Arguably, Greek philosopher Diogenes invented the very first flexible workplace. He often slept in a large ceramic barrel in the marketplace, turning it according to the position of the sun. When Alexander the Great paid him a visit to grant him a wish, his gruff response was, “You’re blocking my sun.” So the flexible workplace is nothing new – it has an ancient past and a promising future.

Christian Gnaß,

emco Group CEP


"Willingness to change is essential in my opinion. But you have to guard against jumping on the bandwagon every time a new trend or school of thought comes along. That just chips away at your identity."


Non-territorial workplaces – the key to efficiency

More and more professionals are craving more sun, greater freedom in how they manage their work, the perfect work-life balance, and a home office where they can spend more time with the kids and the dog. The good news is that it’s never been easier to achieve. It all started in the creative industry in the 1980s. Ad agency Springer & Jacoby, the leading light in advertising at the time, transformed its creative department. Out went smurfs, potted plants, family photos and mugs bearing slogans; the white ‘monastic cell’ became a must-have for every employee in the department. At the end of the working day, both employees and freelancers had to leave their desk as clean as a whistle, because the following morning they would be sitting somewhere else.

Consultants typically spend three or four days a week visiting customers, but wouldn’t put family photos on their desk there ...

Bernward Mönch, tmi-germany

This rotation principle put an end to the ‘my office’ mentality. When customers discovered the agency’s new approach, they wanted to emulate it. Today, this type of flexible workplace is very much the norm, especially in consultancy firms. Bernward Mönch explains why: “Consultants typically spend three or four days a week visiting customers, but wouldn’t put family photos on their desk there. In the car they catch up on calls, and spend one day in their home office or at HQ, whichever suits them best.” Mönch himself, although he’s the boss, has also dispensed with his office. He and his employees have access to a glass-fronted lounge with sofas and a coffee table where they can hold meetings. It’s all about glass. Whether Boston Consulting Group, Siemens or B. Braun Melsungen, any firm that subscribes to flexible workplaces also advocates transparency, manifested in glass walls, see-through doors and open-plan spaces. This aims to encourage staff communication: the kitchen gets the creative juices (and tea) flowing far better than the old-school meeting room where everyone would sit in pecking order, gaze at the ceiling and wait for ideas to materialise. Thus, redundant break room morphs into flexible workspace.

But offices designed to reintegrate people also come up against resistance. Not every employee is prepared to give up all their personal space, and their kitten wall calendar or artificial cactus suddenly becomes an indispensable relic. B. Braun Melsungen’s HR Director says employees react in one of three ways: “There are those who embrace change, those who procrastinate – often opinion leaders, so it’s important to win them over – and those who need a lot of hand-holding in order to adapt.”


If you want to convince 140,000 Siemens employees that more flexibility is a good thing, you’d better take a deep breath and sharpen your powers of persuasion. People are creatures of habit; they’re busier worrying about having to relinquish their spider plants and holiday snaps than considering the benefits of new-found freedoms and alternative workspaces. momentum consultant Sven Hochreiter knows this all too well: “The move towards more flexible working is reflected in the proportion of people who work part-time, which is currently almost 30%, but work-from-home days are a boon for families, too. What’s more, the digital office is run via Dropbox and cloud storage these days. We can access data any time, anywhere. And who could possibly see flat organisations, varying teams and corporate responsibility for all as a bad thing?”

HR managers and consultants agree that Generation Y, millennials being the latest cohort, will compel the working world to change. Within the next few decades they will make up 75% of the workforce. This strong majority is not only intent on good work-life balance, but as bona fide digital natives, also extremely tech-savvy. They think mobile, not desk, and are indifferent to, if not irritated by, traditional career paths and status symbols. They are pioneers of the flexible, non-territorial workplace.


An elite group of Diogenes’ descendants is teaming up in Germany’s ‘CitizenCircle’ (a peer-to-peer learning community) to find business models that can operate from anywhere on the planet in today’s digital, web-based world, make people financially independent, and function as globally as possible. These youngsters are currently preparing their next workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Diogenes would have loved this idea!

Discover current magazine articles