Article by: Ronnie Heiner

Trends

Beating the Drum for Teamwork, or: Achieving more Together

Complex tasks require successful teamwork. Whether old hands at working with one another or newly brought together, a good team is capable of achieving things that a single individual could not possibly bring about on his or her own. But what makes for a good team? How does working together function at its best, and which factors have a positive impact on a team’s success? Read more below about seemingly obvious truths and noteworthy aspects of teamwork.

Even before walking into the Yellow Room, as Meeting Room 2 is called, Florian could see through the glass wall that the mood in the space was positive. Four of the six team members were already gathered there and were contentedly and diligently preparing their documents while Doris, the team leader, was using the whiteboard to diagram the steps leading to the next milestone. She was an excellent team leader who understood both how to motivate her team about their work on the shared project as well as manage the responsibilities and deadlines in a transparent way. Florian felt confident that he could expect another constructive meeting.
 

Is teamwork "in"?

Whoever takes the time to follow current discussions about teamwork will encounter a profusion of contrary points of view. On the one hand, teamwork is euphorically praised as the perfect instrument for cooperation, productivity, and economic success in the so-called knowledge age. On the other hand, there is a great deal of disillusionment. Instead of the independently operating group of experts working together towards a common goal, we seem to often end up with a chaotic bunch, revealing poor leadership, aimlessness, and an absence of a sense of responsibility.

Events

Bene Expert Talk ‘More than just a seat’

"The expert talk on the topic of ‘More than just a seat’, held on 6 June 2013 at the Vienna Bene Office and Showroom Neutorgasse 4-8, was received with great interest. International representatives from design, science, consulting and business discussed the shift in work methods, the culture and furniture of sitting, and the absurdity of operating instructions for office chairs.

"There is now a trend to become more mobile at and during work", is how the evening’s moderator, Rosa Lyon, ORF reporter and former Ö1 journalist, introduced the topic of the culture of sitting. But do we change places at the office all that often? Is there a transformation in the culture of sitting?

Without a doubt, says Sebastian Hackenschmidt, art historian and custodian for furniture and woodwork at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts. In past centuries, the attitudes towards sitting as well as the furniture itself have changed enormously, as he discussed in his keynote presentation. Goethe, for example, was against all types of comfort, because he believed that comfortable furniture makes one passive and would therefore be counterproductive for work. Today, on the other hand, comfortable office chairs have become very important. Two kinds of comfort have developed over time: mechanism (key words: adjustable sitting machines) + upholstery (plush seat cushions, innovative advances in foam).

Trends

Show me what you like and I will tell you who you are

What do Facebook friends, long fingernails, oversized desks, toilets and expensive watches have in common? All of them are – or were – eagerly displayed signs of (supposed) high social status, symbols of recognition & power & superiority. In short: status symbols with coolness factor, more or less…

He had promised himself not to be afraid. It was a good intention, but one that proved unrealistic the second the door in front of him opened – the door to the Lion’s Den. In front of him lay a path, that seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance, straight through the wood-panelled room. Bookcases filled with overwhelming knowledge stood to his left, while to the right there was a modern marble sculpture whose sheer size he found uncanny and which baffled him. Next to it was a gaudy and overloaded display cabinet. And at the far end of the room, there HE sat – as if enthroned – behind a colossal desk that rested like a battleship before him, a symbol of power. HE puffed his cigar and not once even raised his eyes, whereas the eyes of the company’s founder in the oil painting hanging behind him bore straight through this unwelcome supplicant, this nuisance in human form, this undeserving no-name.
 

The boss’s office

OK – admittedly, things are no longer as apocalyptic. Nevertheless, representation and intimidation were the unmistakable pillars upon which the boss’s office of the 19th and early 20th centuries rested. It was here that the company’s success as well as the power and autonomy of the imperturbable capitalist were made manifest. Even if reason seemed to control and regulate every aspect of life (or maybe precisely because of this), the power centres of a great number of companies were symbolically charged, taking on a practically mythological character.

Architecture & Design

Responsive architecture: Better “alive” than “there for all eternity“

Rolling Masterplan

Heliotropic buildings, skyscrapers with vibration absorbers, walls with integrated phase selectors, dancing facades, moving walls, and buildings that are bigger inside than out – 21st-century architecture is interactive. And very much alive.

We like to take for granted the enormous variety of specific architectural solutions for the places where we live and breathe and work: from the igloo to the tent in the desert, the bunker to the space station. But we still have a stereotypical image in our minds when we hear the word "building": static, passive and universal. However, buildings intended to cope with today's lifestyles are (we hope!) changeable and adapted to specific circumstances, or even customisable in themselves. And they need to be, as they do not all face the same demands in every location.

Whether it be the climate, potential (natural) risks, the setting for the buildings (surrounding landscape, architecture or culture), their purpose and function, symbolic expression and aesthetic requirements, energy aspects, mobility needs, the space they need, building regulations – there are a host of challenges. This is especially true whenever buildings are expected to respond interactively to the life they accommodate even after they have been "completed".
 

