A New Day at the Office: 99chairs and the pursuit of happy workspaces

Julian Riedelsheimer is a startup founder with a forward-thinking vision of how we will work in the future. Like other young entrepreneurs of his generation, he has been inspired to do away with outdated models of working, shake up company culture, and redesign the workspace as a place of purpose and freedom. This drive has resulted in a unique company that does just that: a design firm ushering in a new model of working, a model that they both promote and embody.


Tom Evans


Marili Persson

When Julian co-founded 99chairs with Frank Stegert in 2014, the two friends already knew what kind of company they wanted to build. The idea was to create a platform to connect people and businesses with interior design experts. However, the concept was about more than just great designs. They understood that our working lives are changing, that expectations and ambitions are rising, and that companies are adopting radical new ways of operating. Four years later, the 45-person team at 99chairs is behind some of Berlin’s most innovative working spaces, and the team themselves have been on a journey to create a company culture that everybody can believe in.

‘We create spaces to expand life,’ explains Julian, as we sit in the sleek and spacious 99chairs offices in Kreuzberg, Berlin. ‘We want to help people with their life and their purpose.’ For Julian, there is no doubt that the spaces we occupy have a transformative effect on who we are and what we do. It’s one of the founding ideas behind 99chairs, he explains, helping people design spaces ‘where they feel happy, more productive, creative.’

With a team of full-time and freelance designers, 99chairs helps create and manage design projects for both home and work life. But most of all, the company is making a name for itself in the German business world, where it has worked with companies like Uber, BioNTech, Lilium Aviation and Daimler. With projects ranging from office overhauls to innovation labs and large scale co-working venues, the 99chairs philosophy is an ambitious one. They aim to deliver designs that not only boost innovation and creativity, but also inspire joy and fulfilment.

As Julian explains, there is no magic recipe here, but certain elements are essential. Communal areas for socialising and random interactions can fuel spontaneous creativity, while a mixture of open spaces and quiet, casual meeting rooms boost transparency and productivity. Uplifting interiors with comfortable and stylish decoration can have a huge impact on mood, as does an abundance of light and greenery, and offering the opportunity to eat and cook together is a chance to bond over that most human of rituals: a meal.  Julian and Frank, meanwhile, are busy spreading the word, and have spoken at conferences in Germany and the UK about how they see our working lives evolving, particularly with a younger generation who have grown to expect purpose, meaning and autonomy in their working lives.

‘We want to help people with their life and their purpose.’

Julian, an easy-going but quietly driven 29-year-old from Munich, was featured in last year’s Forbes ‘30 under 30’ list of young innovators driving a change in retail and ecommerce in Europe. Before co-founding 99chairs with his university friend Frank, Julian was part of a young team that helped build up Tirendo, an ecommerce platform in the autoparts sector. Here, he learned how important it can be to work with like-minded people. 99chairs was in part inspired by this deep investment in company culture, which was worked into the 99chairs philosophy and continues to feed into their approach to workspace design.

Of course, most of us these days are familiar with the kind of luxurious, playground interiors favoured by cool tech firms (think slides, baristas, yoga studios and craft beer on tap). But what we often don’t see is the work that goes into the creation of these spaces. For Julian, there’s a common misconception about how to create the perfect modern working environment. The idea, he says, of switching to an open plan arrangement, wheeling in a pingpong table and some couches then hoping for the best is a one-size-fits-all fallacy. ‘Often, these middle-sized companies change to an open space, and the employees are all really unhappy because they weren’t even asked. That’s part of the culture: the boss just decided they want an open space because it’s cool …  But first you need to understand how their organisation is built.’

For the 99chairs team, the design process gets to the core of how companies want to work together. The balance of open, closed, quiet and communal spaces is based on what a company needs, but also on the kind of culture it wants to build. ‘It’s not about the table tennis itself,’ says Julian with a smile, explaining that atmosphere and dynamics are equally important: ‘It’s about people getting out of their normal work routine and having time to talk with others they normally would not interact with.’ This is reflected in their own office space, where transparency (both literally and figuratively) is prioritised:. ‘Part of transparency is obviously an open space. So I sit right in the middle, Frank sits over there. Everyone can directly approach me. This more transparent approach is reflected in our interiors.’

In recent years, the trend of companies boosting transparency and interaction has given rise to whole new systems of company organisation as well as design. The widely adopted Agile, Lean and Design Thinking movements are good examples of how dissolving traditional work structures leads to breakthroughs in innovation and efficiency. Ideas like these have also been fuelling the worldwide phenomenon of co-working, which has grown from its late-90s origins as small communities of entrepreneurs, to today’s multi-billion dollar industry.

