomics and of course also affects working hours. The splitting of working hours must not be done against the express will of the employee.”
What remains to be said at the end of the day is that work sometimes needs local routine and any form of flexibility is welcome as long as it is not dogmatic or assumes that every employee wants to be equally free. Instead, employers are asked to replace control with identification and meaning. In this way, they take advantage of both worlds – even if one does not always know where one begins and the other ends.