The first step is straightforward

… because throughout the history of architecture, problems and priorities may have changed but the same structural solution can still work for different starting points. Take a specific example: buildings on stilts. Although the main reason for their existence has long been to protect their inhabitants from wild animals, enemies and flood waters, you will still find today in city centres – far removed from such dangers – buildings standing on pillars. Now they are meant to create an open space below a building to meet and interact with others. This is a way for buildings to react to the restricted space available in today’s cities and meet the needs of their residents.
 

The advantage of experience

There are also places where the problems are the same as they have ever been, but where the solutions vary from the traditional to the modern. When Nias Island near Sumatra was hit by major earthquakes in 2005, nearly all of the buildings collapsed – except those that had followed tradition when they were built. Their locations on hilltops and their construction on three levels (substructure, coherently constructed living space and a very high light roof) were ideally adapted to the local danger of earthquakes.

Worked enough?

Foto: photocase.com/complize

Revolutions do not always have to be loud. They sometimes almost display features of understatement. This is proven by one development currently occurring in the world of work. The technology of digitalisation has paved the way for an increasing number of jobs to be performed by algorithms and robots - ever more efficiently, ever more intelligently, as supporters of the trend would say. Yet some sceptics are already wondering: Is this really the end of (human) labour?

Caution is always required when measuring current events against historical ones. Not everything which is trumpeted as being "historic" subsequently turns out to be enduring or of any long-lasting importance in our fast moving society.

On the other hand, there are really profound changes that one can see right from the beginning will set the course for the future and will leave behind indelible traces. Modern automation or digitilisation, with all of its consequences, is one such change. One of its most radical aspects: the displacement of human labour by automated labour. "Nothing new there", many a commentator will say. We left the Industrial Revolution behind long ago - both the first one and the second as well. Quite right, but what is meant here are not classic machines but mathematically generated algorithms which, as is well known, are not at all restricted to physical, industrial manufacturing.
 

Little everyday helpers

We take using algorithms in our leisure time for granted - from navigation devices and route planners to those cute automatic vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers which work on their own according to certain rules without our even being present. The little digital helpers assume a number of tasks for which there was not even an actual job before; they frequently provide support for us in our work, and they are replacing us ever more often.
 

Automation of knowledge-based work

If it has been the blue-collar worker who has traditionally been most affected by the automation of work to date, the activities of white collar workers are today increasingly also becoming the focus of processes which can be represented in mathematical terms. That has largely been realised and fully acknowledged in the meantime in a row of activities. In stock exchanges, for example, a large proportion of the turnover in transactions stems from algorithms. Human valuations of companies these days are often less significant for the success of investors then the length of the cable connection (and therewith the speed) to the stock exchange server. In the high-speed world of Algo-Trading, milliseconds are decisive. And the fact is - sorry to say - that no human can keep up with that pace.

New Working Environments: Choose the place you need

Working as if you were in a cockpit or temporarily docking in at the office – the modern workplace provides knowledge workers with new qualities of space that are custom-tailored to the requirements of today’s working environment.

Mobility, flexibility, teamwork, motivation, creativity, quality work... Gerd knows what is expected of knowledge workers. Yet why is it that existing spaces don’t really fulfil these criteria? A question that he often asked himself – until he visited Karin in her office...

Recent years have made it clear, and confirmed the forecasted trends – our working conditions and processes have changed fundamentally thanks to globalisation, mobility and digital networking. Traditional office layouts, with their rigid structures and uniformity, are no longer appropriate for these extraordinarily diverse and changing requirements. Modern knowledge work requires an environment that offers the ideal – i.e. most supportive – surroundings for each type of activity. What we need are open structures and different rooms with different qualities to choose from.

Modern office planning picks up on these needs and develops a broad range of office landscapes that clearly borrow from urban landscapes. The office becomes an attractive living space defined by diversity and offering different zones and areas. Knowledge workers can select an area to work in that best suits them, depending on what tasks they need to accomplish, along the lines of: Choose the place you need. Much like a city, the office develops identity, personality and character. Inspiring, exciting, productive.

Gerd stared in astonishment as Karin took him through the office. The reception area welcomed him with powerful colours, organic-shaped chairs and a sophisticated lighting system. The corporate design continued in the back office in a cultish way – to his left, behind a glass wall, an inspiring meeting room with sofas and seating cushions on a floor that seemed to undulate; to his right, compact workstations with surprisingly colourful storage systems that provided views, and further forward, an inviting landscape of couches with a presentation screen. Friendly, transparent and open - the office’s design seemed to embody motivation and creativity.
 

New Meeting Environment

Innovation, creativity and interaction have become decisive factors in modern knowledge work. This is because they exercise a measurable influence over the quality of work results. Knowledge workers therefore need a working environment that is state of the art regarding information and communications technology, that promotes networking and exchange. It should offer access to necessary information and not only allow routines in the workflow, but above all also enable creativity.

