Digitalisation is changing our working environment and with it, the demands on office furnishings and equipment. Work 4.0 isn’t defined by silo-style workstations or island solutions, but rather by inter-departmental work structures and open-plan spaces. A development which ASSMANN, as a provider of modern and future-proof furnishing solutions, has been on top of for a long time. The company is leading by example, utilising the new formats inside their own offices.
If you step inside the administration area at the ASSMANN company headquarters in Melle, you’ll be greeted with an unusual sight. Instead of the narrow rows of desks commonly found in administrative areas, all grouped by department, a large, bright open space awaits. Each workspace on the four-seater benches is fitted with a height-adjustable ergonomic sit-stand desk from the Canvaro family, and has an innovative lighting system that individually adapts to the needs of the employee and the daylight. Instead of dividing walls and doors, the acoustically effective, Syneo room-in-room systems have been used between the office spaces. The compact and comfortable lounge furniture can be used as a private space for intensive work or for meetings, depending on what’s needed at that moment. The picture is one of clear and functional design, without cutting through the room’s atmosphere and liveliness.
Our in-house case study
On the first-floor offices belonging to one of the leading manufacturers of office furniture systems in Germany, a unique office landscape has been created in just a few months. It offers high-quality workspace with the most modern furnishings to around 70 employees from the finance, back office, planning, concept sales, product management, sales and marketing departments. The recently completed renovation is a symbol of the family company’s transformation into a digital-age company. “Just like our customers, we need to adjust to the changing market conditions and design more efficient workspaces and processes. We also wanted to set a best practice example here in-house, to show our clients the various options available for conception and implementation of an office space,” Dirk Aßmann, CEO of ASSMANN, explains the scope of the project.
Create an open working environment
Originally, colleagues from management were going to move to a new building directly opposite the headquarters. But the intention faltered before the building even began, due to administrative difficulties and influences beyond their control. “We searched thoroughly for alternative options and ended up developing a Plan B in-house. After a successful space efficiency analysis, we began with the detailed planning in September 2018. When I look at the results now, I’m really happy with how it all turned out,” Dirk Aßmann explains.
The biggest challenge in the concept phase was the low building depth of just 12.5 metres. It was technically too small for the open-plan office space we had in mind, but, as the saying goes, “faith can move mountains,” notes Günter Osterhaus, Head of ASSMANN Forum. “In order to meet the requirements of a modern open plan space with a building of this depth, we had to consolidate the areas in the central zone and the communication areas. This naturally meant a risk of increased background noise, which could have increased the noise stress for colleagues.
But not at ASSMANN. “We wanted to make sure employees could enjoy a focused and stress-free working environment, so we put a great deal of thought into the room acoustics. We took a whole host of factors into consideration, from structural measures through to headsets to eliminate the sound of telephones ringing. We also incorporated sound-absorbing Viteco partition wall systems, ceiling canopies, and state-of-the-art acoustic systems to create a low-noise working environment in which employees feel comfortable.
And for those who prefer to work in absolute silence, Kerstin Barre has got a top tip up her sleeve. “In the past, I would just get up and close the door, but that’s not really an option any more,” laughs the long-standing member of the in-house sales team. Today, she simply places a little golden pug wearing headphones on her desk to signal to others that she does not want to be disturbed. “I haven’t actually tried it out for myself yet, but I’ve seen other colleagues do it and it seems to work. So why not give it a try? The only thing you really need is consideration for6 those around you and discipline. If you have those, then even a little step like this can have a huge impact.”
Conversion boosts team spirit
Consideration and discipline – these are qualities that were absolutely essential during the conversion phase. Simone Natrup, Head of Concept Sales, recalls the period from January to May 2019 very well: “Getting the conversion underway without stopping our day-today operations was a real challenge and one that required plenty of flexibility and patience from our entire team. To some extent, the different trades were all pitching in at the same time. While one area was still being taken apart, the first construction work was already taking place just ten metres further along.
But, I have to say, we managed exceptionally well as a team.” It is this kind of team mentality that was right at the top of the agenda from the outset. Every planning workshop had at least one head of department around the table along with four or five colleagues so that everyone could share their plans and ideas. “So many of these suggestions were actually incorporated into the final design and they have really contributed to what is an exceptional end product,” explains Simone Natrup And the process hasn’t stopped now that the conversion work is complete: “We still encourage our teams to share their ideas and suggestions for improvement so that we can discuss them all together. If something is found to be useful and reasonable then we will put it into action. After all, this is all part of the open-plan principle.”
The changes at the ASSMANN headquarters didn’t stop with the fixtures and fittings, they also extended to the company’s working structures and processes. Every employee had always had their “own” workstation in the past, but the atmosphere today has shifted away from this kind of “territorial” mindset. What this means is that, since every employee has a notebook, every workstation has the same setup, and the IT facilities are compatible throughout the entire building, anyone can work at any desk they like.
The only exception is in the planning and technology depart- ments, as these teams require their own special software. It’s a forward-thinking model that does call for a cooperative attitude from all employees, explains Tamara Wienecke, Team Leader in the Planning division: “Of course, the hot-desking principle only works if everyone leaves the desk they were working at in the same way they found it that morning – clean, tidy and organised. But it’s all been working very well so far, which is probably helped by the fact that we have established clear internal rules that we can all refer each other back to as needed.”
When it comes to documents, working materials and personal items, every employee has their own Pontis mobile container, which they can pull over to their workstation in the morning and put back in the designated “garage” at theend of the day. Tamara Wienecke notes that: “this does away with the need for huge storage cupboards and means we can go without massive wall racks and cabinets almost entirely. Within our new space, we have invested in twelve additional workstations, which are available as temporary spots for interns and field sales employees, a breakout area, and two new project rooms.” Both of these rooms are kitted out with state-of-the-art technology and can even be used as a welcome retreat whenever a more focused working environment is needed.
Learning by doing
As stressful as the conversion phase was, it was all worth it to see the end result, explains Managing Director Dirk Aßmann after the first few months in full swing: “Once the work was complete, we then had to turn our hands to preparing our managers for the digital change and everything that went along with it. At the same time, we have created a portfolio project that will certainly be of interest to other companies.” You only have to look at the reactions of the people who have had the chance to visit the newspaces to see he’s absolutely right.
“At the end of the day, our clients also have to think about how they can make their office spaces more efficient in view of ever-changing circumstances. We are now in a better position than ever to advise other companies, since we have plenty of experience not just on paper, but also from planning and implementing the open-plan concept within our own headquarters.”
Various workspaces to be converted to an open-plan design in order to optimise internal working structures and processes.
The conversion has to take place without disrupting day-to-day operations. This calls for detailed planning and precise coordination of all contractors.
Partial conversion of headquarters
ASSMANN develops and produces office furniture systems and furnishing solutions for contemporary working environments. The company is one of the leading manufacturers of office furniture in Germany.