Due to the coronavirus, companies will focus on two different strategies in future – socialisation in the virtual space and the joint spirit in the real office. Two experts and five architects take a crystal ball look into the new decade

 “Ms Miller is working from home today but you are welcome to contact her by e-mail or mobile. Do you have her number?” For years, CEOs, executive board members and HR managers have repeatedly found good reasons why although working from home is essentially a sensible, sustainable thing, they would prefer it to be practised everywhere else but not in their own company. Following the motto: NIMB, not in my backyard! Or, indeed: NIMB, not in my business! Due to coronavirus, it has suddenly become possible and necessary to allow Ms Miller to work outside of the office as well – at home, in the coffee house, at her great aunt’s holiday home on the Attersee.

How companies keep their little sheep together and maintain something like an informal communication culture even in times of remote working is a matter of taste – and so varying that it is fun to be inspired by what is practised on the market. Some companies cultivate a digital after-work beer on Friday afternoon, where, at the end of the week, they celebrate their joint success. On the other hand, in other companies, the large Zoom meetings are opened with each participant recounting a funny mishap of the last week. Others, in turn, invite their employees to a common lunch once a week, where the food delivered is consumed together in front of the laptop camera. Bon appetit!

“Whether real or digital,” says Vienna-based change expert Bettina Wegleiter, “people without fail need a contact that goes beyond just work matters, just objective matters. In the physical office, we are already well-versed, with the spectrum ranging from the brief chat at the coffee machine to the joint company trip and the team-building process.” However, she says that in the virtual sphere, new formats are being tried out: virtual coffees, digital dinners, remote campfires to crown a completed project or a successfully completed stage. “We are still in the experimentation and trying out phase,” says Wegleiter. “Much of what we are doing today will die out again. However, some of it will survive, professionalise and establish itself. Thus, one thing above all is certain: we are on the verge of a comprehensive corporate culture revolution.”

The revolution also relates to the physical shell of the office. Or, as Thomas Fundneider, founder and managing director of The Living Core, forecasts: “In future as well, the real office will play an indispensable role, and it may be even more important than before, because there is a definite need for a place for socialisation, but also for setting up and concretising visions and processes away from the usual working from home routine. It is very difficult to map such deep core topics online.”

Will the office shrink? “Perhaps minimally, but not fundamentally,” says Fundneider. “The number of desks and run-of-the-mill workstations will definitely decrease. Thus, there will then finally be more space for other things – for the office as a hub, as a home base, as a spacious platform for team spirit.”

 How do leading architects see the future of the office? How do we want to work in future? The breadth of concepts of Austrian architects is enormous and ranges from cosy work corners to virtual meeting rooms and Bluetooth-connected brains. However, no-one believes in working from home as a thing in itself. The focus, namely, is on communication and socialisation. Wojciech Czaja asked around.

Wolf D. Prix, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vienna

It seems clear that the working from home culture will not only profit large companies and destroys the social and creative connections of a team. And the so-called hybrid office cultures, i.e. the combination of working from home and the real meeting-point office, works just as well or just as badly as a hybrid car, which, although it runs on electricity, consumes just as much petrol as a normal petrol car. At Coop Himmelb(l)au, we work at several levels. The large office will remain; there will also continue to be meeting rooms, even though most meetings with our international clients take place in the form of video conferences. As always, the creative solutions we need in project development will be found in personal contact. A three-dimensional, physical model that is tangible can be replaced by nothing in the architecture. However, we are currently working on virtual meeting rooms where we can process 3D models as a team in the event of an absolute lockdown. Problem solutions in online conferences come into question only for Excel list offices. (Photo: Zwefo)

Dieter Henke and Marta Schreieck, Henke Schreieck Architekten, Vienna

The future will show how we want to work tomorrow. However, one thing is certain – that, in an increasingly fast, increasingly complex working world, in spite of global networking and borderless digital possibilities, personal exchange and working together are becoming increasingly important. To enable this, open, flexible, inspiring spaces are needed. Spaces are needed that stimulate and motivate, spaces that allow different working situations, spaces in which people feel good. Working from home is not the future, because new things come into being through communication, community and direct exchange of knowledge, through talking and contradiction, through learning from each other. No digital accomplishment can replace this. (Photo: Georg Molterer)

 Jakob Dunkl, querkraft architekten, Vienna

The traditional sitting at a desk in an office will now be a rare thing. Increasingly, we will work always and everywhere. At the same time, however, we will also deal with and experience private matters always and everywhere. In future, we will not only collaborate on the same document over distance by means of an internet connection; our brains will also connect with each other via Bluetooth-type connections. There will no longer be anyone who practises just one single profession. And if there is, he or she will certainly not work for just one employer. We will tell our grandchildren about employment relationships with working time recording. There will hardly be any company headquarters anymore. Only meeting points. Because coming together in person will become increasingly valuable, increasingly attractive. (Photo: querkraft Alvarez)

Christoph M. Achammer, ATP Architekten & Ingenieure, Innsbruck Professor at the Chair for Integrated Planning and Industrial Building, TU Wien

In the near future, we will organise our work completely differently under the specification of a CO2-neutral life. We will work together in person in different spaces – without absurdly long commuting to centralised offices. We will make many arrangements by means of digital communication and use the time gained for creative inventions to make our world better. To this end, we need to give up monofunctional buildings and quarters completely; instead, we need attractive semi-public and public spaces and transport logics suitable to modes of transport – 200 metres on foot, 2,000 metres by bike, as well as local public transport and individual electromobility. (Photo: ATP Becker)

Elke Delugan-Meissl, DMAA Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, Vienna

I am sure that the workplaces as we know them will not be lost. However, they must be redefined: people want working worlds. And these working worlds, these places, are to offer people qualities that were previously not associated with the workplace. These are, primarily, spatial opportunities that respond to a wide variety of needs, with comfortable, optimally lit, well ventilated areas in differentiated zones. Particularly now in the coronavirus crisis, we are seeing that communication – and thus cooperation – can work very well on digital platforms. That has caused a rethink for many: we are asking the question as to how much mobility is actually needed in everyday working life and how the ecological footprint can be reduced by changed mobility behaviour. Despite this, I am of the opinion that digital communication will not replace being together in person. In total digitalisation, the essential nuances are lost. Innovative communication technologies have significantly softened the spatial boundaries of the workplace. However, to allow working from home to work for everyone, we architects as well as designers must go a step further. The old typologies are out of date; new ones must be defined. Here, I see a major and exciting task coming towards us, to which I look forward! (Photo: Paul Kranzler)


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