Hannes Offenbacher, Eschenbachgasse 11, ViennaWork and lifestyle on the cutting edge: In our conversations with contemporaries, we examine the claims, clichés and ideals that circulate about our workplaces. Hannes Offenbacher, socialised in a classic office environment, has recently begun managing a coworking space in the esteemed Palais Eschenbach called “Treibhaus” which is, literally, a “Greenhouse” — and he practices what he preaches. Nicole Kolisch wanted to find out how he is getting on.
It’s kind of funny: sitting comfortably in the kitchen at "Treibhaus", we are also standing on the shoulders of giants. There could hardly be a more appropriate image — or a more appropriate location — for Hannes Offenbacher’s and Nicole Arnitz’s 280 m² coworking project. In the historical Palais Eschenbach, grand rooms full of stucco and other trappings of pomp reflect the dreams of generations past. Here on the second floor, the background music provided by Spotify and a DIY sofa made from pallets point instead towards dreams for the future. Anything and everything that has to do with "sustainability" is a topic here in the Greenhouse: resource management, alternative energy sources, e-mobility, recycling, environmental technology...
This is nothing new for Offenbacher and Arnitz. Since 2007 their firm Mehrblick, along the motto "Don’t simply be good — be good for something", has developed and implemented, in their own words, "extraordinary events and rebellious projects in support of entrepreneurship and innovation with an eye towards a sustainable future". Staying consistent, they now offer those types of businesses a coworking space. "It is a non-profit project for Mehrblick", says Offenbacher: "We don’t earn anything from it. But I’ve never been the classic office type. That’s why I got involved in this." Here at the Treibhaus, seeds of ideas are to be coaxed to sprout. The fairy tale of "Jack and the Beanstalk" comes to mind: If the seed is just "extraordinary and rebellious" enough, it could be quite a simple thing to stand on the shoulders of giants...
You moved from the Mehrblick office, which was a proper classic office environment, to Treibhaus. Why?
Because we had taken on the role of curator, and you have to be in the space itself to do that. It’s a common misbelief when it comes to coworking that it can all just happen on its own. Many property companies fall victim to this misbelief, too. If you don’t have someone there directly in the community itself, then it simply won’t work. Then it’s not even coworking.
Do you manage to get any work done when you’re also playing the role of "host"?
Yes. We’ve only just begun, and there are not yet too many people here in the office. Generally the firms that are here are quite concentrated on their work since we focus primarily on entrepreneurs who have very strict programmes for themselves, not sole proprietors or freelancers. We work with businesses that have concrete goals for growth, which also means that they have to move out after no more than two years, since they will need their own offices by that point.
Treibhaus offers, of course, a rich variety of workspaces. Do you tend to work in the same space, or do you like to move around?
I tend more towards moving around. I’ll be sitting at the conference table and then move to a sofa chair in the lobby, bringing just my laptop. I will oftentimes spend an hour or so in the morning at Starbucks before I come in to the office. Or the Museum Quarter. I enjoy working outside, particularly in the spring and autumn.
The office as a space: What significance do you assign to it?
I think the physical space is important actually, because it provides you with a type of hub. But there’s so much isolation in the classic type of office. You just sit in a room — and that’s it. It is so much nicer when there are other tenants with whom you can have a half-hour conversation every once in a while. This space here has much to offer us. We also frequently put on small events in the evening, invite people to dinner, etc. It’s quite nice when you can just say, we feel like doing something, why don’t we invite a few people over this week to discuss electro-mobility? Get a bottle of wine in and sit together? Simply put: The office becomes more of a meeting place.
Togetherness is at the heart of this, since you can work practically anywhere?
That’s certainly true for me. But you have to take differences into account. Nicole [Arnitz], who works in operations management and frequently needs paper files, is much more tied to a single place. Since my work is primarily writing and communications, I can work anywhere. But balance is important. If you just work outside, you’ll realise that’s not perfect either...
What would your ideal workspace look like?
For me, the best workspace is on the train. More specifically, on the Austrian Southern Railway. The Austrian Western Railway is alright, too, but the Southern Railway is the best. I’ve always travelled quite a bit by train. Because you still tend to enjoy the advantage of not having any internet access on board, even today, you are somewhat "limited" and work in a completely different manner.
But you could turn your internet access off in the office too...
That’s true, but the zeitgeist seems to be, "If I don’t have the computer on, then I’m not really working". I see that even here at the Treibhaus. We’ll often be sitting together at the kitchen table and spend two, three hours having an intense conversation about work — and we get loads done! And then you notice that you haven’t been at your desk for a long time and say: "It’s about time we headed back to work!" It’s really funny when you think about it. Am I some type of clerk who has to be at his desk and computer the entire day? Is that my main task?
No, but not being at your computer takes its revenge in the form of an overflowing inbox...
Not necessarily. In the past few days, I’ve not spent much time at my computer, and strangely enough, the number of emails has automatically decreased. More communication produces more communication. If you answer fewer emails and answer more slowly when you do, the volume will shrink.
Do you prefer to work alone or with others?
I love the energy you draw from your surroundings. Having my own individual office would be the death of me! At home I have a raised desk at a window where I can concentrate well and write, but only really early in the morning or very late at night, when everyone else is asleep. Then I am able to quiet myself down, too. But I would never get any work done during the day if I were cooped up in an office by myself.
You furnished the Treibhaus yourself. Do you believe its design and organisation says something about you?
It says something about the budget [laughs]. But yes, it is structured in a clear manner and is tidy. That works well.
What would your dream office look like if you had no budget limit?
That would probably be two offices, and I’d commute between them because I believe the single perfect office in the single perfect location simply does not exist. You need a mixture of quiet and bustle — the keywords are chalet and city centre. If you have lots of appointments, then the city centre location and its energy are advantageous. If you want to engage in creative work and be with your own thoughts, then the chalet is perfect. Mixing them gives you the ability to alternate!
I also believe that the desire for fresh air and greenery will become a more important topic in the working world. It’s not enough to dot a few bright chairs around the office so the workers feel comfortable, as in Microsoft’s current setup, for example. It would be better if Microsoft were to rent a little garden house on the outskirts of the city and say: when employees need some fresh air, they can head out there for the day and work outside.
Are there any work rituals that are important for you?
Grabbing a big coffee in the morning! When it comes to creative work, it’s important for me to put the computer aside and sketch on paper instead. Being able to slow down by using paper is becoming ever more important for me.
Your most important work tool?
The computer, in spite of what I just said, because it offers access to knowledge and networks.
The most important object?
I have noticed here at the Treibhaus that a comfortable armchair, for example, is becoming more important again. If you are sitting on one with guests, the conversation is of a completely different sort because there is no desk or conference table between you. I hardly ever sit in the conference room — only if something is confidential and I need to take notes. But I also have noticed that clients feel more comfortable when we converse in this living room-type space.
What's the most personal object in your office?
The little plant on my desk. It doesn’t really grow, but just stubbornly and somehow good-naturedly remains the same size. But I’ve had it since I founded the company and it’s followed me on moves to four different offices.
Thank you for the interview.