In its new format “5 Questions to ...”, IBA spoke with Christoph Magnussen, CEO of Blackboat, about future offices, leadership skills in times of hybrid work and the biggest threat to corporate culture.
You are considered the “New Work Guy”, sharing practical experiences and tips around New Work whenever possible. Workspaces are an important factor for productivity and well-being. So what must the office of the future be capable of? And how do you think workspaces need to change?
First of all, it is important to know: Who does what kind of work where and when, how do people experience interaction? In the sense of “activity-based working” concepts, where you look at exactly which elements are really needed for value creation in offices, this then has very concrete effects on the workspace design: How much space is actually needed, where does which design element or furniture system really stand out, how do I design the entrance area, where do I create quiet or open work areas?
In this sense, future offices must meet flexible requirements. Planning security – as the pandemic has shown – is only temporary, not for years. Because more and more people only come to the office when they want to. When meetings are held in offices today, the focus is on the social part. That’s the whole point.
Accordingly, the challenge in workspace design is to create a balance between furniture, space, technology and one’s own culture. This requires lively spaces that also offer more than just a telephone box and table tennis table. A lot can be achieved with the right office furniture. Especially if they are mobile. Bringing technology and space together in a really serious way is a major task and currently something that challenges and motivates me every day.
What skills do executives need in order to lead in the best possible way in a hybrid working world?
Particularly in hybrid models, where not all people are gathered in one place – digitally or physically – misunderstandings often occur due to poor communication. Yet communication is always the basis of collaboration! Especially the little word “hybrid” suggests that everything is simply compatible. In reality, it looks quite different. Hybrid is hard work!
That is why managers needs to talk to their teams about communication, discuss and establish rules. It needs constant impulses and reassurances about what is absolutely allowed and desired.
At Blackboat, we generally distinguish between asynchronous communication, which is often mapped with new digital tools, and synchronous communication, i.e. direct interaction, ideally on site, which can, for example, convey much more emotion. Then the dimensions of “virtual” or “mobile” and “on-site” are added. In this context, an office is a powerful tool. It must therefore be decided very individually when, for example, the office is the right place for a meeting or whether a video call is sufficient – and what requirements this entails in each case.
Leaders therefore play a decisive role in shaping the collaboration and communication guidelines. And then, above all, they are role models when it comes to living and working within this framework.
For example, the best socialising area is useless if employees think they are “not working there anyway, just hanging out”. No, they must have the feeling, supported by appropriate communication, that it is permitted and desired to make loose contacts! Managers should therefore explicitly demand that offices are designed and used in the way they are intended to be used. And above all, spend time in co-working spaces themselves – leading by example!
Quiet Quitting and Great Resignation are the current buzzwords. How do companies manage to retain their employees?
Even before salary, today flexibility and compatibility are important to people. Companies have to meet these demands as best they can. This means, for example, a flexible choice of working hours or workplace and a healthy work-life balance. These are all relative and, above all, individual issues, and each employee must decide for him- or herself exactly what “flexibility” means. Companies must proactively lay the foundations – keyword communication! – for the open negotiation of the best possible options for their employees.
What else can companies do to position themselves externally as an attractive employer?
It sounds trivial, but: “Show what you’ve got!” In times of a shortage in skilled workers, companies need to draw attention to themselves and be present in social networks, for example. No one wins by being secretive anymore, instead it needs the spotlight on all the things that happen in the company and what the company stands for.
And what is the greatest danger for corporate culture?
Lack of consistency. Those who advertise the promise of a modern understanding of work but fail to act on it lose credibility and trust – and thus cut away at the cornerstone of every culture.