Can Germany’s innovation powerhouse kick the habit of small offices?

Germany invented the open office concept but is struggling to open up to new horizons in office design, according to a survey from the Gensler Research Institute

Sixty years after Germany pioneered the open office with its Burolandschaft concept, the German workplace is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of creating high-performance workplaces for innovation.

That is the key finding from a major new survey of German offices conducted by global architectural firm Gensler, which opened a new studio in Munich in 2018. According to Gensler’s research, there is a mismatch between Germany’s reputation as a polycentric powerhouse for innovation and a lack of innovation in the German workplace itself.

Low satisfaction rating

Germany prides itself on economic diversification and progress with a skilled workforce spread evenly across nine regional cities with populations up to one million and other small to medium-sized towns and cities. But employee satisfaction with the current German workplace is low, and Germany records the lowest score for balance in Gensler’s global workplace performance index, leaving it lagging behind all of its industrial competitors.

According to Philip Tidd, head of Gensler’s Munich office who launched the Gensler Research Institute’s Germany survey at the WORKTECH Munich 2019 conference, only one in four German workers report that they are in high-performance environments that balance focus and collaborative work. That means 13 million out of 18 million German office workers are placed in under-performing workplaces.

Unique cultural feature

Tidd attributes this result to a unique cultural feature of the German workplace: a continuing reliance on small, shared offices of two to six people (nearly half of all German workers currently work in them). More than half of German workers would prefer an open environment, as long as private spaces are available. At the WORKTECH Munich conference, Tidd called for a transformation in designing German offices which recaptures the pioneering spirit of Burolandschaft.

The Gensler report, which collected data from 2,250 German offices workers via an online survey, makes three recommendations: a new approach that maximises workplace effectiveness and experience; more open, collaborative spaces that balance different needs; and a more comprehensive strategy to prioritise employee wellbeing.

Will the German workplace, still a poster child for efficiency globally despite its dated appearance, be willing to make those changes? Philip Tidd is optimistic: ‘This is a hugely resourceful nation with an empowered, progressive workforce,’ he says.’Of course Germany will rise to the challenge.’

See Gensler’s Germany Workplace Survey 2019 here
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