New Work: Which office design helps smart people think

ONWS / Thomas Köhler

Away from old, dusty structures, towards more personal independence and agility: New Work is the name of the new megatrend in work culture. Instead of a prescribed system, employees have more freedom to work the way they want. The Zukunftsinstitut describes New Work as the age of the creative economy. As a radical change that begins with the question of meaning and reshapes the entire world of work. The focus is on the potential of each individual. Work is in the service of people – and no longer the other way around.

Even if the term is often used in connection with the work of the future, New Work is already being practiced today. Work-life balance, home office, more personal freedom: many companies, especially young innovative start-ups, follow the concept of New Work in their culture.

The office is a central part of this. What do conference rooms, desks and kitchens have to look like so that employees enjoy coming to the office to do their job? And how can a work environment encourage the development of smart ideas? Are some hip furniture or a foosball table enough?

Maik Marten deals with these questions every day. He is the management and consultant at a Berlin architecture firm that specializes in New Work. In his book “From old and new office worlds” he discusses the question of what knowledge workers need and what the rooms look like in which they can think particularly well.

When the good thought just doesn’t want to come

Creativity is not something that can be forced, says Marten. It cannot be conjured up to a certain place or at a certain time. Often the good thought just doesn’t want to come. Staring at the screen for long periods of time with forced concentration only makes you think of even less.

Usually a short break, in which the laptop is closed and the head has variety, helps. Many are familiar with it from the home office: For example, you can do very mundane things, such as cooking, cleaning or just hanging up the laundry. If you believe some studies, showering should also make us particularly creative, just like walking. Even if it only happens on a treadmill.

In the home office it is easy to find a change for a moment. It’s harder in the office – but not impossible either. The more options we have, the better. There are therefore companies that provide complete rooms for their employees to get creative or to switch off.

One of them is Google. Many of the search engine company’s offices are designed like a campus. The complex in Mountain View California has its own park, volleyball court, gym and pool area. The office in Haifa, Israel, looks like a beach club, including a massage bench and armchair. There are sofa corners, table tennis, mini golf.

Of course, not every company is like Google and can or wants to afford such spaces and gimmicks. According to Marten, you don’t have to. A lounge with a comfortable sofa, a grill with a bench in the back yard or a nice, bright kitchen to drink coffee with colleagues are all it takes. That makes for a change.

Sometimes, says Marten, it also happens that companies want places of retreat such as sleeping alcoves in their offices. “It is not used excessively,” he says. But working days are often long or you had a difficult presentation. Then such places help to breathe deeply.

“Communication is something very personal. If there are no places for it, it will not take place “

The requirements vary depending on the industry, size and type of company, says Marten. But one thing is the same for all of them: the work has changed. Many offices were built at a time when there was no internet, let alone smartphones. What was done by humans in the past is now done by machines. Thinking is becoming more and more important.

This poses new challenges for the work environment. Because in New Work, collaboration and brainstorming are part of everyday work. The right rooms are needed for agile work and fast communication. “The employees must be able to meet,” says the design professional. Random and informal. Because only then can they exchange ideas and thoughts.

“Communication is something very personal,” says Marten. “If there are no places for it, it will not take place”. The planning of innovation rooms should therefore not only cover individual areas, but the entire office. You meet in meetings but also in hallways, at lockers, in the entrance area or in the kitchen. Creativity can happen anytime, anywhere. It is important that the spontaneous exchange feels right and natural for the employees. The environment can contribute to this.

“People need the feeling of having arrived

However, companies can also fail miserably when implementing new concepts. One example Marten mentions in his book is the advertising agency Chiat / Day. In the 1990s, the new headquarters in Los Angeles was supposed to do without the conventional office utensils at all. Employees no longer had a permanent workstation and were instead to work in a different location every day with portable phones and PowerBooks.

What was well thought out led to complete disorientation. Because before starting work, the employees had to borrow the devices laboriously. Besides, there weren’t enough for everyone. Owner Jay Chiat did exactly the opposite of what he wanted. Work performance fell. “People need the feeling of having arrived,” says Marten.

“In the end, it’s about enjoying working in the office”

Companies should therefore think about what their employees really need – and what can be implemented. “There is no such thing as an ideal working environment for everyone,” says Marten. In smaller startups, for example, the need for coordination is very pronounced. A lot of thought is given and ideas are refined. The teams often want to be able to capture their thoughts everywhere, says the design professional. One possibility for this is to make the walls writable.

Functionality and design merge. “In the end, it’s about enjoying working in the office,” says Marten. Even if two-person offices are still lined up in a row in many companies, which are only connected by corridors, or an open-plan office frightens people, there are more and more companies that are investing in a modern work environment. One reason: The companies compete for the best possible employees in the “War of Talent”. And they have certain wishes that need to be fulfilled – especially about how they want to work.

The corona pandemic has also called linear and location-based work into question and made the home office socially acceptable. Even if the crisis is over, physical presence in the office will no longer be necessary permanently. The office of the future will therefore have to do even more persuasion in the future so that employees will still use it regularly and with pleasure.

This is what the offices of the future will look like


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