Work and lifestyle at the cutting edge: In our conversations with contemporaries, we examine the claims, clichés and ideals surrounding our workplaces. This time we spoke with Bastian Unterberg, the founder and CEO of the crowdsourcing platform Jovoto. In a conversation with Angelika Molk, Unterberg tells how he would most like to work under a roof of rustling leaves and explains why table tennis can be important at the workplace.
Bastian Unterberg founded the company Jovoto, a creative crowdsourcing platform that now has about 40,000 members, at Berlin’s University of the Arts in 2006. Clients include large global companies as well as non-profit organisations and government offices. The projects are complex and range from product innovation concerning working environments of the future to communications campaigns. Creative minds develop ideas on their own and then discuss and evaluate them in the community. In addition to Jovoto’s collaborative nature, Unterberg emphasizes the platform’s sustainability: fair copyright and appropriate prize money are part of the practised etiquette.
The Jovoto platform offers creative people a virtual space in which they can work freely and independently, whenever, wherever and however they want. This actually calls the necessity of real offices into question. Do we still need "real" offices, and if yes, what for?
We came up with the concept for Jovoto at the University of the Arts in Berlin. We asked ourselves how we really would like to work. Traditionally, work processes in the creative industry are organised along strongly hierarchical lines. We looked for a work environment that functioned without these hierarchies, that facilitated working in an open, collaborative mode. It’s important to me personally, however, to have a certain consistency in my everyday work life, a fixed location. Because I can work anywhere, the office has assumed special importance. Above all in a time when work life and private life are so intermeshed, I think it’s a good thing that there’s a spatial separation between the two spheres. I used to work a lot at home, but now I’ve started trying to avoid that.
Do you have a "main workplace", and – if yes – where is it?
We have an office in Berlin, in the same building as Betahaus, a birthplace of the co-working movement. We actually all sit in a big, open room, a typical pre-war Berlin apartment with high ceilings and a lift that goes directly to the office. In general, everyone here has their own workplace, but there are also unoccupied desks and quiet work areas where people can get some privacy. And of course the table tennis table in the middle of the room is very important.
Do you really use it?
I sure do! If we can’t agree on something, then we decide it by playing a table tennis match. I would even venture to say it’s the single most important object in our office.
Do you think of the office as a place of inspiration, of creativity?
Not so much. If I’m looking for inspiration, I prefer places where I spend less time, above all outdoors in nature, where you have a lot of space and no ceiling above your head. Good ideas often come to me during long walks.
Where do you most like to work?
I particularly like to work in friendly Internet start-up offices. I think it’s great to see how other people organise themselves. I’m on the road a lot, so I know quite a few co-working sites around the world, and I visit lots of different offices. My favourites are Iceaddis in Addis Abeba, Grind in New York City, and of course the Betahaus in Berlin.
And where do you not like to work?
I can concentrate pretty much anywhere, but I don’t like to work all that much at home. Or when I’m on holiday.
Are there any places or locations where you would particularly enjoy working? What would your dream office look like?
My dream office would be something like a network of tree houses that are connected by hanging bridges. I think it would be very inspiring with the sound of rustling leaves over my head and the feeling of being up above things. It would also be nice if the forest were located directly on a beach. A tree house on the beach would be the best, I guess.
What's the most personal object in your office?
Actually, we have quite a few very personal objects in our office. We have a nostalgic Polaroid wall with lots of photos, and this wall is definitely very special and very personal. Then there are the self-made birthday crowns and that kind of stuff. We have art on the walls from Dean Rosenzweig, a Berlin artist. And then we have the big leather couch corner. Overall, our office has a very relaxed feel. Customers who are more used to traditional work environments like it most of all; they find that they can feel at home here.
What is the most important tool for your work?
Actually my Notebook. The smart phone takes second place, followed by Post-It notes.
Are there any work rituals that are important for you?
Making coffee, which happens every day. Direct, honest feedback is very important for work, for the time that you spend in meetings. Constructive feedback is an important ritual and a work ethic at the same time.
The thing you most wish for in an office?
Transparency, freedom and sustainability.
Thank you for the interview!
The book "Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving" (Shaun Abrahamson, Peter Ryder, Bastian Unterberg) takes a look at the future of work and flexible principles of organisation. It is being published by Wiley and will be available from February 13.