The Ammersee stretches across my screen, behind my colleague and the grand panorama of the Austrian alps in the background. The perfect color matching of her outfit with the spring sun reflecting the lake encourages me to upgrade my own webcam. While she reads out the agenda I mull over whether she stands in front of her living room window, or just tweaked her video hardware to superimpose her torso onto a wallpaper. I continue following her presentation with quite some envy.
While many colleagues were sharing pictures of their billy shelves in the SAP Stay-at-home Slack channel, our CX leadership team introduced the next chapter of my Munich office in an All-Hands call. Our company will open two new offices in 2023, close to the campus of Technical University Munich (TUM) in Garching, a suburb close to the city of Munich. A few hundred colleagues living in the city center including myself will have to schedule 90 minutes additional commuting time. As a cyclist I can't imagine yet how I will handle this challenge. Nor can I imagine how it will go along with our company's strategic goal of sustainability and financial accounting of carbon.
A decision which looks to me like a contradiction in itself makes me curious. It will take years until we can be certain whether the decision to leave the city helped us "to build Europe's leading tech cluster" and "strengthen our visibility in Munich", or not. Anyway, for the next two and a half years we can ponder about how our new offices will look, and how we might travel to and from Garching.
My unreal survey confirmed that reasons to work in an office are dependent on the personality and role of individual colleagues. I am well aware that my ideas are utterly subjective and won't qualify as input for "employee sounding boards". Even if they did, they would be evened out to something I would not recognise by the consensus of vested interests. Still I enjoy imagining my life in three years. So here is a letter from the future:
Finally SAP Munich has moved to Garching. Initially I was sceptical. Now that we have finally left behind our dilapidated hybris office I can't imagine to go back. The one hour bike ride to my new office location is a new experience indeed. Thanks to my iPhone and Siri, which are finally good enough to provide a true hands free user interface, I can use my commuting time to browse through mails, join the first calls, and catch some ideas for my blog. Part of my bike trail follows the river. I can't imagine a more inspiring environment to start my working day, and free exercise is good for body and mind. If the weather was really bad, I could call the self-driving SAP shuttle to pick me up - which I don't do very often because my CO2 footprint savings appear on my payroll as benefits. Also climate has become very dry in Munich as elsewhere.
What I appreciate about our Garching office is that is's bright and open. When I arrive I take a quick shower. Then I grab one of the flexible desks in the open space, which are reserved for TUM students and commuters like me. Most of us come to Garching the average two days per week, so there is never a shortage of desks. Thanks to our Never Lunch Alone Matching Platform the chance is good I a going to meet with an interesting colleague later today. I love the excellent food freshly prepared in our Garching canteen. And the quality of our coffee is famous amongst the TUM students. Of course, food and drink are not the only reason for me to travel to Garching on a regular basis. But it helps. What counts for me most is that our new office is an inspiring place which invites us to share our ideas with others. Having a good discussion with a TUM professor, going out for a walk, discussing a prototype with my colleagues in one of the design thinking spaces - all this is possible in our new office.
Right, this isn't really a future scenario, but it doesn't resemble our typical office building either. I might be completely wrong, because I see only a tiny part of the big picture.
The trend forecaster Li Edelkoort recently wrote in an article that she is expecting a global recession and a "quarantine of consumption of a magnitude that has not been experienced before" where people get used to living with fewer possessions and travelling less. I really hope that the crisis won't hit us as hard, but she is right it might be just too expensive to build our new office on a field in Garching.
Peopleware a classic book about software development first published in 1987, contains a surprising insight: If you can you should move your team out of the corporate work space. Work conducted in an ad hoc space has more energy and a higher success rate.The quirky nature of their space helps your team to form an identity.
If we just copy-and-paste yet-another SAP building to the field leased by the free state of Bavaria we need not expect our new offices to have any impact on our own culture. You can't neglect the relevance of space. If we really want to start something on the green field we should think about necessary ingredients for an innovation culture. Curiosity and creativity are inspired by unfinished and undefined spaces, by precious materials which could be displaced and repurposed, and by the lack of established rules.