A new makeover for a 100 year old firm

by Miklos Bolza05 Jul 2016
Interested in how office transformation could affect staff morale, managing director Axel Pannes at BMW Group Asia toured Google’s European offices. Although he did draw some inspiration, he also realised that BMW couldn’t just mimic Google because the two firms had vastly different cultures.
 
“I visited the Google office in Zurich. They had music rooms, sport rooms, free massage and a nap room. I asked one of the BMW presidents who was also there, ‘What would you do if an employee was asleep in the office after lunch?’ and let's just say his response wasn't very favourable.”
 
One important lesson Pannes did learn from his visit to Google was that employees always need their own desks regardless of how much space you can save by hot-desking.
 
“When I discussed opportunities that we could have if employees gave up their personal desk space, no one agreed. You have to provide employees with their own desks. Then you have to find space on top of that to create a nice office.”
 
BMW eventually transformed the Singapore office by moving from 12.5 square metres per employee to 10 square metres. This gave enough space for a host of extra facilities.
 
“We squeezed a little bit on that one but I still think it’s very generous from what I have seen in other Asian offices,” he said.
 
The new workplace has additional meeting rooms as well as open collaboration areas between departments where colleagues can have informal discussions.
 
“I always said you don’t need a room with a closed door – you need areas where two or three people can meet quickly together away from your desks so you’re not disturbing your neighbour.”
 
These areas contain seating, tables, computer connectivity, screens and a glass wall that doubles as a whiteboard.
 
Other renovations include nicer pantries which can also be used for business discussions and a playroom in which staff can place a foosball table, games console, darts or anything else that takes their fancy.
 
Phone booths were also very well received by staff, Pannes said.
 
“We created very small rooms which employees can use if they have a telephone call or video conference. I always saw people walking in the corridors or near the elevator, even making private calls which they wanted to keep confidential. These phone booths are very well received and I think we will probably have seven or eight of them in the whole office in future.”
 
As BMW is over 100 years old, one of the biggest challenges with modern-day office transformations such as this is getting buy-in from the senior leadership, he said.
 
“I want to stretch the boundaries here a little bit. I’m not so sure if the senior guys, who may also be a little bit older, are coming here and seeing that. I don’t know if they appreciate what we have done here but I’m pretty sure that our employees appreciate it especially the younger generation.”
 
If you change things in the workplace, some workers will be more adaptive to it than others, he said. However, he is convinced the Singapore office is moving in the right direction, especially since these types of renovations were so well received elsewhere.
 
“For seven years, I focused a lot in Munich on these very topics. In the end, people were very thankful about all those measures. I still have a lot of former employees calling me and saying they had a great time and I happened to implement a lot of great measures.”
 
As for conducting this transformation in an Asian culture, Pannes said he still believes BMW is making the right choice and that hopefully the Singapore staff can be pushed even further.


Image: BMW collaboration area


Image: BMW recreation area


Image: BMW pantry
 
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