Centers of excellence are not a new concept, at least in the fields of government and healthcare. These spaces, whether physical or virtual, operate as accelerators for solving particular challenges, be they a particular disease or a specific policy issue. But a series of new facilities from Germany-based construction and real estate consultancy Drees & Sommer is looking to expand a similar concept to the property industry. The company’s innovation hubs, located in several German cities as well as Dubai, are meant to serve as collaborative engines for both the firm itself and affiliated organizations while showcasing modern building technologies such as IoT, sensor networks, and smartphone building access. One particular innovation hub, located in Stuttgart and launched in January 2019 in a renovated bookbinding plant, recently opened its doors for tours led by the firm’s leadership.
“I can’t believe that in some offices we’re still working as we did the last 40 years,” said Steffen Szeidl, Executive Board member for Drees & Sommer. “In many ways, the innovation hubs are a remix of familiar office working concepts while also representing something completely new.”
The hub is open to Drees & Sommer’s employees as well as workers from partner organizations or those startups within Drees & Sommer’s accelerator program. An ideal use case would be a face-to-face project kick start session involving a distributed workforce coming together to get to work on the right foot. Some of the space is meant for long-term users, including the firm’s board, but much is reserved for meetings, seminars, breakout sessions and temporary workers.
As programmed space mostly operating to one firm’s benefit, this represents a novel approach to office planning, an excellent example of a uniquely private co-working setup, and what could be considered a multipurpose center of excellence for the property business. The innovation hub model isn’t truly co-working, as numerous companies don’t share the space with their own distinct goals in mind. It isn’t simply a startup accelerator (although such a program is present on-site). And it isn’t just another example of the much-lambasted open office workplace model, since it is not a facility meant for a large number of ordinary workers to collaborate on their typical everyday tasks.
Specifically, open offices mean to incentivize collaboration by tearing down walls, but when a given employee shares a desk clump with the same people for years, the perspectives, abilities, and noise levels of co-workers can become well known and actually stifle open collaboration. Keeping a steady stream of new workers with fresh perspectives manning the innovation hub’s desks is a safeguard against those negative office outcomes. And as a blank canvas of space without the cumbersome organizational rules of a true center of excellence, the facility also sidesteps some of the top-down mistakes of those otherwise beneficial spaces.
However, no one ever reinvented the wheel without facing challenges, and Drees & Sommer’s innovation hub will face a few of its own. A real space reservation platform has yet to be established, and it is entirely possible that the workers who make the hub their temporary home will become dissatisfied with their actual office spaces after concluding their time there. Conversely, despite the space’s attractive design and numerous smart building technologies, the rising standard of office amenities worldwide could eventually result in the innovation hub fading in relevance despite its high development costs. “The shareholders were a little bit skeptical about this project in the beginning,” acknowledged Drees & Sommer Project Partner Andreas Bay, mentioning in particular the costs of the renovation work.
One solution to some of these challenges is to remain focused on teamwork and collaboration. By doubling down on the innovation hub’s emphasis on programmed space, Drees & Sommer could keep up their current workshop content by offering an ongoing series of events, activities, and workshops with wide applicability to the various projects being worked on in the space at any one time.
Such an approach would kick up the model into something akin to an eternal conference, a space for ongoing learning and collaboration, where cross-disciplinary teams can meet and refine ideas in a truly nurturing environment. A space like that would be truly excellent indeed.