Business families a new form of office organization and corporate architecture

"New Work" or "Smart Working" concepts and the associated changes in office organisation and the design principles of office buildings based on them are a highly exciting topic. The Corona crisis has further stimulated the ongoing discussion and introduced many new and urgent aspects to the dynamic development. What should or must office buildings look like in the post-Corona era? What contribution can architecture and interior design make to bridge the gap between largely isolated work in the home office and creative team meetings in the office?

Farewell to the fixed office workplace

Saying goodbye to permanently assigned office workplaces was a massive trend even before the crisis. So-called mobile working concepts are on everyone's lips and are praised as the ultimate in modern office organisation in the digital age. In the vast majority of companies all employees are never present at the same time. Why therefore investing in office workplaces that are ultimately not used at all. Of course, all this only works if the employees have no longer been assigned fixed workstations.

In order for the principle of daily free choice of workplace to work, everyone has to clear their desks at the end of the day. High paper towers are a thing of the past. Employees keep their private office knick-knacks and documents in their compartment, which also serves as a letterbox. Depending on their tasks, employees can sit together in meeting rooms or retreat alone into one of the so-called creative zones. Anyone who wants to can take a seat on the sofa in the lounge area or meet with colleagues at the counter in the coffee bar. Printers, sockets and Wifi are available everywhere, even in the staff restaurant. Offices with a modern mobile working concept work like this or similar, as we know them from start-ups or hip companies in Silicon Valley.

Theory vs. practice

So much for the theory. What are the experiences in the practice of everyday planning? Our offices are both located in economically extremely strong and dynamic regions. Schloss Waldenburg is located in the middle of the Heilbronn-Franken region, which is the headquarters of the Schwarz Group (Lidl, Kaufland) or Würth, among others. Our second location is in Frankfurt, the pulsating heart of the Rhine-Main area, whose economic structure is strongly determined by the financial industry.

Both offices have organisations as clients, where the majority of employees spend most of their time working on projects at their clients' premises. If on average only 30-40% of employees work in the office, it would be completely uneconomical for 100% of the workforce to invest in or maintain an expensive office infrastructure. In business practice, a mix of classic fixed office workplaces for accounting, human resources or IT staff, for example, and mobile working concepts for colleagues who work closely with the customer has therefore become established in many companies.

Ultimately, the acceptance of mobile working concepts by the employees is decisive for their success. In a recent study by the "Büro Forum", 1,000 employees from 450 companies were asked whether they could imagine not having a permanent workplace any more. Over the various generations, only 21% answered this question in the affirmative. As was to be expected, this willingness increases among younger employees. However, even among Generation Y, more than 2/3 of those surveyed still want a permanent workplace. For this very reason, we reject a simple "copy-paste" in which the working method commonly used in start-ups is transferred one to one without reflection to any company and we strongly oppose simply following the trend without reflection.

Open Space or Single Office?

Unfortunately, the question which office variant the employees actually wish for is rarely asked in this context. It is therefore very interesting to see that when asked about the type of office workstation desired, from open-space to single office, 77% of those surveyed expressed the wish to work in smaller group offices for 3-8 people, i.e. more than 2/3 of those surveyed. Modern office concepts definitely have their place; but please do not blindly copy hip Silicon Valley concepts. It is important to look closely at what is the right form for the individual company and culture. And because it cannot be emphasized often enough: Ask your employees! This is so obvious and basically self-evident, but in very few cases is actually done.

Success criteria of modern offices

Where our team of Philipp Architects has done this in the course of its work for the companies, three central aspects or challenges for the planners have been identified:

  • The desire for homeliness and comfort in the offices
  • The desire to work in small, manageable groups or a preference for such office layouts
  • The challenge of the cooperation of the generations (Baby Boomer, X, Y,Z)

Most recently, a fourth essential aspect has been added in the past few months:
The question of how we can respond to the challenges of the Corona crisis or how we can design maximum security while maintaining social interaction.

Business Families as an answer to the challenges

In dealing with these demands, we noticed the parallels to the family. The coexistence of generations, the desire for manageable, family structures and a comfortable home and last but not least the security of a manageable unit, which has successfully contributed to the containment of the pandemic even in times of social distancing or the lockdown. From this, Philipp Architekten developed the office concept of the so-called "business families". The concept combines the ideas of mobile working concepts with the central requirements and wishes of the employees. Thus, for each "business family", differently tailored workplace situations (group and individual workstations) but also lounge-like meeting and creative zones, possibly a small library and always a shared kitchen with a long dining table up to an outdoor terrace with barbecue are designed.

Times in the home office can easily be integrated into the concept without the risk of losing touch with the team. In the small unit every team member remains in view. The cohesion and self-control mechanisms in the business family prevent the spin-off of an employee, which can happen more easily in the anonymous open-plan office, according to the experience of the acute corona phase. We at Philipp Architekten see ourselves as a kind of tailo for our clients' companies and organisations. It is important to look carefully in each individual case to determine which tailoring fits. If the suit fits perfectly at the end and does not stretch anywhere, so that a maximum of mobility and flexibility is guaranteed, we have done a good job as architects.

With pleasure also for you. Just ask us.