New Work is on everyone’s lips. And the leading international consumer goods trade fair Ambiente will also be dedicating a separate area to the global megatrend from 2023 onwards. But what does “new work” actually mean for architecture, design and the product world? Peter Ippolito, architect and thought leader in the field of New Work, provides exciting answers in an interview.
Open office landscapes, chic furniture, high-quality coffee machines, table tennis tables – these are typical scenes that appear in our mind’s eye when we talk about “New Work”. But these images are quickly deceiving us about what this global megatrend is actually about. Because New Work is much more than just an optimised office landscape or well-humoured employees with laptops in cafés and parks.
New Work comes from freedom
But where does the idea of New Work actually come from? The term was coined by the German-American social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann, who sees New Work as a completely new way of working. In our global and digital world, Bergmann considers the old employment systems to be outdated. Instead, he assumes that it is freedom that can make a relevant contribution to the labour market in today’s society. Freedom in this context means that people can decide to do what they believe is really important. This creates the necessary genuine freedom of action. The core idea of New Work is therefore to create the space for creativity and self-realisation.
Peter Ippolito is a graduate engineer in architecture and managing partner of the Ippolito Fleitz Group GmbH. He and his partner Gunter Fleitz were the first German designers from the field of interior design to be inducted into the “Interior Design Hall of Fame”. His multidisciplinary design studio Ippolito Fleitz Group gained worldwide attention through its interior architecture, communication and product design projects as well as awards such as iF Gold, Red Dot and ADC Awards.
Mr. Ippolito, New Work is on everyone’s lips, but it means much more than WLAN, a sofa corner and a ping-pong table in the office. When is a New Work project a “real” New Work project?
We are not so much concerned with whether it is real or not. New Work is rather a collective term that allows us to find a language. We understand New Work as a fundamental conception of work based on a completely different idea of leadership and communication – for example away from a classic top-down hierarchy towards horizontal work with greater personal responsibility. This new view naturally has profound consequences for companies, ranging from processes to team composition and organisation to space design.
You talk about the office landscape in New Work being only the visible tip of the iceberg. What do you mean by that?
We humans always need icons, for example something concretely visible, so that something becomes really comprehensible or real. With New Work, it can be things like the assembly hall or arena that I build as a company, or other insignia of the new way of working. But that is not New Work. New Work only makes sense if the process for it comes out of the inner core of the company itself. That means: organisation, leadership culture, communication culture, processes, tools and – as the visible tip of the iceberg – spatial design together make up New Work. If this entire chain is not thought of in a unified way, the new has little chance of being successful. Because we all have a very sensitive radar for whether things are coherent. This means that the fancy arena, the comfortable armchair or the hip swing are of no use to me if I don’t want to sit in it. In other words: New Work can only work if what I see in the room is a mirror of what is lived as culture in the company.
Frithjof Bergmann, as already mentioned, is considered the founder of New Work. He talks about creating space for creativity and self-realisation. What does a workplace have to look like for New Work to work?
The reason for going to the office today must be that I would like to go there. This change in thinking – from having to go to wanting to go – is an immense lever for the changed view of work. The office has to do much more than organise workplaces. New Work means understanding the office as a place where the values and the sense of purpose of the respective company can be experienced. It is about identity and purpose, and thus about central themes such as appropriation, further development, visibility and perception – and of course about exchange and creativity. These are all just buzzwords for now, which each corporate culture has to translate individually for itself. If this identity manifests itself in the spatial concept, then that is exactly what we can understand as a successful office today.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of home office and free choice of workplace underwent a real stress test worldwide. Over time, disillusionment was mixed in with the initial euphoria. In the meantime, many people are returning to the office, either completely or partially. But it is not really the same as before. Why is that?
In these turbulent times, we got a taste of freedom that has taken us a bit out of the traditional and moulded ideas of work. We feel that now as it’s time to return to the office. On the other hand, what we have experienced in the last two years is nothing really new, but all issues we have known and discussed for a long time. COVID-19 came at a time when many things were already technologically possible. But the moment of liberation that many people felt at the beginning was captured by a reality in which, for example, I have to work with two children at the same kitchen table – and the elation of freedom gives way quite quickly to the organisation of my everyday chaos.
