In the BI CUBE, employees are cutting out paper figures, writing on whiteboards and sticking up notes on the walls.
at one desk
The digital transformation is changing the world of work. Speed and lateral thinking are needed, partnership and communication are desired. And so offices are changing – in Ingelheim and Biberach, Lyon, Vienna, and in Ridgefield. With the BI CUBE at the company headquarters, agile working even has a place of its own.
Anyone who crosses the campus in Ingelheim cannot fail to notice the new white building beside the canteen: the BI CUBE looks like a UFO, oval-shaped with a flat roof and dark windows. However, there is nothing spaceship-like about the interior. On the contrary, it smells of new wood, and the hall is a landscape of sofas with large cushions and coffee tables. A glass front is all that separates the living-room cosiness in the corridor from the bustling activity in the three work rooms. The glass panes provide a clear view of employees who are cutting out paper figures, writing on whiteboards and sticking up notes on the walls.
The BI CUBE is a place for alternative working: agile and without hierarchies. Boehringer Ingelheim employees share their thoughts, give each other feedback and build on ideas – and thanks to agile methods like scrum and design thinking, they manage to do all of this within the shortest of times. The BI CUBE has a total area of 700 square metres and is equipped with everything needed to support creative working: writable walls, movable furniture, art supplies. If anyone needs more space, the three conference rooms can be quickly turned into a single large one. “Conventional meetings with PowerPoint battles don’t exist here,” explains Dr Andrea Kreißelmeier, one of some 30 Agile Facilitators at Boehringer Ingelheim. She helps her colleagues to apply agile methods.
The BI CUBE is currently the most visionary building at the company headquarters in Ingelheim – indeed, within the entire Group. It is the expression of a new form of working, since digitalisation is changing processes, approaches and concepts. Smart working is the key word here: “Market development times are getting shorter and shorter, competition more intense, and customers’ needs are continuously changing,” says Kreißelmeier. What is in demand today could well be obsolete tomorrow. “Companies can simply no longer afford to brood over an idea for years.” Like all other companies in the healthcare sector, Boehringer Ingelheim therefore needs shorter channels and flatter hierarchies, and lateral thinkers.
After all, the company has long been competing with more than just other pharmaceutical companies. Large technology companies like Apple, Google and Amazon have also entered the race for healthcare technologies. It is not just about customers here, but also about employee recruitment: digital talent itself is needed everywhere. Collaboration, autonomy and transparency are what they want. For this reason, too, new ways of thinking and innovative approaches are required. Quite simply, alternative working is highly attractive - that applies both to the recruitment of new talent and to existing employees.
The BI CUBE is to be an incubator for the new way of thinking. The architecture and room concept are based on numerous lessons that Boehringer Ingelheim has learned in recent years at various facilities, including the Ridgefield site in the US, the former Merial facility in Lyon and Biberach. The employees at these locations are already practising the “smart working” concept. The basic premise is a flexible work environment rather than individual offices and long corridors. “We are providing answers to the changing digital world by creating an inspiring work environment,” says Uta Dotzauer, Head of Corporate Real Estate. “We understand that in the new digital world, a home for personal collaboration and communication is still required to fill the rapid digital transformation with life.”
The employees in Ridgefield have been practising the concept for five years now. Instead of working in enclosed offices, they work, inter alia, at desk islands in an open space. For meetings, they withdraw to the rooms specifically created for this purpose. Much of the work is done digitally: every employee has a notebook, headset, mobile phone and Skype access. Stacks of paper? Not here! The advantage is that the employees can theoretically work from any facility. Their computer automatically connects to the Wi-Fi, and off they go. In short, the staff members from Ridgefield are at home anywhere in the world of Boehringer Ingelheim.
In spite of digital tools, however, the employees there today communicate more with each other. This was different when there were still individual offices, recalls Benedikt Kraus, Head of the Infrastructure, Safety, Environment and Engineering (ISEE) department in France: “Even if the doors were open, there was still this barrier. As a result of the new workplace concept, the staff members automatically talk to each other more – and we want to encourage that.” As Kraus knows, open work spaces encourage collaboration. Interaction and communication give rise to new ideas. In the end, that ensures greater productivity.
