New Mode of Office: Freedom or Self-exploitation?

Minor Changes in German Enterprises
Change sometimes begins with small things, such as piling up wood. Bosch staff, headed by project manager bernhard Haegeman, originally wanted to understand how to set up a drilling machine and mower business department as a whole, so they built it with Lego bricks. Each tower represents an employee, while orange building blocks represent managers.

Unexpectedly, after the completion of the construction, the whole area showed a large orange color. What does their department look like? If half of them are managers, then who is actually doing the actual work? The result was so shocking that Bosch finally decided to cancel about a quarter of the management posts.
Bosch’s aim is not to save money, but to operate more smoothly and flexibly. The home improvement industry has undergone fundamental changes. In order to cope with this development, Bosch must streamline its bloated management organization.

Siemens has also cancelled the fixed desks of some employees. Now, when they arrive at Siemens’s Munich headquarters in the morning, they sit down and work wherever there is room, and take away the things they have stored in lockers after work, a bit like the early gymnasium.

The wishes of enterprises and practitioners
No one knows what the new working environment should look like, and the enterprise’s actions seem to be groping carefully. However, one thing is certain: both listed companies and small and medium-sized enterprises want to innovate, weaken the hierarchy and bureaucracy, and become more democratic.
Boston Consulting Group asked 366,000 employees around the world what they value most in their work. For German respondents, mutual respect and good relations among colleagues rank first, while salaries rank only sixth. On the contrary, the most frustrating thing is the sense of separation between career and private life, which is why the desire for more flexibility is so strong. A study by Germany’s Federal Labor Department shows that 40% of Germans, whether married or single, want to work from home occasionally, and the same proportion want to be free to decide their working hours. So far, the above wishes have not been realized for most Germans. Two-thirds of the employees have their work start and end dates set by their employers. Only 12% work from home occasionally, much less than Sweden (32%) and Belgium (20%). According to estimates by the German Economic Research Institute, in theory 40% of jobs can be worked from home, but this wish is mostly denied by superiors.
Where can people work most efficiently? Is it in independent office, open office, at home or in new office space such as joint office space? How many levels does the company need? Where does the employee’s responsibility end and where does it begin is beyond the requirements of the responsibility?

The new working style is just a hype? |
“Today, every big enterprise will realize some kind of innovation,” said Stefan Kurt, an organization sociologist and author of When Monkeys Dominate Zoos. “But almost all of them have failed because these isolated island innovations have little impact on the company.” Everything is still running in the usual hierarchy.

Traditional Lattice Room (Munich)

Combined Office with Glass Door (Berlin)

There is not only a common working space (workers from different companies or organizations work in a shared working environment), but also an office building equipped with team offices and conference rooms (Berlin)
Kurt said he understood why companies invest a lot of money and energy in corporate culture. Every organization needs a beautiful “display page” to attract new employees and establish a positive image. So, is the so-called new work style just a marketing tool to keep employees online at all times so as to exert more work pressure on them? Is it really a liberation to work anytime and anywhere? Will this innovation bring about a more humane office environment?

The Cafe in Oberhotz
When Ansgar Oberhotz’s cafe opened in Berlin’s Rosenthal Square in the summer of 2005, he had no idea that it would become the center of a change movement. This is most likely the first joint office in Germany. The difference between Oberhotz Cafe and many cafes in central Berlin at that time was that it used long tables and was equipped with a large number of sockets, providing free wireless network.
The cafe soon became a gathering place for digital workers. Freelancers order a cup of coffee here and then sit in front of laptops for a busy day. Several start-ups were born in cafes in Oberhotz. Bloggers Sasha Robo and Holm Friebe wrote the book “We Call It Work” here. Oberhotz said that at first no one wanted to believe that these people were working in his cafe, but now no one questioned them any more.

The wall of an office in Berlin

“We call it work” was born in a cafe in Oberhotz.
Porsche, Beiersdorf and Tui all place the entire department or individual teams in a joint office area. Deutsche Bahn moved into the entire building of WeWork, a joint office supplier, in December 2018. At present, the U.S. company operates 13 joint offices in Germany alone, with more than 10,000 desks.
However, joint office and other experimental office modes are still a niche phenomenon. A study by the Hoff Institute in Flawn, Stuttgart shows that only 1% of brainworkers use joint office, just 4% do not use fixed desks like Siemens, and the vast majority still work in independent offices (33%) or two to five people’s offices (30%).

| “third space” |
Stefan Reeve studied the future office environment at the Hoff Institute in Flawn and observed several corporate headquarters. At the end of October 2018, he walked through the hall of cologne exhibition and was surprised when he could not feel the working atmosphere at the most grand office furniture industry exhibition.
It was a long time before Reeve saw the first strange desk. It was a table that could be surrounded by six people. In addition, there are sound insulation glass boxes for telephone calls and meetings, sofas of various shapes and colors, carpets and even beds. Steelcase, an office furniture manufacturer, called the combination of the living room and Starbucks “the third space”. The concept originated from American sociologist Ray Odenberg and was meant to “make all hard-working people as comfortable as at home”.

