R&D Workspace 2015

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Designing Spatial Solutions for Future R&D

In innovation management literature we find a number of factors that contribute to increasing a firm’s competitiveness, such as personal characteristics (e.g. openness for new experiences, intrinsic motivation, persistence, …), leadership behaviour (e.g. motivation, error-tolerance, …), team properties (e.g. ability to resolve conflicts, information transfer, cross-departmental composition, …) and organisational characteristics (e.g. flat hierarchy, sufficient extra-resources, …). Research has shown that designing physical environments can encourage processes that play a vital role in product creation, such as knowledge-sharing, learning and collaboration. The more people are involved in the development of a new product or service, the more important the purposeful design of R&D spaces becomes. However, while we find that products get more complex and are carried out with a multitude of partners, we also observe that physical environments tend to remain the same. One of our interview partners - an experienced R&D manager who supervised 80 staff members - admitted that » [...] the only thing that has changed at our engineers‘ work places during the past 30 years, is that the drawing board has been replaced by a flat screen.« To shed more light on how R&D environments can support the R&D activities in the best possible way we initiated a research project at Fraunhofer IAO. Our purpose was to answer two main questions:

  •  »How will R&D activities be carried out in the future?«
  •  »How can the right work environments support the execution of R&D?« 

Trends in Industrial R&D
To answer the first question, we have conducted 13 interviews with R&D and Innovation Managers in industrial companies to spot those trends that have a strong influence on the design of physical environments: Among all trends, the following ones are the most influential:

  • Increased networking: internationalisation of R&D sites, partnerships with international companies, universities and research organisations and increased level of offshoring and outsourcing.
  • More customer focus & solution development: customised products, single source suppliers and customer retention through active customer support.
  • Integration and efficiency of R&D processes: more pre-development, integration of R&D with planning, sales and supply management.
  • More R&D flexibility (structure and processes): telework, R&D subcontracting.
  • Digital support for R&D processes: integration of R&D software, simulation and virtual reality, design automation and modularisation and platforms.
  • Availability and retention of employees: availability of engineers, new competences through team.-work, interdisciplinarity or project management and new career paths.

The Future of R&D Workspaces
A key assumption for our work is that future R&D workspaces need to be adjusted to the challenges of each phase of a development project. While early phases involve more individual and self-organised work, later stages are rather structured and carried out in bigger teams. This is, however, a strong simplification. During our work we took a closer look at what people actually do (e.g. planning, design, simulation, test, documentation), how they do it (e.g. use of methods / tools) and with whom (e.g. customers).

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