The evolving office: In our conversations with current personalities, we examine the claims, clichés and ideals that circulate about our workplaces. Our guest this time is Gabriele Fischer, founder and editor-in-chief of the business magazine brand eins, who explains what the office means to her: creativity, motivation and the proper balance of tension and relaxation. E-mail interview by Josef Schrefel.
Communication—a large part of what we do—is possible almost anytime, anywhere thanks to new technologies. Given that, what significance does the physical office space still retain for you and your team at brand eins?
At brand eins, we’ve always attached great importance to attractive and well-equipped offices, not least for the respect it conveys to our staff. It’s true that our editorial staff is frequently on the road and does not work fixed hours, but in the seven or eight days when production reaches peak intensity, everyone is here in house working long and hard. Having a working environment where people like to be definitely helps make work enjoyable and promote creativity.
Is desk-sharing an issue at brand eins? I’m thinking above all of the many freelancers and the tension where digital and social networks intersect.
Desk-sharing was our plan at the very beginning, when we were still publishing our earlier magazine Econy, but we quickly rejected it. At the time, the editorial staff and fact-checkers were still working in one room and yearned for only one thing: their own offices. In our experience, at least, the high level of concentration needed to produce a quality magazine can be better achieved with defined workstations.
Freelancers can always find an empty desk when they need one, but those who work in house at brand eins can rely on their own space. Despite this, our staff writes stories largely from home, by the way—digitally connected yet isolated.
A tool that has become universal, for better or for worse, is Google. To what extent have the opportunities of freely available information changed the work of your editors and, by extension, the workflows in your office?
We launched brand eins in 1999—and without the blessings of modern technology, there would be no brand eins. Part of it is that we work with many freelance writers, and from the very beginning, they have submitted their work electronically. Dealing with paper copy would have entailed much greater cost. But the main thing is that, after our separation from Spiegel, we were cut off from its fact-checking department and had to build up our own resources. Without permanently available information? Unthinkable.
Since then, the possibilities and the sheer volume of accessible information have grown exponentially. In the late 1990s, commercial websites were still pretty dreary. We exploited all this potential as a welcome opportunity to improve and streamline our quality and research processes. But we also learned—and continue to learn—that the glut of information requires decisions: if you want to be accessible 24/7 and always have the latest information, you run the risk of never getting anything done.
I found a quote in your magazine from Marshall McLuhan, who developed the concept of the "global village": "In the future, work will no longer consist of earning to live but ‘learning to live’ in the age of automation." What’s exciting is when he said this – back in 1964. But it is only the technologies of the past ten or fifteen years that have brought truly rapid change. What was your experience during this development?
Only what I already described. Of course we now book travel online and spend more time surfing the Web than we did ten years ago. But our most important job is to think up and develop stories in a give-and-take with our writers. Automation doesn’t play a big role there.
In its September 2008 issue "Mythos Leistung" ("The Myth of Performance"), brand eins writes about creative minds: "They aren’t paid to take long walks and ruminate. So what are they paid for?" How is this handled at brand eins, and how do you try to inspire ideas?
Our mantra is: the magazine is your employer. During production week, that requires complete commitment. Before and after production week, there are a couple of conference meetings. Otherwise, there is a lot of autonomy. It’s up to the individual how to use that time. Long walks for rumination are definitely an option.
Where do you find inspiration, and how can you pass it along?
I don’t need to motivate anyone, neither myself nor my colleagues—we all create the magazine that we want to create. My primary responsibility is to clear away anything that could demotivate anyone. For myself, with the proper balance of tension and relaxation I ensure that I continue to enjoy my work.
Final question: What would be your favourite place to do your work?
I don’t dream of sitting on a beach with my laptop. I like having a desk and a familiar environment.
I enjoy being in our offices and look forward to the people here. And I need to withdraw regularly to my home office, where I can reflect in a different way and let my thoughts wander.
Thank you for your responses.