Gradually workers are returning to the office. But the new world of work will no longer be the same as it was before the pandemic. Companies plan rooms completely differently – and spaceless.

Do we still need offices? When millions of employees switched to the home office with the outbreak of the Corona crisis, some already viewed the office as an obsolete model. But the swan song was premature. “We need the offices as a modern campfire – for personal contact, for career tips and other exchanges,” says Cawa Younosi, HR manager for Germany at the software company SAP.

However, tomorrow’s office will not be the same as it was before the pandemic. Many companies are currently adapting their work concepts to the new habits of their employees. Many prefer to work “hybrid” – a few days in the office, a few days in the home office.

DZ Bank is testing the office of the future

What the office of the future might look like can be seen, for example, on the 28th floor of the DZ Bank near Frankfurt Central Station. The central institute of the Volks- und Raiffeisenbanken has set up a kind of model floor there, which is intended to demonstrate how the new way of working works after the pandemic.

Personal desks are no longer provided here. Anyone who comes to the office has to look for a new desk every day – and then leave it as it was when it was found. DZ Bank calls this concept “clean desk”.The post-pandemic office looks like a hotel room with its yellow-green sofa and walls made of natural wood. It can be used for group meetings, as a lounge, as a classic desk or as a retreat for individual employees.

According to a DZ bank spokeswoman, there will no longer be a fixed location arrangement in the future. “The employees who come into the office can ‘dock’ themselves in any free space and are immediately ready for work.” The desk workstations are fully geared towards video conferences. A movable camera and ceiling microphones should ensure problem-free exchange with colleagues in the home office. Employees can test the sample floor. The demand for a trial week is great, according to DZ Bank.

TUI relies on shared desks and mobile working

TUI is taking a similarly radical path. The travel company has merged several companies on the new TUI campus in Hanover and reduced the office space. In the future, there will no longer be a desk for every employee. There are only 1700 places for the 3000 employees. “Desk sharing” is becoming the standard. The employees who are present in the office share the desks from day today. The respective space can be booked in advance.TUI not only promotes home office but mobile working. If you want, you can work anywhere in the world for up to 30 days a year, according to a company spokesman. TUI boss Fritz Joussen says it is important to have a culture of trust in which results count more than presence. The goal is more digital and flexible work culture.

Less office space, fewer costs

Joussen raves about the new modern offices as places of encounter, collaboration and creativity. But they also have a financial benefit for the company: By merging the locations in the TUI Campus, the group saves a mid-double-digit million amount.

It is now a broad trend in the economy that companies reduce costs in this way. As the management consultancy PwC found out in a study, 60 percent of German companies are planning to reduce their office space – on average by a fifth.

The Telekom subsidiary T-Systems can also do without office space with the desk sharing model and save money. Almost every fourth location in Germany was closed. More are to follow. T-Systems relies on open spaces that can be used flexibly for meetings, workshops or events. Employees can reserve their desks on a daily basis.

“The individual office with a name tag is dead”

“Home office works economically if you do desk sharing,” says Stephan Leimbach, head of office rentals in Germany at the real estate consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). That is a cultural step. In the future, an employee will no longer use his or her desk, but a desk. The private individual office with a fixed name tag and set up family pictures is dead, says Leimbach.

This is also how you see it at SAP. At the Walldorf-based software group, there are now a large number of workplace types. Classic individual offices are the exception, says Younosi, head of HR in Germany. The software company has set up numerous “share desk places” for the SAP consultants and will expand this approach where it is desired. Because, according to Younosi, 86 percent of all SAP employees want to work hybrid. Currently around 90 percent of employees are still largely working from home.

Further distances in the greater area

Younosi advocates a coexistence of open-plan offices and individual retreats in the new post-pandemic world of work. Even before the pandemic, SAP had committed itself to the three pillars of more flexible working hours, more flexible work locations, and more flexible workplaces.The increasing trend towards open-plan offices does not have to contradict the hygiene regulations caused by the pandemic. JLL expert Leimbach predicts that there will be a little more space between the desks. He expects fewer rows of desks and more flexibly usable project rooms.

On the way to a pandemic-proof office?

Individual project developers such as MAG Grundbesitz are even tinkering with corona-free office buildings. The “GreenGate” is currently being built in Bonn, allegedly the “first virus-protected commercial building in the world”. Cameras at the entrance check whether someone has a fever. If the temperature is too high, the doors remain locked. Filters clean the air in the interior. Door handles and the control buttons of the elevators are equipped with antimicrobial surfaces. The toilets can be used without contact. In the USA in particular, contact-free office buildings are on the rise. A twelve-story high-rise office building is currently being built on New York’s Broadway, in which no buttons or handles need to be touched on doors, elevators, light switches, sinks, and toilets.

 

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