“We are increasingly switching areas to smart working, creating a new way of thinking, a digital pioneering spirit.”
Dr Andreas Neumann,
Member of the Board of Managing Directors with responsibility for Human Resources
Everything from scratch
When Boehringer Ingelheim acquired Merial – the animal health business of the French pharmaceutical group Sanofi – at the end of 2016, it provided the company with a major opportunity: the old Merial building in the southern French city of Lyon was no longer fit for purpose, and something new had to be created. As a result, the architects were able to think innovatively. The result was the Boreal building, the first Boehringer property designed for smart working from top to bottom. “We quickly realised in Ridgefield that we were only able to modify rooms to a certain extent,” says Kraus, who has been in charge of the ISEE department in Lyon since June 2018. “We took advantage of the opportunity here to design the entire building in line with the new way of working.”
Whether they are a trainee or a manager, all 750 employees in Lyon practise the “smart working” concept. Each floor consists of various zones: The centrepiece is the Community Center, with beverage dispensers and lounge furniture, where staff can drink a coffee together and chat to each other. According to French Head of Animal Health, Erick Lelouche, this is an advantage: “I got talking to more people in the first few weeks here than in all the months in the old building.” The work rooms are divided into clusters. An average of 20 people work in each cluster, and the desks are arranged in both small and big island formations. If someone does not want to be disturbed, they can withdraw to the focus rooms. In addition, each floor has several phone booths and conference rooms. The core of the smart working concept is that nobody has a fixed workstation, but each employee has different options for working so that they are optimally supported in their current work. The employees clear their desks at the end of every day. Everyone has a grey basket and a designated locker for their belongings.
The concept is popular with the employees: “Although I work at a different desk each day, all of our team members sit near each other, so we can communicate more quickly,” says Mathieu Condette, an employee in the ISEE department. “The physical proximity supports our way of working.” Condette is one of the few who still use pen and paper. However this usually creates duplicate work for him, as he admits: He regularly scans all his documents. “I then have to carry less stuff around with me,” says the 38-year-old.
“I got talking to more people in the first few weeks here than in all the months in the old building.”
Learning from experience
The open office spaces also took a while to get used to. The employees had to learn how to talk normally in a large room: “The employees were almost too quiet out of consideration for their colleagues,” says Head of Animal Health, Lelouche. So the managers led by example and encouraged the staff members to engage in more conversation. The initial difficulties have since been overcome: the employees talk to each other and make jokes. They move back and forth between the individual zones, sometimes with their notebooks, sometimes without.
“When we first presented the idea of the D125, the employees were skeptical. But most of them cannot imagine having their individual offices now.”
Bosses get involved
Boehringer Ingelheim staff members in Biberach have also been using the smart working concept since May 2018, in building D125 – the place where much of what was learned in Ridgefield and Lyon has been incorporated. As is the case with Boreal, there are various room zones in D125, including for co-working, concentrated working and meetings. The “clusters” in Lyon are called “neighbourhoods” in Biberach: there are a total of ten units – including IT, biopharmaceuticals and R&D – each with around 70 staff members. Nobody has a fixed desk here either. “When we first presented the idea of D125, the employees were sceptical,” recalls Sandra Laegner, Head of the German Center of Expertise in Human Resources. “But most of them cannot imagine having individual offices now.”
Many people are curious about the new buildings: The project rooms in the BI CUBE in Ingelheim are usually booked out. In Lyon, staff members regularly visit from other facilities. There is a lot going on in Biberach, too: “We recently had an open day, and the place was packed with visitors,” says Laegner. The Deputy Head of HR firmly believes that smart working is increasing Boehringer Ingelheim’s attractiveness as an employer. “Employees can work without problems at any facilities. A lot of things are digital, and use of the rooms is flexible.”
The company is now increasingly switching areas to smart working – for example, the VGN administration building, now under construction on the Ingelheim campus. The changes are about nothing less than a new way of thinking, a digital pioneering spirit. And that simply will not happen behind the closed doors of individual offices.