It’s more than a year since the ADAC moved its operations to new premises. Now, every morning, its employees set off with their mobile desk storage units to choose where they want to sit that particular day. Because the 2,500 personnel who work at ADAC headquarters − including some 300 IT staff − no longer have a desk that is assigned to them personally. And there are no exceptions to the rule, even for employees who have been with the company for twenty years or more.
Most work in the areas marked yellow on Weinrauch’s A3-sized seating plan. These are airy, open-plan offices with height-adjustable desks. There is also a scattering of “cockpits” (marked green), which are small, single-desk offices reserved for important phone calls and quiet concentration. Even in the control room for the ADAC’s two in-house data centers, employees are free to choose where they sit. The only people who have individual offices (marked in blue) are managers, although these are also used by other people when managers are on vacation or out of the office.
Promoting the “new, flexible approach”
The idea for this flexible way of working was put forward by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation (Fraunhofer IAO) in a project entitled “Office 21”: They refer to this approach as mobile, flexible, and local. But what does that mean in practice? For Weinrauch, it refers, first and foremost, to a “new, flexible way of thinking” that he hopes his employees will adopt. Colleagues do not have far to go if they want to discuss something in person – which means better face-to-face communication. There are generally also places free for freelancers who want to come into the office and work alongside regular employees. “We designed for an occupancy rate of 85%,” says Weinrauch. “There are always people away on business trips, on vacation, or off sick – so we still have a buffer to accommodate external people who come in to the office to work on specific projects.” Another advantage is that reorganizations and project-related re-groupings are much easier to manage than before. “You no longer have all the hassle of shifting office furniture and re-routing telephones,” he says.
The Fraunhofer IAO, based in Stuttgart, Germany, has pinpointed four major trends that describe the future of the working environment and that are being applied by the ADAC:
1. “The volatility of global supply and demand markets is forcing companies and their employees to show a high degree of flexibility. Product life cycles are getting shorter, and innovation cycles faster.”
In addition to its core business of providing vehicle breakdown cover and related services to more than 18 million members, the ADAC also sells holidays, travel guides, and hiking maps, and develops apps. The company’s mobile digital portfolio currently includes approximately 80 apps. One of these, a navigation app, helps ADAC members avoid traffic jams by automatically sending data about the user’s location and speed from his or her smartphone or tablet to the ADAC’s central traffic newsroom.
2. “Demographic change and a new self-confidence among skilled professionals are causing the balance of power to shift in internal job markets.”
IT experts know their value on the job market. Frequently, applicants whose experience and skills make them ideal candidates for a particular job are not aged 30 or thereabouts – as the potential employer might have hoped – but are over 50. The ADAC operates an HR policy that is based on promoting a mixture of younger and more mature employees.
3. “Technological innovations mean that employees are no longer tied to specific locations, working times, and tasks.”
ADAC employees all have their own laptops and can work from home if necessary. However, Weinrauch − like Yahoo president and CEO, Marissa Mayer − sees office presence as being vital to collaboration, because, he explains, “IT people have a particular tendency to talk too little rather than too much.” He would therefore like employees to be able to benefit as much as possible from the information that gets passed around when they work side by side in an office. The ADAC’s motto is therefore, “We’re as flexible as it makes sense for us to be.”
4. “Intelligent life beyond the workplace. We can bring flexibility to the working world of the future.”
More and more people are starting to see their leisure time and hobbies as vital antidotes to the stresses and strains of their everyday working lives. And they are naming this as a priority to their employers. Around 15% of personnel in the ADAC’s IT department currently work part-time. If the researchers from Fraunhofer IAO are right, this proportion is set to rise rather than fall.
Recruiting young and old
There is no doubt that the kind of flexibility the ADAC is asking its employees to provide as part of the Office 21 project will take some getting used to. But the company is demonstrating a strong flexible streak too – namely in its selection criteria for new recruits. “The idea that your search should be limited to finding the “ideal candidate” on the job market is a very German one,” says Weinrauch, who plans to recruit 20 new employees in 2013. His past appointments include an IT consulting who, at 59, would probably have been classified by the employment office as “unemployable” − purely on the grounds of age. “When you employ young professionals, you have to accept that they’ll want to move on in about three to five years,” says Weinrauch. “Somebody who joins the company at the age of around 50 is likely to stay much longer.” Also, people with experience often have a better idea of what they’re doing. “How does it benefit me if a younger employee is fast, but goes dashing off in completely the wrong direction because he or she can’t see the big picture? The important thing is to get the right mixture of young and old,” he concludes.