In Berlin, there’s a new hub on the co-working landscape. It’s the second location of Factory, housed in a five-storey industrial building at the eastern edge of Görlitzer Park. Perhaps the best-known of the capital’s shared space networks, Factory describes itself as ‘a next-generation business club’ on a mission ‘to create the world of tomorrow’. Its members make up a ‘curated community’ of freelancers, startups of all sizes, and teams from international corporations as large as Audi, Siemens and Zendesk.

It was 99chairs that took charge of designing the 14,000 square meters of interiors at Factory Görlitzer Park. The task from the start was to build an environment that fosters collaboration. Julian explains how founder Udo Schloemer: ‘wants to bring the whole ecosystem together, so that ideas flourish there.’ This was an ambitious concept: ‘It needed to be open, he didn’t want too many meeting rooms or classic offices spaces.’ Rather, interaction and collaboration were to be prioritised.  

Across four floors (with the fifth reserved for a cinema), the open spaces, meeting rooms, kitchens and company spaces offer a mixture of office-chic, café-style work spots, cosy pods for brainstorming and library-esque quiet areas. After eating in the central restaurant, you can pass through the large sunlit courtyard and jump in a giant, all-black ball pit. It may seem a little over the top, but as Julian points, out the idea of fun should not be underestimated: ‘More than ever, people can choose what they want to work on. For them, obviously, if work is not fun, they won’t stay for very long. And fun does not only mean playing around but being treated fairly and being responsible for things.’

Sure, the place feels fun, but the atmosphere seems driven, self-assured and full of promise. It’s as though the 99chairs team have designed some kind of optimistic showroom of how work will look in the future. And people, it appears, are signing up.


But there’s more to the rise of the co-working movement than a desire to collaborate or the ambition to usher in a ‘world of tomorrow’. The last decade has been shaped by the aftershocks of the global economic crisis. The availability of traditional full-time jobs is declining worldwide and a younger generation has learned to see freelance work as both necessary and desirable. According to the Ituit 2020 report, it’s estimated that 40% of the workforce in the US will be freelancers, temps or other forms of ‘solopreneur’ by 2020. Conversely, some 80% of large corporations say they plan to increase their use of a ‘flexible workforce’ in a drive to cut costs and increase efficiency.

Co-working spaces have become the points where all these forces converge. They offer not just the infrastructure of a place to work, but a unique way to work, with the kind of networking, collaboration and sense of community that are missing in the coffee shop or when working from home. Providing a way of working that attracts not just freelancers but teams from major corporations, the co-working phenomenon is on the rise. According to Deskmag’s 2018 Global Coworking Survey, there will be some 1.7 million people working from 19,000 co-working locations by the end of this year, continuing a steady growth in numbers over recent years.

For Julian founding 99chairs with ideas of purpose, fulfilment and autonomy was a certainty. He and Frank shared a set of fundamental beliefs about how the company should operate: ‘What are the basics that you need to provide your employees?’ he asked himself.  Things like flexible hours, home office, the freedom to decide what they want to work on, and autonomy were all essential. Then, he says, it was just about finding a team that fit into their mission.

‘I believe that to really grow personally you need to work on the things that you don’t do so well.'

Ideas like home office (or ‘telecommuting’), flextime and other alternatives to the regular 9-to-5 are becoming commonplace, even in established firms like Daimler and SAP. But still more radical ideas are emerging, especially in companies with a strong focus on culture. At 99chairs, they take this pretty seriously.

‘There’s a natural way of dealing with people that makes a lot more sense,’ Julian explains.I truly believe in a few things: that nobody should be able to tell you what to do, for instance. If you don’t make the right decisions, you might not fit the company, but you should still be free to decide.’ Putting this belief into practice means running the team without the normal structures of bosses and managers. In its place is a system of self-organising teams, with no management hierarchies and where roles and responsibilities are fluid and constantly reassessed. It’s a system that relies on trust, technique and taking full ownership of the work in your domain. ‘Own your shit,’ as Julian puts it, describing one of 99chairs core values.

The ideas behind self-organising and self-managing teams have been steadily building steam in recent years. Online fashion retailer Zappos made headlines when it announced in 2013 that the entire company would adopt Holacracy, a leading method and platform for going full self-organised. Even for a company known for having a quirky culture, this move, with 1500 employees, shocked many. The self-organising, self-management philosophy is still widely dismissed as unworkably chaotic and idealistic, and to many in the business world the idea of decentralized authority remains simply preposterous.

But for supporters like Julian, self-organisation is more than just a way to have an innovative, Agile company with a great culture. We discuss how he developed the mission behind 99chairs. Julian cites an influential 2014 book by Frederic Laloux called Reinventing Organizations. In it, Laloux analyses the way human organisations have evolved throughout history, from primitive tribes, to early religions and empires, to enlightenment institutions and modern corporations. He shows that with each new organisational paradigm comes increased prosperity and major breakthroughs, only to be improved upon by the next.

