Working in the New Reality: We Need Facilities that Increase Knowledge
How will we work in the future? What working environment will we need? Architect Tobias Bloemeke, a partner at Carpus+Partner, talks to Detecon expert Daniel Kraus-Ihlow about buildings as innovation accelerators and creativity machines and about their role in interconnecting knowledge carriers with one another. He sees a great opportunity for greater interaction, diversity, and creativity in the working world of the future. Encouraging food for thought.
Detecon: Tobias, what does Working in the New Reality mean to you? What occurs to you spontaneously?
Tobias Bloemeke: First off, I ask myself, just what is meant by this New Reality? On the one hand, I find the media coverage of the New ... trends every year a little trite, and I have little interest in trying to explain them over and over again. On the other hand, it is obvious to me that our society and our working methods and workplaces are in a state of ongoing change. In other words, products that once had good market access may no longer be needed today. New market conditions are currently changing added-value chains along their full length and consequently the demands on facilities as well.
But one of the fascinating characteristics of human beings is their ability to adapt creatively and highly flexibly to changing living and working conditions. My experience from the lockdown period confirms this. Initially, working from home was the method of choice. Our company was no different; internal and external communication was almost exclusively digital. Later, we returned to the office one by one. In the meantime, a new, hybrid way of working has become established; meetings are held in part as face-to-face events, in part solely with the aid of digital methods.
How has Covid-19 changed your business?
Our clients usually define a clear performance and target vision for a project. When it comes to concrete planning for hybrid research and development facilities, I put on my architect hat and study the space and function program, which very clearly models the spatial and area-related requirements. At present, the question arises during every planning process as to whether the original briefing is still valid or whether specific project parameters have changed. In the past, I often felt that issues of change or optimization were always turned into problems. Some people do not want to admit to themselves that a project briefing was incomplete. However, I am convinced that constant attentiveness to changed framework conditions and their effects on project goals and guard rails over the course of the project is essential for the success of the project.
This is especially true for buildings; once they have been built, you must deal essentially with a static structure that can be adapted solely in the most rudimentary ways. During the planning and optimization process, however, there are still endless opportunities to make changes without significant effects on costs and deadlines. Our contractors are concerned a priori with the creation of a process optimization tool, not with the construction of a building. Our facilities become innovation accelerators and creativity machines that enable our clients to perform better and faster in their core business.
You talk about innovation accelerators. Has the current situation increased the cost pressure on your clients?
Carpus+Partner are specialists in the realization of highly complex and highly specific hybrid research and development facilities. Our buildings serve to promote the interaction of knowledge carriers inside and, in the meantime, also outside an organization – keyword Open Innovation – the genesis of knowledge. Every project has a budget target, of course. However, I can’t see any trend at this time among our clients to reduce costs by omitting functionality. Construction projects are traditionally subject to high cost pressure – but excitingly, in these times of change, there is a trend among our clients to be more daring, to be bolder about change. Companies that adapt quickly to new conditions and break out of the restraints of the past will win the race for the best employees and the best ideas. That cannot happen without people-friendly forms of organization and satisfactory working environments.
Is office space really becoming available in the cities as the trend toward working from home continues? Is this an opportunity? How can we exploit it?
In my opinion, this is a huge opportunity and a moment of incredibly good fortune in history. In the recent past, inner-city areas have become increasingly desirable and consequently more and more expensive. We here in Munich know what the result has been. The high quality of an inner city with a mixture of residential, shopping, educational, and employment opportunities has suffered massively from the increased project development of office-only structures. I will be keenly interested to see what can be done to create places for interaction, creativity, and ideas on the one hand and for educational, residential, perhaps even care and social facilities on the other. In terms of building technology, the conversion of a typical office building into one of the facilities just mentioned is completely realistic. There is a great opportunity here for greater interaction, diversity, and creativity! We can live in the same place where we work, eat out, shop, or spend our free time. The macrosystem of the city could be replicated in the microsystem of a single building – very exciting!
