Digitalization: Welcome to the new Workplace!

Digitalization is rapidly becoming a fact of life, both in the plant and at the office. The Office 3.0 concept now in place at ZF’s new corporate headquarters is a perfect platform for communication and networking.

The world is changing faster than ever before. Digitalization and globalization are revolutionizing business, work and our personal lives. New products and business models are flooding the market – and the automotive industry is no exception. Networking and Big Data concepts are permanently transforming industrial production, and other collaborative models are also evolving. As one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, ZF is both supporting and driving this process of transformation.

Shared workspace

Robert Copelan in the U.S. can effortlessly confer with his colleagues in Germany thanks to Skype for Business and new, user-friendly digital communication tools.

An office move during a stressful planning period? Now that has all the makings of a horrendous month. But Andrea Rudolf and her team in Corporate Controlling were up to the challenge. With 650 colleagues, they recently made the move to ZF Forum in Friedrichshafen, the company’s new corporate HQ, right in the middle of operational planning crunch time.

But in ZF Forum, Rudolf and her colleagues now have everything they could possibly need to simplify their work: conference rooms for discussions, breakout rooms for confidential meetings with divisional controllers, and more – all of which was implemented as part of the Office 3.0 concept. This marks the beginning of a new era at ZF. For the first time, employees who work in ZF offices no longer have assigned workstations. Instead, the Group has implemented a flexible, non-territorial concept where workspace is shared.

This new setup is nothing like your average open-plan office, however. A tour of the six-story building reveals an exceptionally multifaceted layout. The lounge, with its tables and couches, is almost like a café. There are project rooms with large monitors, as well as the “library:” a quiet area for those who need to work on projects in silence. The generously scattered workstations, each with two monitors, are the closest thing to conventional offices that you’ll find in this building. “Our team is currently working in one of these areas; at other times, we spread out across the entire office space,” Rudolf explains.

A few feet away, a smiley face on a glass door indicates that Rudolf’s head of department is away, and anyone can use his office while he’s gone. And something else is missing, although it isn’t immediately obvious: no nameplates. The desk-sharing policy applies to everyone at ZF. Rather than assigning specific desks to specific individuals, the company has created a comfortable atmosphere that gives employees plenty of freedom and “provides each employee with exactly the type of workplace he or she needs to work most efficiently at that particular moment,” explains Dr. Robert Omagbemi, Office 3.0 project manager.

Andrea Rudolf (left) is one of the 650 or so corporate employees at ZF Forum, the company’s new head office, who are benefiting from this multifaceted 
office concept.

Virtual conferences

State-of-the-art IT is another reason why Andrea Rudolf is now one of a large majority of pilot-project participants who would “absolutely recommend” the new office concept to their friends. Since the rollout of Skype for Business, virtual teams throughout ZF have been using videoconferencing to collaborate worldwide. That’s how Robert Copelan, a project manager in IT innovation management, stays in touch with his colleagues around the world. Morning has broken in Gainesville, Georgia, as Copelan puts on a headset and thanks his German colleagues for this great opportunity to “enjoy a beautiful sunrise”.

In Georgia, it’s just 7.00 a.m., whereas for team leader Jan Falke, currently sitting at a conference table in Friedrichshafen, the afternoon has already started.

Professional technology in the office – this Skype phone with 360-degree camera automatically 
focuses on the person 
in the meeting who 
is currently speaking.

Also present at the departmental meeting are two colleagues from Brazil and China respectively. In the middle of the conference table in Friedrichshafen stands a Round Table camera that automatically focuses on whoever is currently speaking. “Skype for Business is turning us into a truly global team,” smiles Copelan.

Skype’s chat function is another great team-building tool. Copelan uses it to talk to colleagues around the world via instant messaging. “It’s just like meeting up at the coffee machine.” This live-meeting effect is rounded off by OneNote, a digital notebook that enables him to jot down ideas in real time and then work on the same document with his whole team at once.

Virtual teams working together across continents are now part of everyday life for a global player like ZF. As for Copelan, he can only see one shortcoming in this virtual team concept. “Nowadays, I very rarely get to enjoy good German coffee in Friedrichshafen!”

Software-assisted assembly process

For Birol Serdar, a production line worker in transmission assembly, digital networking makes the impossible seem possible. When he first saw his new assembly workstation in Friedrichshafen’s commercial vehicle plant, his first thought was: “It’s straight out of science fiction!” Transmissions weighing over 650 pounds rotate on the production line as though guided by invisible hands as robots move them into convenient working positions. At any stage in the assembly process, Serdar can find the information he needs on his workstation’s touchscreens. He’s still amazed: “I’ve become one with the computer!”

Computer-aided assembly (CAA) is the technical term for the system now in use in Friedrichshafen, Sorocaba and Passau; an example of how ZF is tapping the potential of Industry 4.0. Flexibility is key: Serdar assembles 190 transmissions per shift. Each one is unique, and there are 6,000 possible product variants. This is why he is grateful for “Pick-by-Light”, a paperless part-picking solution. During the “small parts” step in the assembly process, for instance, the drawer with the precise part he needs lights up right when he needs it.

The operator assistance system provides information, authorizes resources, and helps with quality control. There’s only one thing it can’t and isn’t intended to do: replace people. “When people think of Industry 4.0, they usually assume everything is fully automated. But many operations will still require the human touch – even in the future,” says Dr. Nils Macke, head of ZF’s Industry 4.0 steering committee. Birol Serdar isn’t worried that a robot will take his job. “Our products are much too complex and individual for that.

Becoming one with the computer... The computer-aided operator assistance system helps Birol Serdar toassemble transmissions.

“Like a Network”

VP of Corporate HR 
Jürgen Holeksa

New technologies and a new generation: Head of Corporate HR Jürgen Holeksa talks about changes in the workplace.

How is digitization changing ZF?
Change is taking place at fundamental levels, in production as well as in our offices. Our plants are already highly efficient now, but with the help of new technologies and automated, real-time data interchanges, we can become even more so. But not at the expense of our employees! In the future, shopfloor colleagues will spend more time monitoring and managing systems, which in some cases will mean they need new skills and training. But for people who are open to the idea of lifelong learning, digitization offers a myriad of opportunities.

What impact will this have on the office of the future?
Digitization also poses challenges in this respect – challenges we will only be able to overcome by becoming more flexible. Our non-territorial Office 3.0 concept at ZF Forum and our increasingly digitized workflows are a great help here. They also make it easier for our employees to work from home offices, or in highly mobile ways at their places of work.

What will be the consequences of all this for the company’s corporate culture?
Increasingly, even a company like ZF is starting to function more and more like a network, precisely because digital natives – employees who grew up with computers – are bringing the experience and habits they’ve acquired from social networks into the workplace. Teamwork, flexibility and personal responsibility are becoming increasingly important. Having your own office workstation is no longer a key issue. Individual responsibility is also becoming much more important in production, and that’s a challenge for managers, too. Ultimately, it’s a question of trust – and results are what really matter.

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