20 years of office research at Fraunhofer IAO

Office 21 anniversary
Foto: Jörg Bakschas Headroom Consult © Fraunhofer IAO


Office21® innovation campaign celebrates its anniversary at ORGATEC 2016

Since 1996, Fraunhofer IAO has been working with numerous partners from the business world to shape the future of office and information work in the joint Office21® research initiative. At ORGATEC 2016, these office researchers take stock and will showcase two of their latest workplace prototypes.

What is the future of work? How should we design workplaces and work environments to best support people in their work? What role does technology play in effective working, and how do intangible factors affect what we do? For over 20 years now, Fraunhofer has been seeking answers to these questions and many more relating to all aspects of the future of work in the Office21® innovation campaign. Together with a range of partner companies, the office researchers employ ergonomic techniques to devise practically relevant scenarios, concepts and methodologies that support the need to sustainably organize our work and living environments. Research focuses on improving communication, concentration, well-being, productivity, motivation, creativity and innovation.

Milestones from 20 years of Office21® research

Today, numerous Office21® studies and concepts shape our understanding of modern working, both in Germany and abroad. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of office workers have directly benefited from the application of the findings of the Office21® initiative. Read on for an overview of the most important milestones in 20 years of research:

  • 2016: Study – Digital working: Reasons for and impact of paperless processes
    Which of today’s activities are digitalized and where do we still rely on paper? Is there a relationship between digital or paper work and personal performance? What are the catalysts and barriers to digital working? These are the questions addressed by the Office21® joint initiative’s latest study.
  • 2016: Information and communication technology usage study
    Office workers appreciate new technologies. This study found that the quality of work technology employed demonstrated a direct positive correlation with knowledge worker performance.
  • 2014: Fascination of coworking study
    Are coworking and coworking spaces really just for the self-employed and recent start-ups? Fraunhofer IAO’s study “The Fascination of Coworking – Potentials for Companies and their Employees” examined how companies and their teams can benefit from this specific work and collaboration arrangement.
  • 2014: Office settings study
    Knowledge workers need more freedom – so concluded the Office settings study, which showed that flexible working featuring significant worker autonomy had a positive impact on work-life balance, wellbeing, motivation and performance.
  • 2012: Work environments 4.0 – work and life tomorrow
    How will office and knowledge workers live and work in 2025? Over 100 experts were consulted to come up with the Work environments 4.0 forecast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTY6i5SRcbs
  • 2009/2016: Office Excellence Check
    Well-being stimulates motivation and productivity, which is why it pays to invest in better office design. The Office Excellence Check showed that working on office design leads to improved performance, with the key factors being improved communication and collaboration support, as well as an increased focus on ergonomics.
  • 2009: Information Work study
    Every knowledge worker is different, both in their tasks and their needs. That is why it is so critical to take into account the type of work when organizing work environment and infrastructure (in German).
  • 2008: Multi-monitor study – Information Worker’s Workplace (IWWP)
    When it comes to the number of monitors at your desk, more than one is better, as this research experiment showed. An investigation of various scenarios demonstrated that multiple monitors led to improved visualization at work – and consequently better employee productivity and satisfaction.

To access the available publications, please visit www.office21.de/de/publikationen. In German.

In order to bring the joint innovations to life, in 1998 the Office Innovation Center OIC was set up at the Nordbahnhof in Stuttgart. “The OIC is what first allowed us to not only showcase new office concepts and products but also to assess the viability of innovative office solutions in detail and work on their further development,” says Prof. Wilhelm Bauer, who launched the project at the time and now heads up Fraunhofer IAO. The newly built Center for Virtual Engineering ZVE at the institute’s site in Vaihingen followed in 2012 – a “research project in itself.” Interdisciplinary project teams assisted architects and planners in implementing the vision of a work environment that flows from offices to research laboratories and test and demonstration areas. It was an opportunity for the researchers to apply their latest findings, and they are now able to experience and shape the future of work for themselves in the new building.

Experimentation: The Office21®alliance’s secret to success

Office21® was first conceived as an innovation campaign, and to this day the powerful research alliance’s secret to success lies in its willingness to directly implement visions and concepts from research. Close collaboration with companies and direct implementation of concepts ensures that research never overlooks the needs of real people. In this application-oriented field, it was important that the researchers themselves should make themselves the guinea pigs of their research. As a result, the office researchers have followed flexible working practices from the very beginning, such as using caddies and following a clean desk policy, and they continue to implement this work approach at the ZVE to this day, continually adding new features.

The numerous project partners from the last 20 years draw on the findings of Office21® to devise their own strategies, develop new products and shape their own work arrangements.

Project Partners:

  • Adidas AG, Herzogenaurach
  • BAD Gesundheitsvorsorge und Sicherheitstechnik GmbH, Bonn
  • BMW AG, München
  • CA Immobilien Anlagen AG, Wien
  • Drees & Sommer AG, Stuttgart
  • Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, Karlsruhe
  • Fernfachhochschule Schweiz
  • Fujitsu Technology Solutions GmbH, München
  • Haworth GmbH, Bad Münder
  • Herbert Waldmann GmbH & Co. KG, Villingen Schwenningen
  • Intel Deutschland GmbH, Feldkirchen
  • Interstuhl Büromöbel GmbH & Co. KG, Meßstetten-Tieringen
  • Kinnarps GmbH, Worms
  • KYOCERA Document Solutions Deutschland GmbH, Meerbusch
  • Matrix42 AG, Frankfurt am Main
  • Nurus GmbH, München
  • Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH, Frankfurt am Main
  • Schulte Elektrotechnik GmbH & Co KG, Lüdenscheid
  • Soennecken eG, Overath
  • TRILUX GmbH & Co. KG, Arnsberg
  • Volkswagen AG, Wolfsburg