How the New Meeting Place Came Into Being
Tell us honestly: what’s the purpose of offices these days, when remote working is all the rage?
Mitch: I put together the office concept, and Natalie and I took care of the design and furnishing of the offices. Since the coronavirus pandemic, every digitally run company has been asking whether or not it still needs offices. We noticed that we work very well remotely – whether in workshops and meetings or working together on documents and projects. So we did some in-depth research and, based on that, we created a concept for the next five to ten years. It was clear that traditional offices designed purely as a place for colleagues to do their work were a thing of the past. The future will be all about coming together, about dialogue – from a work-based as well as interpersonal perspective. This supports future working models. Colleagues see each other and clearly enjoy the contact. That’s one reason why the rooms are designed to be very open.
Alicia: We wanted to make sure that our colleagues were on board from day one of the project. Of course, that took some effort, but the project team was certain that without the employees, it would be difficult to implement an open space as a place for coming together. We presented the location, including the public transport connections. Minor decisions involved the type of air conditioning, for example, or the names of meeting rooms. Unic in Bern was keen to be involved in the design of the location, and even our remote-work devotees were keen to participate.
Natalie: The requirements for the project team were clearly defined. The new office shouldn’t just be ‘sexy’. In fact, while we were working on the concept, the attributes ‘cool’ and ‘cutting edge’ came up as well. We wanted to get away from the somewhat outdated image of the Eigerplatz office – and that’s what we did. The new meeting place in Bern not only represents what the company stands for. It is also stylish, offering all Unic staff a functional workspace with a contemporary feel.
The new meeting place in Bern not only represents what the company stands for. It is also stylish, offering all Unic staff a functional workspace with a contemporary feel.Natalie
Balancing Design and Functionality
How did you find the balance between functionality and design?
Mitch: It was definitely a balancing act between design and functionality. We didn’t just want to continue zooming in on the Unic purpose, ‘We Humanise the Digital’. Another important topic was ‘unfold your creativity’. In other words, the new offices should also inspire much more creativity in the future. So we knew how important creative space was and we were allowed to play around with that a bit in Bern. And although it sounds as if we just jumped right in, in reality, it was a difficult undertaking. We were faced with 900 square metres of empty space – it was a real greenfield project. For example, as well as meeting rooms for six to ten people, we had to create quiet spaces to suit every conceivable form of individuality. It was definitely a balancing act.
Another important topic was ‘unfold your creativity’Mitch
Alicia: At the beginning, we had support from an external consultant who helped us take off our ‘Unic glasses’ and see things from different perspectives. What size should each workspace be? How much space do you need for moving around? There were so many questions to consider before we could begin, and the answers formed the basis of Natalie and Mitch’s design work.
Natalie: In the end, the design work wasn’t too difficult. We focused on creating a living-room atmosphere where you can feel comfortable. So an environment that isn’t too sterile, that feels very inviting. For example, with a sofa that people like to sit on, or a creative colour concept that inspires them. Thanks to the holacratic organisation within Unic, we were very much able to do our own thing. We weren’t given a strict path to follow, and that had a positive effect on the team overall.
A Social and Work-Specific Meeting Place – Not Another Open-Plan Office
How did you implement the project to create a social meeting place?
Mitch: Design and finance skills, plus a project lead. Each of us definitely brought in our own expertise. A team that to this day has not paused to think about what we’ve actually let ourselves in for – in a positive sense. We had lots of ideas but didn’t know how to implement them. That didn’t matter because our external consultant supported all of us along a steep learning curve. Tips and insights were able to flow perfectly into our work.
Alicia: We took a trial-and-error approach to the project. Nothing was set in stone. We wanted to make the most of the freedom we’d been given, and when it came to the project, we didn’t accept any limitations. We needed to be able to modify things at any time, including trying out new ideas. It’s exciting because everything’s an experiment. Our colleagues first have to get used to it, also because there’s some expectation that we already have a completed product. But we’re actually still in the testing phase. Simply from the design point of view, countless things can continue to be improved and changed; just like in our digital customer projects. That’s the great thing about having done the planning and implementation ourselves – every change is triggered by us. It’s a great feeling.
We took a trial-and-error approach to the project. Nothing was set in stone. We wanted to make the most of the freedom we’d been given, and when it came to the project, we didn’t accept any limitations.Alicia
Mitch: We had a vision and, yes, we wanted to have it all! However, just like in customer projects, we had to take it step by step. We’ve laid the foundation and have an office that is fantastic, beautiful, contemporary and creative. And now we’re going into a test phase to see how it works for real. We’ll find out what works well in practice, and where there’s room for improvement. So it’s an exciting time for Unic Bern. We’ll know more in the next three, six or twelve months. Also because we are continually processing feedback and trying to make those improvements.
Work and Private Life – Now There’s Room for Both
What was particularly important to you personally during the planning?
