A new building at SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, exemplifies the company’s push to inspire, empower and enable five generations of employees to innovate under a single roof.
Even a child knows that every building is constructed from the bottom up, starting with a sound foundation so it can stand strong and tall. When it comes to the workspaces in a structure, however, design is mostly decided top-down, by people who are paying more attention to the bottom line than the resulting working environment.
Innovation Needs a Home
The result is all too familiar to today’s knowledge workers: open floor plans, cookie-cutter cubicles, unimaginative meeting rooms and lack of sunlight or fresh air. At best, such workspaces hinder employees from unleashing their creative potential; at worst, they lead to total disengagement their teams and environments.
But there is hope. Companies in the tech industry understand that the workspace must support the task and can significantly improve worker creativity. Said in another way, a creative architecture supports creative work and creative work needs a creative architecture – a concept that was further developed by Stanford’s d.school on the initiative of SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner. The trend has so far been led by a few Silicon Valley based software companies, which are experimenting with workplace design and its influence on engagement, creativity, and innovation.
The demands on employees and teams have changed. Agile software development in collaborative teams of 10 with rapid delivery cycles for the cloud requires a different setup than the monolithic software projects of yesteryear, where program modules were joined together for major software deliveries every six to 12 months.
Add to this the expectations of a new generation of employees. Millennials are currently the darlings of the tech industry – in high demand and short supply.
Enabling Concentration, Collaboration, Creation, Communication
“Wherever the opportunity presents itself, we are working on new office spaces to enable employees to work more flexibly and unleash their creative potential,” says Peter Rasper, head of Global Finance Infrastructure at SAP. New workspace concepts are evident in a host of recent new building projects, for example at SAP Labs in Hungary, India, Israel, South Korea, Brazil, and now Walldorf.
According to Rasper, the challenges “are big because we have to balance the demands of many company stakeholders, our purpose, and the limitations of capacity.” In a global company with a diverse and mature workforce employing five generations, one size doesn’t fit all: “We have to adapt to the local environment, whether specific to culture, line-of-business, or generational expectations,” Rasper explains. And renovating existing buildings has limitations, as many employees can readily testify. Costs is often a limiting factor in realizing newer workspace concepts.
Rasper views his team as change agents, enabling employees with the necessary workspaces to support SAP’s customers in their own transformations. In this respect, his team is challenged with anticipating the current and future needs of internal stakeholders. “We at Global Finance Infrastructure are supporting this because we want employees to be able to focus on their core activities by providing the right infrastructure in terms of buildings, processes, shared services, procurement, etc.”
The common denominator, or credo, according to which Rasper’s team approaches new building projects, is to enable the “four Cs”: concentration, collaboration, creation, and communication. Rasper’s team is currently managing new building or expansion projects in 12 countries from all regions.
Building 49: Symbol of Growth and Transformation
A new five-story building adjacent to buildings 1 and 3 at SAP’s headquarters in Walldorf is representative for the company’s own transformation.
“WDF49 and the other Walldorf construction projects are a statement about how we will work in the future and exemplify of our growth everywhere in the world,” claims Rasper.
Clas Neumann, head of SAP Labs Network, agrees: “Just as WDF49 fosters innovation among employees based in Walldorf, many of the worldwide network of 20 SAP Labs are currently expanding and modernizing to help the development community better support the digital transformations of our customers.”
When completed in early 2019, building 49 will house 700 employees. It is the first SAP building with a split-level architecture, which makes it more transparent, open, and collaborative. A full glass front will allow sunlight to enter the building from all sides and air shafts piercing every floor will strengthen the feeling of being open and connected to the outside world, yet protected.
Building 49 at a Glance
Capacity: Workspaces for 700 employees
Number of floors: Section A has a basement, ground level plus four levels and section B has a basement, ground level plus five levels
Office area: Approximately 15,000 square meters
Construction period: February 2017 – December 2018
Construction type: Reinforced concrete structure
Materials: Steel: 1,700 tons; Concrete 12,000 cubic meters
Bridges: Two (between sections A and B and between section B and building 3, both on level 2)
Matthias Grimm, head of Global Real Estate and Facilities, whose team is responsible for the construction of building 49, involved SAP employees from five generations in the design phase of the project.
“We are involving employees in all large projects across the world,” says Grimm. “We’ve organized workshops together with those who will work in the building, but we also include other stakeholders like the local Works Council, IT Services, Security, and Safety. If you bring all the stakeholder requirements together, I think it is possible to create a great end result.”
“Design Defines How We Work”
Michael Augsburger led the workshops with representatives of teams that aspire to make Building 49 their new home. Augsburger, who is the COO of SAP Design in the Products & Innovation organization, is intimately familiar with the requirements of development teams. He was also involved in the design concept of other collaborative spaces, namely the AppHaus locations in Palo Alto, Heidelberg, and Seoul.
Augsburger takes a broad view of the topic of design: “Design defines how we work, and how we build the best solutions for our customers. You need a certain environment and atmosphere, because it helps to achieve the best solution for the problem.”
Over his 25 years at SAP, Augsburger has observed an evolution in the way employees work toward short- to medium-term projects. But with five generations of SAP employees now working under one roof, his goal was to reflect the entire spectrum of working styles in building 49. Not an easy task, because interests and expectations can collide and future needs also had to be considered. The requirements therefore include as much flexibility as possible, under the cost restraints, to support different styles of working.
Representatives of the teams who wish to work in building 49 were invited to workshops to discuss their requirements, but demand is higher than space available. In the end, it will come down to a lottery. Augsburger, optimistic that the building will deliver the features that the employees need to be both creative and productive. There will not only be team spaces where collaboration can take place, but “think tanks” and “micro-meeting spaces” where employees or teams can focus intensively on a specific task without being disrupted, and “phone booths” for individuals to block out all distractions.
Space for Serendipitous Encounters
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the building is the large ratio of space not allocated to individual teams – about 30%. The idea behind the open spaces is to foster communication by enabling ad hoc meetings – without any agenda. Steve Jobs believed that creativity comes from random encounters, and this has become a mantra for many tech companies that aspire to maintain a startup culture. Each floor in building 49 will have an open staircase on where employees can meet informally.
But the new space ratio also means the introduction of the idea of “flexible workspace.” Employees across all generations occasionally work from home, are in meetings, on training courses, at conferences or at a customer site, not to mention holidays and sick days that impact every employee’s office presence. This typically leads to a lot of unused workspace, says Augsburger. “It often comes down to your personality, your role, and the generation you belong to. Some people see themselves more as ‘digital nomads’ with less need for a fixed desk.”
“We Can Compete with the Googles and Facebooks”
Although the tech industry, including SAP, is leading the way in fostering innovation through workplace design, it appears to be more of an art than a science, and companies are still experimenting with different designs. “There’s no silver bullet,” says Augsburger.
What many companies appear to agree on, however, is that attractive workspaces attract the best talents. Matthias Grimm and Michael Augsburger are convinced that SAP is making a big step forward with its recent building projects at SAP Labs locations worldwide. “We can compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world, and I’m looking forward to upcoming projects,” says Augsburger.
Kerstin Seefeldt, Carolin Stieber, and Daniela Rasch also contributed to this story.