From the desktop to the cloud Is the end of the classic office near?
Magazine Contact #32
The growing importance of remote work.
It’s just before 7.00 a.m. The alarm clock goes off. Just like every day. On autopilot, we brush our teeth, eat our breakfast and get in the car. Everything has become routine. The way to work, but also the working day itself. Same time – same station. Little variety, little change.
A situation that is still not unusual for many employees today. The daily trip to the traditional office has become established over the years. It is only recently that the usual structures have been increasingly broken up, driven in particular by the coronavirus crisis. Remote working is the keyword. This means working flexibly from anywhere and requires no or very little presence in the company. Working from home, mobile and hybrid working have suddenly become the new reality for many. Some believe it is a short-term trend, others see it as a seminal reality. The fact that we are in the midst of a change process driven by advancing digitization is undisputed. To what extent varies from industry to industry and from company to company.
Working from home in particular was a widespread tool used to ensure social distancing during the crisis. As a result, the discussion about a long-term shift towards working from home comes up again and again. Supporters see their daily work routine within their own four walls. Visits to the office should only take place for special purposes such as important meetings. One objection raised in this case is the lack of social interaction. Many people noticed this during the weeks and months of lockdown: they miss the contact with colleagues. In this context, the limited exchange of thoughts and ideas inspired in particular by collaborating in the same room together, is also criticised, because creativity and innovation need social friction.
Remote work is not the same as working from home.
Will we therefore make the daily pilgrimage back to the office after all after the crisis? No, say supporters of hybrid and mobile working. Many of them do not see their daily work routine at home or in the traditional office. They want to decide for themselves when and, above all, where they work. Generation Z in particular is pushing more and more towards free and remote working. The trend, for example, is to set up an office in a holiday destination. This new model is called workation, a combination of work and vacation. Work is done where others go on holiday. In our latitudes, for example, destinations such as Dubai, Cape Town, Mallorca or Greece are at the top of the list of popular workation destinations, mainly because of the relatively small time difference. However, you don’t necessarily have to go far afield for a relaxing workation experience. Even the nearby lake or a stay in the mountains provides a change of scenery in the daily work routine. The workation model is an attractive solution, especially for digital nomads, but it requires a lot of planning and discipline. With the sun, beach and sea luring you away from your desk. The costs for accommodation and work space should also not be underestimated, especially in the long term. If you choose more distant destinations such as Bali, probably the most popular workation destination at the moment, the aforementioned time difference could also become a real problem.
The number one reason many workers advocate remote work is the often long and congested commute. Those who still want to meet colleagues and are looking for a quiet place to work can find the solution in so-called satellite offices or coworking spaces. These are fully equipped offices that supplement a company’s head office. They are located outside urban hotspots, which can avoid driving through city traffic and the like. Another advantage: work equipment such as good internet or ergonomic office chairs are available, similar to at the head office.
The reinterpreted office.
With all the enticing benefits of remote work, one thing is clear: good collaboration is absolutely essential for business success. Particularly in the creative sector, where it is a matter of finding ideas and innovation, collaboration is of key importance, and with it the office as a meeting place. New types of rooms ensure that work is also possible away from the classic desk. Open, but small-structured coworking units are ideally suited to team and project work, as well as the creative development of ideas. The creative possibilities for implementation are incredibly diverse: creative spaces, libraries, working cafés, communication islands, team offices, lobbies or activity gardens are just a few examples of spaces that promote collaboration. External project participants and freelancers can also be integrated here. Silent spaces are a counterbalance to this as retreats for concentrated work. Classic communication rooms are being updated for hybrid meetings. As a result, virtual discussion partners can be integrated into meetings using modern conferencing technology. These new types of rooms also make activity-based working possible. The aim is to create a supportive setting through different room shapes and appealing interiors, depending on the work task.
There will be no blanket solutions for office design in the future. It is always a question of corporate culture, workflows and corporate goals as to whether and how new working models are used. Last but not least, it is also a question of personal attitude. For some, the timed ringing of the alarm clock and the daily drive to work are a cherished routine that gives structure and order to their life, while others can think of nothing worse than the grind of the same daily routine over and over again.
Remote work or office work?
