A change of generations in the world of work: a discussion with Karla Aßmann about leadership, Generation Z and the added value of the office

Added Value Office

Karla Aßmann
IBA editorial team IBA editorial team ·
8 Minutes

The fact that Karla Aßmann is a managing director at the age of 28 is still something very special. IBA Forum editorial team talked with her about the role of a manager, the challenges facing an entrepreneur and the transformation of the office.

On 15 February 2023 you officially became Managing Director of the family-owned company ASSMANN Büromöbel GmbH & Co. KG. Congratulations! How do you view your role as a manager who represents the young generation at a time-honoured family-owned company?

First of all, thank you very much! I think every generation has to find its own style — and if you enter a family-owned company at a young age, you may need to do that a bit sooner. In general, I define leadership as taking every opportunity to be in the midst of the action, learn from one another and always be a good listener. I may also have learned these things from my father. I try to talk with my colleagues as often as possible, and I tend to regard myself as a kind of coach who helps people reach shared goals.

What soft skills does a manager need to have today?

There certainly are many. Besides, not all employees have the same expectations. I think it’s important to be able to listen, because if you can’t do that you’ll never find out what people want. I also believe that appreciation and an awareness of one’s own social responsibility are important factors — especially in a family-owned company like ours, with a history that goes back for more than 80 years. You also have to be a team player. At ASSMANN, we organised ourselves as a team during the restructuring process we conducted at the beginning of this year. Each employee has his or her own tasks, and we want to go on doing “Good Work” in line with our company motto and making sure that everyone’s on board.

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It’s important for a manager to be available and to give employees the feeling that they’re being listened to. I think the prerequisites also include having a healthy trust-based culture and enabling different generations to come together and learn from one another. Karla Aßmann

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What advice would you give to young people who are striving to build a career and maybe even occupy a managerial position?

I wouldn’t dream of giving young people advice. I’m still young myself, and I’m learning a lot of new things every day. But if someone asks me about my personal development path, of course I’m happy to pass my experiences along. My first tip is to create a secure environment for yourself, because that gives you a certain feeling of security. The second one is to also seek out one or two important sparring partners within the company, with whom you can discuss things that are on your mind at the professional level. The third tip is not to let yourself be distracted from your ideas or visions. It’s also important — and I had to learn this as well — to demonstrate a certain calmness and composure. In other words, don’t take everything you’re presented with personally. And of course good organization is essential.

The office environment has been in a process of transformation for a number of years — away from rigidly defined workstations and toward modern and flexible worlds of work that promote a sense of well-being. How is ASSMANN reacting to this transformation?

Yes, this trend has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. We experienced that at ORGATEC 2022 as well. More and more customers are placing their bets on NEW WORK NOW and on an ever-increasing linkage and harmonisation of work and private life. We’ve reacted to this trend with innovative furnishing solutions and services for FLEXIBLE, SMART, HYBRID and HOME-based work, and we offer our customers a toolbox from which they can precisely select items that match their requirements and the needs of their employees. Through ASSMANN 4ROOMS, we support them all the way from their first deliberations to the implementation of their plans, and we jointly develop a holistic concept that fits the individual needs of the respective company, its people and its present and future requirements.

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In the future the crucial element will no longer be the individual product but the ability to reproduce flexible work models in the office. Karla Aßmann

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What role do innovation and technology play in the office furniture sector, and how will Gen Z influence it?

Everything is becoming more digital. One of the four megatrends in this sector is the smart office, whose purpose is to make the company’s organisation of processes and procedures especially efficient. Gen Z is certainly another driver of that, because its members grew up with digital solutions. That makes it all the more important to also offer the members of this generation work environments where they feel comfortable and can be creative. It’s not a matter of individual office furniture, but of holistic, contemporary and inspiring solutions. Not only our products but also our production processes are becoming more and more digital. Our factory in Melle is one of the most modern office furniture production facilities in the world today. Every day, we produce 2,500 furniture parts in an almost fully automatic process in line with the Batch Size One principle, in top quality and with pinpoint timing. We’re proud of that.

How can a company earn Generation Z’s loyalty?

I believe that you can win the loyalty of young generations by providing them with enough leeway within specific guardrails. In my opinion, it’s also important to show that you are constantly developing as a company, open to new topics and also trying to put them into practice in the company. I think this includes implementing a culture of learning from mistakes and the healthy management of continuing education, as well as giving employees feedback on a regular basis.

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How should the work culture and offices be designed so that they become places employees can identify with?

Open, honest and motivating. That’s how we do it at ASSMANN, now in the fourth generation of ownership. The result is a work culture to which the majority of the employees have remained loyal for decades. This can also be transferred to offices: an open and motivating work environment promotes people’s sense of well-being and strengthens their sense of identification with the company. This requires a certain amount of flexibility in terms of space and a diverse mix of everything. That’s because the reason why I come to the office today can change to a very different one tomorrow.

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It’s all in the mix. There ought to be work areas where people can perform standardised activities in normal desk-oriented situations. On the other hand, we also need flexible work environments that promote a sense of well-being as well as planned cooperation and creative communication. Karla Aßmann

In your opinion, what is the added value of the office?

Ongoing communication, identification with the company, being in the midst of the action. All of these are factors that no working-from-home setup in the world can offer. We always say that you can only identify yourself with ASSMANN after you’ve sampled the atmosphere at ASSMANN. And you can only do that if you’re actually there. The interpersonal relationships, the family atmosphere — for me, these are the added value of the office.

Ms. Aßmann, you’re the first woman to be elected to the Management Board of the German Interior Business Association, IBA. What does that mean for you?

If people consider me a good example, of course that’s a wonderful feeling, but I don’t want to emphasise my role as a woman. As a member of the IBA Management Board, in exactly the same way as the Managing Director of ASSMANN, I focus on continuing the good work that’s being done. At our company, this includes our values as a family-owned and managed enterprise, and at the IBA this includes good cooperation in order to shape new office worlds and work environments.

Thank you very much for this talk, Ms. Assmann.

Visit the ASSMANN showroom

New Work Now In the ASSMANN showroom you will find ideas for flexible, smart, hybrid and home offices. Find out more now!

Karla Aßmann is the Managing Director of ASSMANN Büromöbel GmbH & Co. KG. In parallel, she works in tandem with Michael Vogel to manage the company’s domestic sales organisation. In this function she is responsible for the areas Workplace Consulting, Customer Service, and Maintenance and Assembly Services. In April 2023 she was the first woman to be elected to the Management Board of the German Interior Business Association, IBA. Further information about the company is available at https://www.assmann.de/.

Cover photo: ASSMANN