Which is better: working at the office or from home?
I don’t think the discussion about whether working at the office or from home needs to be had at all. What we have learned is that very many working options can be valid. These are linked to the new technical possibilities and, of course, to the ever-evolving ideas of how I live and travel as a human being. In the future, we will experience work as much more permeable and fluid. It will change depending on what I am working on, how and with whom. One of the big challenges is hybrid working, which will certainly be a big part of future collaboration. Solutions like Campfire events are already common. But here, too, there will certainly be new typologies and approaches.
How does the function of the office change?
The centrifugal forces are very high. Technically, I can work from anywhere. For this very reason, it will be very important to constantly renegotiate the question of why I am with this company and why we belong together? In my opinion, this is the core task of today’s office.
Many companies continue to offer their employees the opportunity to work from home, either in whole or in part. So the professional sphere continues to conquer the private sphere and with it kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, and dining rooms. How is this work-life blending changing interior design?
The home will have to evolve a lot. Especially in the city, we have made flats smaller and smaller because space is becoming more expensive. Usually a study is no longer even a feature here. That’s why we need a new intelligence in floor plans and furniture. This is also necessary so that I don’t see my work in my private space first and last thing in the day. The issue of ergonomics, for example, will also have to be looked at in a new way. After 30 years of trade unions fighting for healthy workplaces, we are now all sitting at the kitchen table on wooden stools. That cannot be. Not only do we need product solutions, but we also need to discuss how subsidies might help here. Overall, we will move into hybrid uses in many areas. This ranges from urban development with the now outdated separation of residential and retail to our flats, where the study will not return for lack of space alone. Rather, we will discover floor plans and furnishings that we can transform, that can do several things at the same time and with which I can also hide my work to a certain extent.
Is there the one perfect New Work solution?
One thing we will certainly have to get used to is that there is no one truth. Anything goes and the solutions are very individual. There will be companies that no longer exist physically at all, there will be companies that function extremely decentrally with many locations and there will continue to be new headquarters. We will find a lot in between, such as all these hybrid models, but also the hubs or shared offices. With our office, we are currently working on several large projects in this area, which is very exciting. Because through this permeability, when several people from different spheres meet, cross-fertilisation takes place on several levels.
For your large international projects, you work with many different manufacturers from various sectors. How and where do you find the right partners for the realisation?
We have our networks, of course, but trade fairs are always a good place to meet partners who may not yet be on our radar. In my opinion, it’s important that trade fairs don’t just show products, but that they deal with topics, that they provide inspiration, create space for immersion and encounters. Because that is what we really need: Encounter and direct exchange with other people. Large international trade fairs like Ambiente are perfect instruments for this. New Work is a global phenomenon and we are conducting a global debate. There is no substitute for intercultural exchange – that is looking at the same subject from different perspectives.
The contract business has always been an important area at Ambiente. Now the New Work theme is being expanded. What makes exhibitors New Work exhibitors for you?
For me, they are suppliers who not only show a smart product, but also manage to enter into a conversation about solutions – in the awareness that products are always part of processes and solution chains. This certainly means a rethink for exhibitors towards presentations that reflect their identity. The same applies here as to the working worlds we want to design: I have to feel that it is important for a company to express itself. Such an attractive presentation is then also an invitation to an attractive conversation.
You are at many events around the world. What do you associate with Ambiente in Frankfurt?
First of all, its diversity. Ambiente offers a wide range of themes from Dining to Living to Giving and now and brand new also Working – in other words, just like life is. And that is what makes it so extremely exciting. After all, we are moving less and less in categories and more in fluid contexts. And Ambiente is a good platform for thinking about this: cross-seeing, cross-categories, exchange. That is what Ambiente, which is one of the most important fairs in this field, is all about.
Order is half the battle
From 2023, Ambiente will add the theme of New Work to its great diversity. A preview of the new area shows that forward-looking concepts such as mobility, flexibility, hybrid and collaborative working are already strongly shaping the way we live and work. In line with Ippolito’s approach, there are solutions that can be used by employees without much effort. Durable, for example, follows such a low-threshold approach with the “Coworksation®” for presentations, video conferences and hybrid working in small teams. Cables, remote controls and other accessories are always at hand in the extra compartment. In this way, the slim multimedia trolley brings teams together wherever it suits them and enables highly flexible use of space.
