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6 June 2018 - Jann Raveling

Is this the office of the future?

Automotive Industries
The workplace of tomorrow is being developed at Daimler’s Innolab in Bremen’s Überseestadt district

The large-scale graffiti by Bremen artists loosens up the workshop room
The large-scale graffiti by Bremen artists loosens up the workshop room © Assassin Design

Daimler’s Innolab in Überseestadt provides 350 square metres of experimental space for the automotive manufacturer. Here, seven PhD students are working on the automotive challenges of the future.

Playroom or workspace? It can be difficult to tell with Innolab’s ‘thinking room’, which is dominated by a huge wooden construction that looks like a cross between a bunk bed and a cave. Beside it are small tents made of pillows and blankets, and comfortable benches for relaxing on. Is this still a place for working in? “Absolutely,” says Christo Papanouskas, owner of Assassin Design and external advisor to Innolab. “The space we find ourselves in affects the way we think. We have to get away from the desk if we want to be creative.”

Silicon Valley is very much the role model here. For years, Google, Amazon et al have provided spaces where their employees can engage in creative thinking away from the distractions of their inbox and telephone. Innolab is picking up on this idea and developing it further: “We designed all the fixtures and fittings ourselves to exactly match our requirements,” he says.

Managing companies democratically is a feature of the new workplace

The young entrepreneur knows what he is talking about. His agency, Assassin Design, advises start-ups and medium-sized businesses on matters such as innovation, change management, strategies and business models. His 21 employees enjoy considerable freedom to influence how they work, and he runs his business as a democracy – everyone has a say in the direction it takes.

Self-constructed bench made of pallets in the thinking room
Self-constructed bench made of pallets in the thinking room © Assassin Design

The partnership with Daimler came about through a start-up event in Bremen that Papanouskas was hosting. The company was looking for a specialist in the concept of New Work, and Papanouskas was intrigued by the opportunity to create a space for experimentation.

Building your own office – motivating people and creating the space they want

Over the course of seven weeks, Daimler’s PhD students and the agency team hauled 1.2 tonnes of gravel and sawed and joined five tonnes of wood. The results are impressive: there is a modular and mobile kitchen, a large meeting room with stools, tables and raised areas, a space to retreat and think, two wood-clad balconies, a Zen garden and an office with twelve workplaces that are mobile and height-adjustable. And all on the fourth floor of an office building in the heart of the Überseestadt district.

All this for seven PhD students?

“The Innolab is a space where research, experimentation and education come together,” Papanouskas says. The students can work on the issues and challenges of the future while testing new working methods and environments. And they pass on the insights gained in regular workshops at Innolab, where teams receive training on new work methods such as Scrum, design thinking and kanban. The teams can also use the space to hold meetings on internal departmental matters.

Christo Papanouskas, agency founder and consultant at Innolab
Christo Papanouskas, agency founder and consultant at Innolab © Assassin Design

Businesses can hire rooms, including equipment, for creative workshops for up to 20 people, providing the opportunity for in-depth dialogue and learning. The premises also offer space for co-working desks. “We are looking to engage with the many start-ups and creative people in Überseestadt, with the aim of pooling our ideas,” says Papanouskas.

Facing uncertainty and making sense of the future

Co-working and room hire are not what one would associate with a global company such as Daimler, so what drove it to found Innolab? “The economy of the future will be characterised by greater uncertainty and rapid change,” Papanouskas says. “Many no-go areas no longer apply. The boundaries between personal and working life are blurring, individual responsibility is on the increase and old forms of capitalism are less dominant.” Consumer models are also changing. Car sharing is becoming more popular, and not everyone will want to own their own car in the future. This is uncharted territory for an automotive manufacturer.

It is a future that Daimler will need to adapt to early on. That is why there are Innolabs throughout Germany – the one in Bremen specialises in the future of working environments. “We’re looking towards the next 15 years. Our PhD students are conducting research into questions such as: how can we prepare managers for the workplace of tomorrow? How can we make use of swarm intelligence? How can we remain profitable in uncertain times?”

New ways of working must be learned

Challenging questions in a challenging environment. “We’ve had a steep learning curve. There are no precise specifications and everyone has to organise themselves. Handling this sort of freedom in the workplace can be exhausting,” Papanouskas says of the first weeks in the lab. “Technology – or more precisely, digital technology – is not the decisive factor in the office of the future. More important will be how we communicate and organise ourselves.”

Workspace at Innolab: Doesn't look spectacular, but all desks are self-constructed, height-adjustable and mobile
Workspace at Innolab: Doesn't look spectacular, but all desks are self-constructed, height-adjustable and mobile © Assassin Design

This is because everyday work will become more fragmented in the future. According to Papanouskas, employees will have to work on multiple smaller tasks, with little opportunity to focus on a single one. People will have to learn how to handle this type of working. One innovation at Innolab is a new way of conducting meetings. These days, the researchers will meet for several 20-minute meetings rather than for ones that could go on for hours. They also use a digital CRM system to organise their day. Both the offline and online spheres are important in the working environment of the future.

Making use of creativity outside of creative jobs

To many people, this may sound utopian, as the majority of industrial jobs do not fit into this pattern. An assembly worker cannot decide when to come to work or what to work on, that would lead to chaos. And a bookkeeper has a clearly defined remit and cannot just choose any task to complete.

“But these people may have valuable ideas that a company can use to remain competitive in the future. It is important to value experience, for example in an interdisciplinary design thinking workshop where engineers and product designers are joined by assembly workers and body painters. Many jobs are undergoing change – tasks will be taken on by computers, leaving us free to spend time on activities that are more creative than they are currently,” says Papanouskas.

Until then, there will still be plenty of thinking, inventing, tinkering and changing around at Innolab. “The office is never finished, which is why we’ve dedicated Wednesday afternoons to building work. This allows us to concentrate on the rest of our work on all the other days,” Papanouskas adds.

Your contact at Innolab: Christo Papanouskas, c.papanouskas@assassin-design.de, +49 (0)170 23 16 996

For more information on the automotive industries and logistics, please contact Kai Stührenberg, +49 (0)421 361-32173, kai.stuehrenberg@wah.bremen.de.

Your contact person for Bremen Hansalinie Industrial Estate is Jutta Zernikow, +49 (0)421 9600 249, jutta.zernikow@wfb-bremen.de.

For more information about Überseestadt (New Harbour District), please contact Dagmar Nordhausen, +49 (0)421 9600 252, dagmar.nordhausen@wfb-bremen.de or Jons Abel, +49 (0)421 9600 613, jons.abel@wfb-bremen.de.

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