How effective is it when the employer and their employees sit together?

How effective is it when the employer and their employees sit together?

Is this the end of gossiping about the management? When managers move into the same office space as their employees, that’s when people start worrying about how the communication will change. Two experts assess the situation.

3/6/2019 By Linda Gondorf Reading time: 4 Minutes
The new head office on the OTTO campus has a unique feature: the directors are giving up their personal offices. Since the classic hierarchical division of space is diminishing today and managers often sit with their teams, it is worth taking a look at the concerns that the employees may have. Occupational psychologists Max Neufeind and Franz Kühmayer, experts on the subject of “the future of work”, explain what it means when the employer sits in close proximity to their employees.

What does the perfect office look like through your eyes? Pastel colours or brightly coloured, with comfortable furniture, lots of wood or perhaps glass? An open-plan office or small personal offices? If you ask occupational psychologist Max Neufeind, the best office in the world is one thing above all: varied. “Ideally we should build office spaces in which different people can make the most of a wide range of ways of working. Some employees need a group dynamic and some others prefer to work in an enclosed space. The biggest challenge is designing functional rooms that meet various different requirements in order to cater for the most varied kinds of activity.” In other words, the employer and the employees alike can sit where they feel comfortable and which suits the task they are dealing with on any given day.

These days, managers lead from the heart of the company

What does it take to manage in the modern-day workplace? Above all it requires interlinking, exchanging and engaging in dialogue with as many parts of the company as possible. It is therefore only logical that senior managers also sit and work in the heart of the office. The magic word is “activity based”. “Depending on the task at hand at any given time, you look for the most suitable place in the office to perform it. Furthermore, the role model effect is a key to success in establishing new types of work,” Franz Kühmayer explains. He is an expert on the subject of “the future of work” and works as a trend researcher at the Zukunftsinstitut (Future Institute), the leading think tank for researching the future with its head office in Frankfurt. He is certain that it is not the hierarchical status or position that decides where someone sits, but the activity being performed in the course of the day.

Franz Kühmayer "The role model effect is a key to success in establishing new types of work."

Franz Kühmayer, an experts in the field of “the future of work”. He works as a trend researcher at the Zukunftsinstitut in Frankfurt.

Concentrated, silent work on your own? Or perhaps a familiar two-person discussion? A video call or a meeting with a client? There’s a space for them all. The biggest difference from the old-fashioned white office landscape is the spaces that offer variety and meet all the employees’ needs - just as if they were in their own home. Similarly, the boss doesn’t need their own demarcated office any more because they can work wherever they want to. “The question that really comes to the fore is why we still work in offices at all. There are of course very good reasons, but they now focus less on the productivity of individuals and more on collaborating with others. We meet in offices to exchange, communicate and work on projects in teams. This particularly applies to managers, whose day-to-day work is particularly strongly shaped by these aspects,” Kühmayer says.

How high is the potential for conflict?

It seems almost as if the coming together of the different hierarchies has an effect on the group dynamic. However, occupational therapist Max Neufeind draws two distinct differences. “Firstly, the role of the manager is currently undergoing huge change. The days of having a single employer who stands alone at the top, combining expertise, learning and decision-making power in one person, are largely over. The role of the manager is instead to initiate processes, to develop a feel for how certain group dynamics work, to counteract them if necessary and to exert an influence on them.” For Neufeind it makes sense to abolish individual offices if other spatial concepts take their place. “Secondly, the employees must have the chance to speak openly and freely about the employer. This can have definitely have a cathartic effect.” Let’s be honest, every employee needs the time and space to exchange gossip and chat from time to time, or to be able to talk about the employer. For Neufeind, this form of communication is like the breaking of a storm. “You can work much more productively afterwards. Employees should be given enough space.” No situation should be exposed to excessive social control, according to Neufeind.

Max Neufeind Some employees need a group dynamic and some others prefer to work in an enclosed space.

Max Neufeind, is an occupational psychologist and deals with questions concerning the future of work.

Now OTTO’s directors are given up their individual offices in the new head office. “In order to set a good example and show that we are serious about the FutureWork initiative, increasing numbers of both managers and divisional directors are giving up their offices,” says Katy Roewer, OTTO’s Divisional Director for Service & Personnel. According to the two experts, the multi-functional space concept can work if the directors are as flexible in terms of location as their employees, i.e. they can find a suitable place to perform the task at hand. That is what the perfect office will look like. OTTO is already able to provide a taster of what is to come. Over the past few years, its office spaces have evolved to include pastel colours, gaudy colours, comfortable furniture, a lot of wood, and variety. Why not see for yourself:

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