Work life blending – when the home becomes the office
The company is thus addressing a trend that has also received a real boost from the pandemic: working from home. Within a few days, kitchens, basements, living rooms and children’s rooms around the world were converted into temporary workspaces. Now that it is clear that many people will continue to work from home, the need for permanent and thus also ergonomic solutions is increasing. This includes, for example, the document shredder from HP (distributed by Go Europe) for the workspace at home.
Especially in urban environments, where the number of rooms is often limited, life blending – the interweaving of professional and private spheres – requires the intelligence of the furniture thematised by Peter Ippolito. Strong approaches to this come not only from classic office furniture manufacturers, but also increasingly from traditional brands such as Lambert. The “Modesto” secretary, for example, combines a smart space-saving concept with the current Japandi style: ultra-flat drawers and small castors on the legs turn the minimalist secretary into a highly flexible mini-office. Clean desks are provided by organisers such as the sophisticated classic “Leo” by Werkhaus, whose pleasant wooden feel provides an analogue and homely counterpoint to the digital world of work.
Handwriting for creative freedom
And this is also a perceptible phenomenon: while the world of work is becoming increasingly digital, cultural techniques such as handwriting are celebrating their renaissance. Not without reason: knowledge workers benefit from manual work on many levels: Handwriting activates more than 30 muscles and 17 joints as well as twelve areas of the brain – which has been proven to promote creativity and concentration.
In this environment, brands like Kaweco offer writing instruments for many functions in striking colours and designs. The spectrum ranges from fountain pens and touch pens to travel cases made of genuine leather. A strong expression of personality are the hand-engraved unique pieces from the Waldmann manufactory with their “Viennese pattern”, which only very few master engravers still master. Beautiful and pragmatic timers and notebooks such as Storage.it (Marks’) and Cedon, but also the stylish pencils by Zötzl or the Follow-the-Sky rulers by Legami, which make you want to travel again, provide the individual touch for note-taking, scribbling and organising.
The new cosiness
And of course, working from home offers numerous ways to make yourself comfortable while working. The spectrum ranges from design slippers (Subu Concept) to cute neck warmers (Leschi) to prevent neck strain at the computer screen to the mobile laptop holder (Tufetto), which turns every table into a standing desk. All the important things are at hand in the “Things” storage compartment (Trendform) and the pop-art screen glasses from Luxopt ensure a good face during the video call, which are then protected in style by the “Mondriaan” glasses case with matching cleaning cloth (Bekking & Blitz). And if you can’t stand being at home, pack your backpack (Freibeutler/Distribution Mark’s Europe) and take your “Office to Go” to the nearest café.
Co-Working & Community
Because one thing is also clear: be it the lack of space or ergonomics: not all people can or want to work within their own four walls. One remedy for this is co-working spaces, which, by the way, offer more than just a pleasant workplace beyond the home office. Pioneers like the Dutch provider “Spaces” pursue a community idea with their concepts, in which creative and knowledge workers network in an interdisciplinary way. Similar to the new office landscapes described by Peter Ippolito, the temporary office becomes a platform for communication, collaboration and social exchange. In this way, they address not only start-ups, freelancers and home workers with warehouse fever. More and more large companies are also using co-working spaces to test new space design concepts.
The many co-working cafés function at an even lower level. In this area, the hotel industry has been following suit for some time. This is also the case with the 25 Hours Hotel The Circle in Cologne, which opened in 2018 and whose design playfully reinterprets the technical utopias of the 50s and 60s. In this special atmosphere, the co-working café, as a link between the hotel lobby and the conference area, invites hotel guests and locals to collaborate. Among other things, the spot offers meeting hats for smaller groups and “work capsules” for phone calls. On the upper floors, the meeting rooms continue the idea of New Work: with flexible islands for creative breakouts, room dividers and a central foyer with a vital meeting place with classic arcade gaming machines for mental time-out.
Title: SOHO 3Q WuJiaoChang | © CreatAR Image