A survey conducted by the Hoff Institute in Flawn shows that people who are satisfied with the office environment have closer ties with their employers, are more motivated to work and can create better results. But what kind of office environment can be satisfactory? Is there a perfect office environment that makes everyone feel happy?
Designers and furniture manufacturers are promoting a new ideal “based on active work”. They believe that modern office workers should wander around like nomads and sit down and work in the places they feel most comfortable, instead of sitting at the same desk all day as before. According to this idea, Microsoft has established its German headquarters in Munich. The whole building is divided into different areas. Those who do not want to be disturbed enter the “thinking area” and those who want to chat with colleagues enter the “talking area”.
Reeve, an office environment researcher, warned that this openness and sociability should not be exaggerated: “Just like medication, the right dose is the key.” It is still necessary to ensure sufficient private space and a place to focus on work.

Because in the traditional open office, both usually do not exist, resulting in many employees have dissatisfaction. A Harvard University study shows that personnel exchanges in open offices are decreasing and e-mail communication is increasing. Staff here take sick leave more frequently, probably because the virus spreads faster and the lack of privacy increases their mental burden. There is only one argument in favor of an open office, that is, people are more active and may benefit their health.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution.” Analysts at the open office warned. What companies usually ignore is that people have different working styles and personal preferences. According to data from the Hoff Institute in Flawn, 48% of knowledge workers are so-called “quiet workers” who like independent offices or mixed types of office space best.
The probability of not being able to relax after work is 45% at home and 26% at the office.

|flexible working system and voluntary choice |
In the early 1990s, an American advertising company established the first batch of offices without fixed desks. Due to the shortage of work stations, the staff rushed to the company at 6 am to occupy a locker and then went home to rest. This example shows that flexibility is meaningful only when employees choose voluntarily. If it is imposed, it is not, regardless of the workplace or working hours.
The average working hours per week are 43.5 hours at home and 39.4 hours at the office.

In this regard, in the labor market, many things are going in the wrong direction: more and more Germans are working at night or on weekends, increasing the proportion of mental illness. A study by the Federal Labor Department shows that 20% of employees show depressive symptoms. Even those who voluntarily choose flexible working system, many cannot tell whether it is a liberation or a burden, and the research results on working from home are very contradictory.
In a case study, Ctrip, a Chinese travel portal, allowed half of the call center staff to work from home while the other half remained in the company. After 9 months, the result is obvious: employees working from home are more satisfied and productive than employees working in the company. The disadvantage is that they are more difficult to be promoted.

Luoman, owner of the enterprise: Those who are opportunistic, please leave.
A study by the Hans-Bockeler Foundation found different results: the probability of employees working from home not being able to relax after work is 45%, while that of office employees is only 26%. The working from home mode seems to increase the working passion intentionally or unintentionally: the average working time of employees working from home is 43.5 hours per week, which is significantly higher than the 39.4 hours of office employees.
Why is working from home more attractive to most people? This is because working from home can not only save annoying commuting time, but also enjoy what sociologists call “time sovereignty”, that is, the ability to arrange work independently and interrupt when needed, which explains why most people prefer to accept longer working hours and worse promotion opportunities.

| Detlef Loman and Employee Self-management Mode |
The 60-year-old Detlef Loman is also an advocate of autonomy and follows the self-management mode of employees.
Loman’s company is Allsafe Co., Ltd. located north of Boden Lake. It mainly produces seat rails and systems for cargo loading safety devices. With 265 employees and an annual turnover of 67 million euros, Loman is a typical small and medium-sized enterprise. Loman has given employees full freedom to adopt a “system of trust in working hours” in the workshop, which is unique in the manufacturing industry. When it comes to job assignment in the office, Loman has little say. This is a rule set by himself. The decision rests with his staff. In addition, the team can decide how to share the annual profits.

Loman said: “The term’ human resources’ describes human beings as resources, which does not conform to my values at all. “He believes that the driving force for people is not coercion, but joy of achievement. At the same time, freedom can only take effect with responsibility. Loman will abandon anyone who enjoys freedom but does not want to take responsibility. He is very strict about this.
Allsafe’s team of engineers and salespeople will not stick to a plan, but will often reflect: What have we accomplished in the past few weeks? What are the goals for the next phase? Is this what customers want?
In 2014, 32-year-old Ryan and a partner founded CareerFoundry, a vocational education platform, to provide online courses for people interested in Web development and design. Rein’s partner had previously worked at Nokia, and he attributed the bankruptcy of the former mobile phone giant to its poor management. He persuaded Rein to try to use parity in their start-up and to eliminate team managers.

As a result, this model cannot work. Even the smallest decision requires the two founders to come forward, because all teams are holding back. There are always people calling in sick, and the worst thing is that the company has always failed to meet its sales targets.
Due to lack of funds, Rein and her partners had to lay off about 20%. A year ago, the two men changed their strategy and equipped all the teams with managers. Since then, the business has been getting better and better. Today, CareerFoundry is starting to make money-which is unusual for start-ups.
Why did a well-run model in a small and medium-sized enterprise in Boden Lake fail completely in a start-up enterprise in Berlin? “Because employees are totally incompetent.” Rein explained. Many staff have just graduated from the university and lack experience and certain professional abilities.