Never before has the discussion about new ways of working and even the complete abandonment of the classic office been greater than in the current situation. Reason enough to capture two different opinions and experiences on this subject. Michael Friedrich has been working all-remote at the software company GitLab for a year. His counterpart is Prof Dr Carsten Baumgarth, university professor for marketing at the School of Economics and Law in Berlin.
When I started at GitLab a year ago, remote work was still something for the unconventional. I had already decided on this way of working before the pandemic and considered it a personal adventure: I want to work internationally so that I can discover the world anew. As a native of Linz, I have been living in the Nuremberg region for several years now. I love living close to nature and still being connected to the world. And that’s exactly what my work offers me. I’m a Developer Evangelist at GitLab, a platform for software developers, helping our community use GitLab and showing how it can be integrated with other technologies. From this I create blog posts, workshops and talks for international events. My employer does not have a permanent head office, employs around 1,300 people in 66 countries worldwide and has made remote working part of its DNA. I was very excited about this cumulative experience and was not disappointed.
To be truly productive, it is important for me to clearly separate my private life from my work, also in terms of space. I have created a feel-good atmosphere in my study: with a height-adjustable desk, ergonomic chair, good lighting and high-quality technical equipment, including a webcam and a large monitor. The advantage of an office at home is that you can surround yourself with personal things as you like. For me, it’s currently a Star Wars kit from Lego, which can also be seen in the background during video conferences.
What I really like about my job is the asynchronous work. Since my international colleagues live in different time zones, we use tools that make working together very efficient despite the time difference. We document everything – every thought, every meeting, every decision. This makes the overall communication more objective. No one is obliged to participate in endlessly long video conferences – everything is prepared in writing, the meeting is recorded. I can decide for myself if I want to attend, watch it later or not at all. In short: I am my own manager.
I exchange private information with colleagues through coffee chats. We are also given regular friends & family days off, as they know the dangers of the boundaries between work and home life becoming blurred. The other day I got to know Carlos through #do-not-be-strangers, a bot that randomly connects colleagues. When the pandemic is over, I really want to visit him in Mexico City. Of course, I miss the real social contacts, the real events with software developers and colleagues. I’m really looking forward to more analogue encounters, but remote working itself will remain the right thing for me for now.
Michael Friedrich is a Developer Evangelist at GitLab and works exclusively from home.
Ever since the coronavirus crisis, the (social) media, LinkedIn posts and clubhouse discussions have been overflowing with praise for working from home – autonomous working, less stress, higher productivity are just a few arguments repeatedly put forward (but are hardly empirically proven).
It may be, but doesn't have to be!
After about eight weeks working full-time at home in March and April 2020, I was personally happy as a researcher to be allowed to use my office at the university again in compliance with the regulations in May. I have my peace and quiet there, a permanently set up and fully functional little studio for Zoom meetings with good light, sound and camera, my library, my little research lab (B*lab with eye tracking, robotics etc.), my art on the walls. Yes, I could also do all my teaching, administrative and some of my research work from home. But I don’t want to. The half-hour walk to the office ensures I get at least some exercise every day even with the gym closed and lockdown. The familiar office and B*Lab environment, perfectly equipped and inspiring for me, boosts my productivity, and the spatial separation between home and the office allows me to at least somewhat separate work and leisure, even though I am actually always (mentally) working as a researcher, but rarely perceive this as work or a burden.
You see, I also didn’t only work in the office before the lockdown, but in the café, park, at companies, in hotels, at home, on the train etc. I am in the very privileged position that I can almost always decide for myself when and where to work and what to work on. So I’m always looking for the places and contexts that feel best to me, and very often that is my office at the university. This will also be the case after the pandemic.
The only thing I cannot imagine and do not want at all for my team, my colleagues and my students is full-time working from home. How lonely, uninspiring, boring and frustrating a “working life” would be without real and human exchange.
I hope we get over the pandemic soon, don’t debate the office vs. working from home issue too dogmatically, and can be much more flexible and decide where we want to work ourselves. But please always with a large share of face-to-face!
Prof. Baumgarth is professor for brand management at the HWR Berlin (www.cbaumgarth.net) and since the pandemic also operator of the Instagram science channel "Brückenbau Marke - Wissenschaft trifft Praxis" (Building the bridge between brand science and brand practice” (https://www.instagram.com/prof.baumgarth/).