When Elephants Learn to Dance

Everyone is familiar with these kind of prejudices: Large, traditional companies with their overgrown corporate structures, rigid hierarchies and analog processes can no longer keep up in a globalized and digitized world. Young, agile tech start ups set the pace for innovation — because the world moves a little faster today than it did in the Porsche era of air-cooled boxer engines — in other words back when I started my career at Porsche.

The employees often work in outdated offices with a traditional layout, where knowledge and experience don’t cross departmental boundaries, and the corporate culture is defined by a few empty phrases on the intranet. Hierarchies and entrenched traditions make it difficult to develop innovative ideas. At least that’s what the prejudices say.

But it’s particularly the traditional companies with longtime employees who have very valuable experience, in-depth knowledge of the industry and, last but not least, the financial resources needed for new developments. The missing element here and there is the counterpart, the catalyst — an agile way of working, a modern and flexible working environment and the right tools to set up and implement pilot projects quickly, to collaborate and to enable real innovations.

At Porsche, we don’t exclude ourselves from these circumstances, but we have realized very early that we have to change something in order to remain successful in the future. After all, we are not striving to remain competitive, but to continue to lead the market with excellent products.

Change is required

Two years ago, we started to realign our Research and Pre-Development and establish a central innovation management system in our division. It operates between the ideation phase and the operational pre-development as well as the management. For example, in my position as Head of Resource Management and Innovation Chassis, I myself am linked to the Chassis Development — still, my team doesn’t work directly on the development, but rather on the empowerment of new ideas, the partnering and the necessary processes connected to that. When we moved into a new building in Weissach near Stuttgart last year, we quickly realized that we couldn’t work there the way we wanted to in order to live up to our role as innovation drivers. For example, we didn’t need so many individual working spaces because we often work in small teams. We rather needed an open space and more flexibility. In brief: We needed change.

More perfect working days through New Work approaches within two weeks: A pilot project in Porsche’s innovation management

Our New Work pilot project was born out of the need to make the new location “new work ready”. By the end of last year, together with Porsche Consulting and Wolfgang Freibichler, we developed a concept for the alteration of the building as well as further measures for a modern workspace, more flexibility and productivity — and implemented it within just two weeks. At the beginning of the project, we organized a user-workshop, surveys and interviews to find out what our employees really need for a perfect working day: How often do they sit at their desk, how often do they work standing? How many meetings do they have, with how many people? How loud is it in the office? Where’s room to create free spaces? What is the team missing?

“We don’t need that many desks.”

The analysis showed that we don’t need much individual space in the form of traditional desks and personal storage, but rather more small meeting rooms and an open, creative working environment with writable walls. Three days into the project, we had already determined six core results about our work in the team, which were to be discussed in the following days:

  1. About 57 percent of our space is currently used for work and 6 percent for meetings or to focus.
  2. Currently we only need half the capacity of our “personal” sideboards at work
  3. On average we spend more than 40 percent of our working day in meetings
  4. The majority of our meetings take place in small groups of up to four people
  5. Throughout the day we use less than half of our desks at the same time
  6. We spend about 70 percent of our time on our desk or in meetings seated

We started to develop solutions. Over the course of the next days, four core areas emerged that reflect the requirements of our team:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Concentration
  3. Collaboration
  4. Communication

Matching these requirements, we developed 13 measures for immediate and short-term implementation that made the working environment at Porsche more innovative. Within a very short time our room’s changed as colorful cards were pinned to the walls, desks were tidied up and equipped with new objects and everything was in motion — finally — that’s the kind of New Work we needed.

13 Solutions for more Concentration, Collaboration and Communication

For us, the results of the pilot project are a “small big step” in the direction of New Work. However, the biggest achievement was to see that — with the support of a motivated team — we can quickly make visible changes to our working environment that benefit everyone:

  • Contemplation: Our employees need quiet spaces for certain tasks. More places of retreat are therefore created in our office space: reading chairs, focus rooms and isolated workplaces where employees can work in a quiet environment.
  • Concentration: Employees must also be able to concentrate in the open-space office. This is less about spaces for concentrated work than about small measures to promote individual concentration. In concrete terms, this includes sand glasses, which indicate that one doesn’t want to be disturbed for half an hour, noise-cancelling headsets, and brief “Tips and Tricks in Outlook” that explain, for example, how to mute incoming e-mail notifications for a certain period. With fresh fruit baskets and healthy snacks we also ensure that employees get enough energy throughout their working day.
  • Collaboration: The analysis of our current situation has shown that we usually work in small teams and need more opportunities to work together productively — that’s why we have equipped our rooms with magnetic and writable walls on which we can work together flexibly and interactively. In the future, we also want to create additional space for interdisciplinary collaboration, with meeting rooms for small groups, writable walls and new work equipment.
  • Communication: Communication is essential for great teamwork — within the team as well as between departments and colleagues. We needed new ways to communicate the results of our work both internally and externally and to better promote exchange. As a first step, we are introducing new digital communication tools such as Microsoft Teams and Jira/Confluence. To furthermore encourage knowledge transfer, we have set up movable walls with “Life Hacks for Work” on which colleagues can share their knowledge of technology, tips on how to feel good and how to live together on colorful maps. With our new “Walking Meetings”, employees can combine their meeting with a walk outdoors: When they set an appointment in Outlook, a route matching the duration of the appointment is automatically suggested — we even provided umbrellas for rainy days.

We can say that our New Work Pilot project was a complete success — within two weeks, we learned to dance as elephants. Even though we are not yet floating safely above the clouds, we have already left the ground. I’m looking forward to everything else to come!

Uwe Reuter is Director Resources and Innovation Chassis at Porsche AG. To find out more about Porsche and Technology, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.



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