There is a trend towards working in coworking space where employees no longer drive into the city, but work at a local site close to their place of residence. Is this a promising scenario for the future?
I do not believe that the offer of desk-only space by a commercial real estate operator with real estate commercial intentions is a viable model for the future. It seems to me that a guiding thought that provides structure and welds the users together through a common mission is lacking here. In my opinion, companies would be well advised to draw up a mission statement and a company-wide guiding principle that generates the passionate support of employees. No matter where I am in the company, I want to feel a sense of purpose in being there and know why I am devoting all my power and energy to my work. If these companies can manage to establish a socio-cultural program that helps people to identify with the company and fires their commitment to its mission in these coworking satellites, I can well imagine such a development. Nonetheless, company-wide rituals in the form of in-person or remote formats that make it possible for all employees of a company to see and sense one another and constantly realize that they are part of a larger community are essential.
What is your vision of the working environment in seven years?
If a client asks me: “How should I equip my offices, and how many will I even need in the future?” I ask him: “What kind of company will you be in seven, ten, fifteen years? Which markets will you be serving, and where? What products would you like to develop? And what kind of people and processes do you need for this?” Until we have clarified the objective, there is no point in talking about workspaces. The world of products and the development of ideas is becoming more and more complex and is demanding more and more creative work. This combination will require ever greater interconnectivity of knowledge carriers. My own theory is that companies that are able to interconnect creative people to handle complex issues and that are able and willing to accept constant change will survive. Companies abroad can make the nondescript cheap products more efficiently, at lower cost, and, indeed, better. Germany is a high-tech location with highly trained scientists and creative people. This is the intellectual and creative capital of our country on which other industries are dependent. For example, you need an insurance policy from Allianz only if you have created something worth protecting, worth insuring.
I believe that digitalization will mean the demise of certain professions within seven years. In the middle term, many administrative processes will be handled by software programs running on computers. The question now: What activities will remain for people to do? The answer: Empathic, social activities as well as sophisticated processes demanding high technology and innovation. And now I come back to your question concerning the kind of workplaces we will require. In my opinion, we will need rooms in which you are physically present, work in analogue mode, and sometimes do a digital detox as well as rooms that promote creativity. For example, there is a zero- to eight-day week based on maximum cooperation. This means that I agree with my team and with my employees on a specific goal. There may be touchpoints within the framework of the agreement such as “we meet then and there to show our interim results to one another.” But in the time in-between, each individual is purpose-driven, responsible for him- or herself, and independently motivated to complete these tasks. And they all do that wherever they want while fulfilling without fail the agreements that have been reached.
Is that also the guiding principle at Carpus+Partner? 'Purpose first', so to speak?
We see Carpus+Partner as a platform that ideally offers our employees every opportunity to develop in line with our shared vision and mission to achieve their own goals.
I find that my enthusiasm for a task is always greatest when it gives me the chance to develop my own interests and abilities at the same time I’m working on it. I think many people feel the same way. Work is not exclusively about serving an economic corporate goal; it should also help you to find fulfilment in life. It is essential for companies to deal with certain questions. “What is at the heart of our activities? Do we have a mission, a vision, and do we have common values we take seriously? Is an economic goal our main concern?” I don't believe that in seven years a highly trained, creative scientist will be motivated to achieve strictly economic goals. I believe that the intrinsic motivation of people and the childlike curiosity that is innate in every one of us are becoming more central to our lives (at least in our Western European society). People – I’m exaggerating a little here – have absolutely no interest any more in working a 60-hour week, don’t want to kowtow to the boss, follow in his train, and spend their time creating endless charts. We run into these changes in demands while recruiting the so-called Generation Y. Young people want to be creative at work, and they are seeking as well a good balance between private and professional life, between work and leisure. The great luxury that we have earned through industrialization and the last 50 years is that we can afford to act in a more humane manner, to be more engaged with one another, and to ask ourselves what we actually want to do with our lives.