New Working Environments: Personal space

The walls are down, the barriers to communication swept aside. Some cheer about better teamwork, shorter distances to cover and an atmosphere of openness, while others grumble about noise, the loss of private space and an inability to concentrate. One thing is for certain: open office concepts have their strengths and weaknesses. Intelligent office layouts attempt to preserve the former and compensate for the latter. But however they look, the question of whether they function in real life hinges on how much attention is paid to personal space.

Let’s be honest: unlimited exposure is impossible. Sometimes – more often than you’d think – it’s necessary to draw the line. This can be a physical boundary, expressed verbally or made clear by non-verbal behaviour. The fact is, a closed door is almost always accepted as a boundary, but staring at a screen at a workstation in an open office space makes people seem available. Territory is endangered, and so is personal space.
 

Stay out of my space

Psychologists talk about "personal space" as an invisible zone, a kind of hypothetical spatial bubble that governs proxemic behaviour between interacting parties. Pushing into this "intimate sphere" is typically unwelcome and can be experienced as highly unpleasant. In our everyday lives, we keep the "necessary" distance automatically insofar as the situation allows it. The classic behaviour is easy to observe in public transportation, for example: first all of the free seating rows only have one person in them, and not until every row has an occupant will people sit next to each other.

New Working Environments: Why men prefer to operate video projectors and women love their smartphone

How and in what direction are new working environments, future workplaces and emerging work methods developing? In our current series of Bene’s Office.Info, we try to track down the major trends for the coming years.

"And here’s the women’s model," said the salesman, moving away from the black leather swivel chair to show his prospective customer the model with orange upholstery. When the woman then leaves the shop without buying anything, he asks himself in confusion: "Did I do something wrong?" Something dawns on him...

We all know the books about women who can’t park and men who don’t listen. And even though they amuse, annoy or bore us, that famous "grain" of truth is always in there somewhere, to use a fine phrase (oh, really?). Which leaves us with the legitimate and timeless question of how male/female perspectives are reflected in professional and working life, excluding the most politically controversial discussion of social equality.

What is certain is that gender aspects have become a part of everyday life in the business sector. In product development and sales, the term gender marketing has been widely known for several years; of course the principle behind it has been around for much longer. Marketing is always geared towards certain target groups – and gender marketing behaves in exactly the same way. Following the example of the pioneering countries USA and Scandinavia, gender concepts have been consistently implemented in Central Europe – with a few exceptions – for around five years now.
 

It is all about definition

And just to make sure that we know what we are talking about: unlike the word "sex", "gender" is a person’s social description which is not given by nature, but is a social, cultural and political construction.

Spring feelings in the office: up into the verticals

Longwood Gardens

Expansive green spaces are in short supply in offices because they require light, care and space. As is so often the case, the solution lies in changing perspectives: “not horizontal, but vertical” is the contemporary motto for interior landscaping.

The French botanist and garden designer Patrick Blanc is known as the inventor of the Vertical Garden. He created the first private one in 1982, and in 1986 the first public "Mur Végétal". The concept experienced a breakthrough in 2001 – with the green wall designed by Blanc in the interior courtyard of the Parisian luxury hotel Perishing Hall. The living artwork stretches to a height of thirty metres, taking the concept to architectural dimensions for the first time. It is still amazing, even today.

Since then, Blanc has enlivened and greened innumerable walls throughout the world. Whether it’s an interior wall of the Marithé+Francois Girbaud Stores in New York (2003), the exterior façade of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris (2005), the entry hall to the Siam Paragon Shopping Mall in Bangkok (2005) or the Qantas Lounge in Sydney (2007) - Blanc is a hot topic, as is the Vertical Garden.

New Working Environments: Working in the Cloud – Working on Cloud Nine?

Foto: photocase.com / misterQM

How and in what direction are new working environments developing? Future workplaces, emerging work methods? In our current series of Bene’s Office.Info, we try to track down the major trends for the coming years.

Sometimes you have to step back to be able to get moving forward again. This is why we are starting on our "New Working Environments" topic at the most abstract and most technologically innovative area of modern working environments – hoping to come up with very specific optimised spaces. From virtual to physical. Into the Cloud and back again.
 

Making new from old

As banal as it may seem – the new term "cloud computing" is derived from early IT design drawings. These sketches presented essential components in detail (such as a computer) and depicted unessential or distant processes (such as computer networks) as a cloud that stood for ‘everything else’ that swarmed about in the digital world outside of your own PC.

Although it was quite insignificant in the beginning, the cloud symbol stubbornly held on. After all, people who know a little bit about IT yearn for simplifications in the otherwise complicated world of IT... The idea behind the cloud is actually rather old, hailing back to a time before the PC became an everyday object in offices and households. In the 1960s, the idea was basically that not every company needed expensive hardware and software and specialised staff members; instead, these companies would send data to a service provider that had the requisite infrastructure and expertise – or to put it briefly: outsourcing to a computing centre.

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