The Column. Eike Becker: "Post Corona Office", published in Immobilienwirtschaft 11/2021

The Column. Eike Becker: "Post Corona Office", published in Immobilienwirtschaft 11/2021

Post Corona Office

After the experience of three lockdowns, and with the second Corona winter ahead of us, "Expo Real" has just taken place again. Without me. The idea of getting on a plane and over three days and nights celebrating the all too familiar rituals together with thousands of other masked contemporaries in a confined space was not appealing. I am out.

Is everything back to the way it was before Corona? Getting up in the morning, rushing to the airport, taking off, then landing far away, then meeting, meeting, meeting, and then back again, to stagger late in the evening to my little bed at home.

Sure, the real estate industry has raced inexorably through the pandemic like a freight train with a snowplow. Was there something? And on it goes. "The new normal is the old normal." One trip around the world and we're back at the beginning. Have we learned nothing from this pandemic circumnavigation? Are we happy again now to have arrived where we started?

In the real estate industry, all too many Corona findings are still unknown. Changes are already being made fun of again. In many places the Home-Office is being declared as a failed idea, and personal presence at project meetings is again being demanded more frequently.

I can't believe that such regressions can be successful.

Of course, it is still too early to make a final assessment. But I have just sat down and made a note of what has changed for me and my small team over the past two years as a result of the pandemic. Nothing individually is spectacular, in fact nothing particularly worth mentioning. But it seems useful to me to illustrate, by means of this example, how far we have come from our starting position pre-Corona. To return there would be a loss. And to continue from here, a win.

It became clear to me, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, that successful change rarely comes exclusively from the top. That's why we had a lot of discussions. With everyone who wanted to. After all, health issues affect everyone personally. Also, the situation was so new that no one could draw on their own experience. The fresh view and the joint thinking and decision-making simply worked better. 

It's not that easy to discuss things in this way. That's why we first practiced in communication workshops. After some initial self-experimentation, we got ourselves some help. Sabrina Eilers did exercises with us and taught us how to use conflicts to become better. How we can make our positions clear in a more peaceful and friendly way without hurting others. And how to formulate and implement aspirations that convey our ideas of mindful and smart project work to the outside world: to clients and to engineers.

Decentralized work has led us to regular conversation formats that bring us together. I now enjoy our morning joint "Cortado," the daily morning café for all at 10:00. Or our "Salute Matador" on Fridays with drinks and nibbles at the bar. Our "Entre Nous", a monthly discussion on urban political topics, also attracts a lot of interest from employees.

Through these social formats, we have come together better: This has led to the creation of working groups that independently advance our big themes: Sustainability (we are becoming carbon neutral), Design (who, what, when, how), Innovation (everything that makes us better), Qualities (knowledge always where it is needed), Education (technical knowledge, social skills, personality) and Well-Being (celebrations, bikes, monthly passes, lunch, etc.). The results of the working groups are brought every six weeks to the 'Governance Meeting' for decision. Everything 'that does not harm us' is decided after a short discussion without a vote and is implemented. In this way, we do not end up with the lowest common denominator, but foster courage through decisions.

In the meantime, we have strengthened the management team with five great associates, completed the digitalization of the accounting department, and networked the tax office with banking, human resources, and controlling. BIM is established in all project teams. Using Revit/Navesworks, clients can rotate, turn and walk through our virtual models, and very practically comment on them directly there. Plans have thus become superfluous. We also have plants in the office now and fair trade coffee beans. And a water tap, with an environmentally friendly filter upstream that eliminates the need for water bottles in crates.

Since August 2021, we have also been working on setting up the EB_Academy, which supports project architects and anyone who wants to become one to learn and try out hard and soft skills.

An internal communication platform also works wonders, and an internal newsletter reports on news in the office so that we don't forget the small successes amid all the big challenges.

Many small steps, which however in total produce their effect.

Some things didn't work out: If half of the colleagues work at home, too many management tasks are left to those who are in the office. Or if there are far fewer colleagues in the office on Mondays and Fridays than on Wednesdays and Thursdays, this can also put a strain on a good idea.

We also got stuck at various points. We couldn't get any further without outside help, so we called in consultants. This happened with the reorganization of our folder structure (how great when everyone can find everything again) and the standardization of our documents (then everyone can write letters, reports, charts and presentations correctly), with further education, tax reorganization or the path to CO2 neutrality. We are architects and not experts in these topics. Change has to be fun. And that only works if it happens quickly. When decisions are made and then implemented quickly. Otherwise there is boredom and frustration, and we don't need that at all.

I love coming to our office. From the 15th floor, the view over the city, even in the dreary Berlin winter, is a promise of vastness and the world. It's nice to watch an approaching rain front or the moment when the sun bursts out again and bathes the city's western facades in warm evening light. I love to sit down at my desk and design. Currently a city quarter in Waldenburg, a high-rise in Offenbach, a wood hybrid building in Berlin, an entrée in Frankfurt, facade details in Hamburg or a door handle.

I love my work as a planner, architect and designer. And I love the hustle and bustle of working with people, some of whom I have been together with for years.

We are currently working on 20 projects in 10 cities, with 60 architects from 19 nations spread over 4 locations, and together with 100 engineers. It was not very different before the pandemic. Only more chaotic and less transparent. We made much worse use of our opportunities to make decisions. Now we want to become climate-neutral as an office, build our academy, submit digital models as building applications, and build beautiful, wood-hybrid high-rises without chimneys.

Would we wish for a return to the good old days before the pandemic? No way! They don't exist anymore.

Photo / Graphics: Eike Becker_Architekten