The employee’s right to self-determination and the manager’s belief
Werner Eichhorst, a Bonn labor market researcher, has put forward an interesting point of view: on the one hand, more self-determination will make employees feel more satisfied at work, and on the other hand, it will make those employees who take responsibility on their own more vulnerable to stress or disease. The work with high self-determination is exciting at first sight, but it also brings a burden. In addition, no matter what kind of work mode, if only perfunctory, there will be problems. Moreover, managers still have absolute control over real major decisions.

Hamburg organization researcher and coach Klaus Nowak criticized that the autonomous management team must continue to output phased results, which will actually bring great work pressure. “Team members urge each other. This will create momentum, but it will also promote self-exploitation.” Novak said.

Entrepreneurs failed completely because of the cancellation of hierarchy.
Silicon Valley’s glittering technological world has amazed many Germans, partly due to the so-called exemplary office culture there. However, if you look closely, you will find that this is only a suspicious ideal. On the one hand, Google and many technology giants have made their headquarters look like playgrounds, mainly to keep employees in front of computers longer. On the other hand, the world of Silicon Valley is made up of two parts: the upstairs is a white guy with a first-class degree, and the downstairs is a runner who maintains the system and can only do dreams. Trade unions and workers’ representatives have little effect here. Google in Germany has not set up a trade union until today. It is difficult for local enterprises to do this, but it is also a good thing. In order to shape the future office environment, extensive social discussions and public participation are needed, instead of letting business groups have the final say like Silicon Valley.

Google and many technology giants have made their headquarters look like playgrounds, mainly to keep employees in front of computers longer.
For some time, the Federal Labor Department has been discussing whether the new office environment also needs new legal support. State Secretary Bjorn Burnin plans to reform the working hours law in 2019 with the intention of improving the flexibility of working hours. Bunin’s other plan is to write the right to work from home into law. As a result, companies either allow employees to work from home or need to prove why this measure is not applicable. If realized, working from home will no longer be the privilege of scholars, nor will it depend on the mercy of managers.
“Digitalization is changing power relations,” Berning said. “We have to make sure people benefit from this change.”
Mainland Group: Sign Home Office Agreement with Employees

In 2016, German tire manufacturers and auto parts supplier Continental asked employees about their preferred working methods through the Intranet, and more than 10,000 employees took part in the survey. Based on the survey, the mainland group has worked out an agreement with the trade union to allow everyone to work from home. Since then, all 235,000 mainland group employees have been able to decide where to work-whether at home, abroad or in the office, anywhere in the world as long as they can meet the job requirements. Since it is difficult for the production department to work from home, the mainland group has implemented a flexible working hours system for production personnel.

The person in charge of the matter is Ariane reinhart, 49, who is the chief human resources officer of the mainland group. Before she came to the mainland group, she had worked for Volkswagen for 15 years, which is a strictly hierarchical company. Reinhart said that Continental Group has always had easier rules and smaller directors’ offices than Volkswagen’s carmaker in Wolf Castle.
However, she does not think that her present employer is a “soft persimmon”. After a bad business year, the mainland group has just drawn up a completely new structure. Some factory managers began to worry about the survival of their factories. In an open letter last September, the board of directors warned managers in a stern tone of the “very serious” situation facing them. Therefore, it is time to consider the new working mode.

Personnel Director reinhart

What kind of office do you work in? Flawn Hoff Institute (7,545 respondents in an online survey conducted between July 2015 and July 2017)
When it comes to whether senior managers can work from home and enjoy more time out, reinhart said that he fought hard for it at the board meeting. “Managers must set an example.” She said. If possible, she will go off work at 6: 30 every Tuesday to do yoga and enjoy a full weekend. Once, an employee sent her an e-mail on Sunday. On Monday, she took the opportunity to buy him coffee and then asked him what he likes to do on weekends: write an e-mail or walk the dog?
Is this a new sense of responsibility of managers to their employees? Or some new despotism?

| “Border Management” |
Ivana Lott of the Hans-Bockeler Foundation’s Institute of Economic and Social Sciences called this difficult negotiation process “border management”. She believes that in order to enjoy freedom without falling into self-exploitation, three things need to be done.
“First of all, if the corporate culture is not changed, the effect will be very limited if flexible measures are introduced.” In enterprises that attach great importance to performance, well-organized work usually results in actual overtime and work pressure, “because project planning requires 60 hours of work per week to ensure delivery.”
Secondly, a clear agreement needs to be reached between superiors and subordinates: when can I turn off my work cell phone? Who will take over my job when I am on vacation?

Thirdly, everyone must learn self-management. Each person must find out his or her own tolerance and implement some relaxation strategies. For example, ask himself or herself: After working from home all day, is a walk nearby helpful to relax your mind? Is it really a good thing to check the news on your work cell phone before going to bed at night?