Mitch: It was important to us to capture impressions and ideas from everywhere and integrate them into this project. Each of us has found inspiration somewhere, at some point, whether in our current role or a previous one. We also researched and investigated areas that had less to do with work. To sum up, we noticed how the crossover between social meeting place and workspace plays out at different touchpoints. In the future, work won’t just happen at your desk or in a meeting room.
Natalie: We planned the meeting spaces generously, with more than just a little corner for a microwave. All meeting areas are designed to have lots of space. It’s great to see that people are really using these zones to come together, whether for a chat, for lunch, or for drinks and nibbles.
Alicia: Work and social aspects – now there’s enough room for both. There’s still some rethinking required here. Not everyone is a fan of meetings on the sofa. Everyone has different needs, and our Unic colleagues are invited to use and test the different zones however they like. And of course, it’s not just about colleagues. We also invite customers, business partners and suppliers to come and live out their creativity. Like I said, using these new workspaces will certainly take a certain amount of rethinking and some time to adapt. And I’m not joking: customers now actually want to hold their workshops at our premises in Bern. Some of them have even started coming here once a week.
Mitch: That could be a way for us to make new business contacts. The idea is that, in the future, not only our customers, but also other companies will be able to book our fantastic meeting rooms – if they’re available, that is. And the area around our Bern office is also attractive. There are woods close by, and people can enjoy our inner courtyard. We and our neighbours plan to liven it up in the spring and summer. Our friendly neighbouring companies on the VIDMARplus site are not only happy to answer questions. They also provide additional space when required. And of course, there are some good restaurants just a few minutes’ walk from the office.
60 Different Individuals with Different Roles and Preferences
Were there particular topics that you focused on or are still focussing on? How about inclusion, for instance?
Alicia: When we were designing the offices, it was very important to us to take various requirements into account, including accessibility needs. One far-reaching decision, for example, was about carpets. It didn’t take long for us to agree that we didn’t want any carpet on the premises. This was because we wanted to keep the whole place wheelchair-accessible, and a carpet would have made things more difficult. Of course, we also made sure that we had wide doors, smooth flooring and accessible bathroom facilities.
Natalie: Although the Bern office is accessible in many ways, we treat accessibility as part of the whole, not as a separate issue. Every member of staff uses this infrastructure. For instance, a toilet for people with disabilities includes a shower, and can also be used by colleagues without accessibility needs – it’s a multifunctional room. We also needed to consider other requirements. There is a breastfeeding room where peace and quiet are ensured. It also provides privacy for pregnant colleagues who need to rest.
Alicia: Another topic in addition to bathroom facilities was health management. All staff have new, height-adjustable desks, plus a suitable chair. It was important to us that all colleagues should have the same working conditions. That, too, comes under inclusion.
The Unic Purpose Took a Central Role from the Very Beginning
What impact did the Unic purpose, ‘We Humanise the Digital’, have on the project?
Alicia: The whole project was implemented for our colleagues. That’s the humanising part. We considered their requirements, wishes and ideas and tried to implement most of them from the start. We focused on integration: health management, gender neutrality and wheelchair-accessibility. You can’t have more purpose than that! And the project showed everyone that the purpose is so deeply anchored, that what we’ve achieved couldn't have been done any other way.
Natalie: When working on customer projects, we use a human-centred design approach. You’ll find that in our Bern office, too. The focus is on people. We always think about what people need. I find it humanising that I can now see who’s in the office. I can take a relaxed walk around; I’m not fenced off. And to have a conversation I just need to take a few steps – with no need to open any doors.
Mitch: There’s a word for that: mindset. Having that mindset is very important. That’s why I try to maintain it with those around me every day, both at work and in private. That’s what ‘humanising’ means to me. Our mindset has an impact on that humanness, and that’s why we place it at the forefront. We want to show empathy. We see and are aware of each other. And something very new is that we now hear each other. These components flow into that mindset. You can already see and feel it.
Our mindset has an impact on that humanness, and that’s why we place it at the forefront. We see and are aware of each other. And something very new is that we now hear each other.Mitch
Natalie: I’m extremely grateful for the freedom we were given to achieve this. We were given a lot of trust, also because we were allowed to make all the design decisions ourselves. That’s why the three of us not only learned a lot from the project. We worked really well together as a team, and in the end, it was that that made us so effective.
Alicia: As a team, we could unquestionably see howHolacracysimplifies and speeds up projects. We were also organised in a very flexible way, which was an additional motivation. We were able to make decisions within the project and implement them swiftly. That wouldn’t be possible in traditional company structures.
Mitch: In the words of a famous American president, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” If you look at it like that, it’s a cool opportunity to do something for the company, for your colleagues – in other words, to develop and implement something that you identify with and can present proudly to the world.
Contact for your Digital Solution with Unic
Are you keen too discuss your digital tasks with us? We would be happy to exchange ideas with you: Jörg Nölke and Gerrit Taaks (from left to right).