Hybrid Hero: Alnatura

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Julia

Astrid Paefgen, Alnatura

"Meaningful for people and the earth", Alnatura's vision applies not only to products, but also to our working environment. Alnatura understands the company as a living social organism. To make collaboration meaningful, the Alnatura Campus offers a sustainable office building, desk sharing and a hybrid work model.  We spoke with Astrid Paefgen, responsible for employee services and development at Alnatura, and talked about Alnatura's work model, the sustainable campus, a successful digital leadership style, and more.

What does your work model look like?

In total, the Alnatura working community consists of more than 3500 colleagues. We have more than 140 Alnatura stores in over 60 cities in Germany, as well as 15 stores in Switzerland in cooperation with Migros AG. Alnatura's corporate headquarters are located in Darmstadt. It consists of an office building in accessible natural surroundings close to the city, the Alnatura Campus. In our Alnatura working environment, we offer our employees the opportunity to work in a hybrid work model - allowing up to 40% of working hours to be spent on a mobile basis. How these days and times are distributed is individual. As a manager, it is important to be able to respond to the needs of employees according to the situation. Since the pandemic, however, the 60-40 rule has been put on hold. We do everything we can to protect our employees, and mobile working from home makes more sense than being present on campus.

Alnatura Campus in Darmstadt, Germany
The Alnatura Campus in Darmstadt, Germany

How do you plan your working model for the future?

After the pandemic, we want to keep the hybrid work model. This means that we will work a maximum of 40% remotely and 60% on campus. We have noticed that our working environment strengthens collegial collaboration and the bond with the company. Therefore, it is important that the teams also meet in person from time to time. The concept of the office building as an open space and the design of the outdoor area help people to network and shape their work across departments, which is why the campus will continue to be a place of interaction in the future.

What is the role of the office design?

In 2019, we already had the idea of introducing desk sharing and having a completely open workspace without individual offices, with each team being allocated to an area. This way, employees know which areas or workstations they can work in. However, if someone wants to work in a different area, we encourage that as well and mix our teams.

On our campus, we have about 400 workstations for 600 employees. Our hybrid work model means that all team members are never on campus at the same time, which is why we haven't had a space problem yet. We also offer special meeting rooms for external or internal meetings. The rooms can be booked via Outlook. For short meetings, brainstorming sessions or collegial consultations that do not necessarily have to be held in closed rooms, we have, for instance, alcoves, sofas or a pavilion made of willows in the outdoor area.

Our campus is an important part of the Alnatura lived culture. The connection with the surrounding nature, the sustainable use of existing resources and a simple, nature-oriented aesthetic embody central elements of the building. We place great value on sustainability, which is also reflected in our building design. The open-design building was constructed from rammed earth obtained from Stuttgart 21. Our aspiration was to build a 100% sustainable building - from walls made of clay to floor surfaces made from recycled PET bottles. Even the air is attracted from outside from the forest and distributed throughout the building, so we don't need air conditioning or air fresheners. We recycled not only PET bottles, but relics from the past that were still on the property, a former U.S. military base. For example, we converted the headlights from old tanks into lamps.
The campus consists of the office building, a large garden open to the public, a vegetarian restaurant and a waldorf kindergarten. Our campus is also open to the public and can be used by private people. Together with the organization Ackerhelden we enable the inhabitants of Darmstadt to rent parcels of land and grow organic vegetables.

Vegetable garden at the Alnatura Campus
Vegetable garden at the Alnatura Campus

Our garden also has wifi so our employees can work outside here as well. There is much to discover, from the diverse floral world to a garden kitchen and a tiny forest. Our campus is a place for creative ideas, relaxation and a social meeting place.

What are the most important learnings?

Before we moved to Darmstadt, we were initially worried that it would be very noisy in an open building design, but the opposite was confirmed. The spacious area allows our employees to spread out, so it remains quite quiet. In addition, the building and also the furniture absorb noise and sound.

Our employees are very satisfied with both the open space and the desk sharing system, and we observe that it is very well received and implemented. However, we also noticed that especially due to the special situation caused by the pandemic, digital leadership was new to our managers. Therefore, it is important for us to provide training on this to our department, team and division managers.

Open space design inside the building

Do you prefer to  work? What tips do you have on digital leadership style?

I like to work well on campus. I enjoy the social interaction on site and can switch off better when I get home in the evening. However, I also work a lot from the home office due to pandemics. In my area, we currently have a face-to-face meeting in the office for managers every 2 weeks. Afterwards, we have lunch together and exchange ideas, which is sometimes better in person than in front of the camera. Our monthly department meeting always takes place digitally, as we also have many colleagues in the field. Despite the distance of our employees, we try to connect them with each other and offer opportunities such as a digital joint cooking event or digital pub quiz. In my area, there is also a weekly culture dialog. Here, we spend an hour every Thursday exchanging ideas on topics such as corporate philosophy, culture and collegial collaboration. Currently, we are reading a text together entitled "Collegial collaboration and personal responsibility" and discussing the content. Since I no longer see all employees regularly in the office, I try to have a personal discussion with each of my direct reports every week. Regardless of the technical issues, personal exchange and contact are very important to me. So my tip to managers is: show special interests to remote team members. One should be aware that many everyday encounters, such as in the tea kitchen, are omitted. Even if it's just a quick chat, every conversation strengthens team cohesion.

Thank you, dear Ms. Paefgen, for the exciting insights into working on the sustainable and hybrid Alnatura Campus!

Julia

Julia

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