About Carpus+Partner AG
“Facilities that increase knowledge – for a future full of hope.” This is the mission statement guiding Carpus+Partner when planning and realizing tailored and highly complex laboratory, production, and office buildings in which people work together with enthusiasm. At the Aachen headquarters and at the offices in Frankfurt a. M. and Munich, approximately 300 employees work as consultants, experts, and general planners for complex construction projects for national and international high-tech, industrial, and pharmaceutical companies, university and major research institutes, and public institutions.
The architect Tobias Bloemeke, who graduated from the RWTH Aachen University, is a partner at Carpus+Partner and has been in charge of the Munich office since 2016.
On the other hand, you have also said that jobs (such as traditional administrative tasks) will be lost in the future. In other words, as more and more machines start doing our work, what will we do with the time we have gained?
This is of course a very philosophical question, and I always try hard to illustrate my vision as a kind of utopia. There are plenty of dystopias about a somber future. I would like to see a society in which exactly what we just talked about happens. The intrinsic motivation and human interests are the focal point for achievement of the maximum development of creativity – completely separate from our current value system of “performance and success.” I work, I get paid for it, that is the equivalent of recognition and success. I want to see this value system called into question, to see people reflecting more on their personal lives and asking themselves the question, What will give me fulfilment in life? Ignoring how others assess my value, what they think of me, or how much money I earn, and asking instead: What activities have meaning for me in my life?
If my life is fulfilled by reading books to sick children or helping the elderly or caring for needy people in hospitals, that is great and should be rewarded with the appreciation it deserves within the framework of a new system of values and recognition. I can identify well with parts of a Marxist utopia that speaks of “the complete man” and replaces work in a society with “free activity.” Every individual would be free to do one thing today, another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, raise livestock in the evening, have critical discussions after dinner, whatever I want, without necessarily becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic.
If I can secure this freedom to carry out my preferences and interests, we will have achieved a valuable goal. Not being a slave to a punch clock in a factory as is still the case in so many parts of the world today. Digitalization will help us to reach this point. Let the machines do the boring stuff!
Is that your view of society in the future?
Let me stay with the image of moving away from, let’s say, a wage-labor society and toward a meaning-work society. All people do exactly what they are passionate about, regardless of how their work is rewarded. Everyone rejects all forms of violence toward other people. Unfortunately, this vision is highly theoretical, and when you talk to politicians, technicians, or people from the business world, you will, of course, immediately hear a thousand reasons why all this cannot function. Why the Chinese or the Americans will run us over if we start acting like this in Europe, etc. Our world society and the human family are incredibly complex, but we urgently need to start thinking about how to shape actively our future ourselves before, at worst, algorithms do it for us. The implementation of a positive utopia can succeed solely if everyone participates, cooperatively agrees on a common goal, and dares to come out from under cover and take the first step. Much has to do with economic equality and ecology. Sustainability and climate protection are key topics. Globalization, turbo-capitalism, and economic sovereignty would have to be fundamentally rethought. Unfortunately, I see absolutely no signs of a serious, constructive, and transparent discussion in our everyday world as presently dominated by the media. Nevertheless, I enjoy talking about it with you. I can do a lot with a positive image of society, and I would really like to see our world developing in a new direction for the sake of my three children.
We are facing a tremendous challenge, the need to change global and individual interests that have been established over centuries and that are held in front of our faces from morning to night in the media. We will have to overcome great resistance if we are to paint this picture in full color. But it is a unique opportunity!
A really positive vision of the future ...
Absolutely! If I did not believe that the transformation would ultimately be successful, I would not be able to get up in the morning and work enthusiastically with people to change our world – with one hundred percent commitment! This is my approach toward my family, in our company, with my employees, colleagues, and clients. Our company mission is, “We develop facilities that increase knowledge – for a future full of hope.” All my decisions and all my actions are based on this idea. I always try to question my actions to ensure that they serve a future full of hope. If they don’t, I make a change or do something completely different.
A wonderful closing thought, Tobias. Thank you for this interview and for sharing your truly inspiring vision with us. All the best for you and Carpus+Partner.