Laloux gives each of these paradigms a colour. Orange organisations, like most major corporations today, are those with strong hierarchical structures, where managers set objectives and give subordinates some autonomy to get things done. In Green organisations, ‘bosses’ become ‘leaders’ and ‘problem solvers’ and, while a hierarchy exists, ideas of empowerment and company culture begin to replace supervision and strategy. But it’s in the most recent paradigm, Teal, where the ideas of self-organisation emerge, with self-managing teams, flat hierarchies and a strong focus on purpose, value and self-fulfilment.

Naturally adaptive to change and growth, Teal organisations can be compared to living systems. As Julian explains: ‘In traditional companies, the bigger it gets the more inefficient it gets. But if you look at cities, you have certain rules like the law, but besides that you’re really free. So there’s a certain common understanding. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve. A common understanding about how we’re working and some guidelines. Values, but also guidelines.’ At 99chairs values like ‘shoot for the moon,’ ‘be an entrepreneur’ and ‘build honest and open relationships’ give everyone rules of thumb for making their own decisions and underwrite the company’s culture.

He is thoroughly committed to these ideas, but Julian admits that following this Teal philosophy has been a difficult journey. ‘I know that not everyone in the company is convinced of how we do it right now. It’s evolving.’ But these are challenges he seems only to happy to face: ‘I believe that to really grow personally you need to work on the things that you don’t do so well. This is an environment that might be very challenging and not always nice because you have to work on your weaknesses. And that’s something that I want to work more towards too: to really make everybody a better person within themselves. We’re not there yet, but I want to go more in that direction. Right now one of our values is “drive change and learning.” That you want to permanently improve,and to improve, you need to continually make mistakes. So mistakes are very, very important. The important part is to learn from them.’

It’s easy to buy into Julian’s optimism for a world of work that promises so much passion and purpose. And he’s certainly not alone among young entrepreneurs who want to see work life evolve into something freer and more meaningful. But can his brand of idealism really become the new normal? Or are these just more of those unrealistic expectations of the bemoaned Millennial generation? Julian laughs, acknowledging that Millennials: ‘definitely make it harder for everyone.’ But for him, there is no question that with passion comes productivity, and with productivity a much brighter future. ‘It is a question: can you create a world where everybody is really fulfilled, happy, works towards a purpose? Is that actually possible? I don’t know. I would hope that most of us can do it because it’s a lot more fun and a lot more fulfilling. And imagine what we could do with the world if everybody could be really happy and working on the things that they wanted to do. That would be a lot more productive and a lot more would change.’

Keep up to date with 99chairs via their blog and get inspired by their Instagram feed.

办公室的新风貌: 99把椅子与追求愉快的工作场所



Tom Evans


Marili Persson


当我们坐在柏林十字山区99把椅子时髦宽敞的办公室时,朱利安解释说: “我们为扩展生活而创造空间我们想帮助人们完成生活和目标对朱利安来说,我们所占据的空间,无庸置疑的对我们是谁、和我们所做的事将产生变革性的影响。他解释着: “这是成立99把椅子背后的主要中心思想,用设计空间帮助人们让大家感到快乐、更有效率和创造力。”

99把椅子团队中有全职和兼职的设计师,他们帮助创建管理居家与工作生活中的设计元素。最重要的是,他们已在德国商界中占有一席之地,与UberBioNTechLilium Aviation 和戴姆勒公司合作。99把椅子的公司理念是雄心壮志的,从公司翻修到实验室创新、大型共同工作场地等项目,他们提供设计的目标不仅在提升创新力和创造力、并激发快乐和满足感。




当然,这些日子里我们多数人早对酷炫科技产业偏好的豪华娱乐内饰设备感到孰悉 (例如: 滑梯、咖啡厅、瑜珈室、精酿啤酒),但我们经常看不到创造这些空间的工作。朱利安认为大家对如何创造一个完美、现代化的工作环境普遍存有误解。他说,如果认为转向开放式管理、摆张桌球和几张沙发似乎就完事了,这是一刀切的谬论。经常,这类中型企业将空间改成开放式,但员工们却不快乐,因为他们没有事先被征询意见。这是文化的一部分,老板觉得直接替员工决定要甚么样的开放空间很酷。首先你需要了解他们的组织是如何建立的。

对99把椅子团队而言,设计过程要达到企业共同工作的核心。建立开放、私人、安静和公共空间的平衡不只是根据企业的需求、还有企业自身文化而创造出来的。 朱利安笑着说:“这与桌球绝对毫无关联并解释周围的氛围与动态均同等重要这是让人们暂时离开他们的工作作息并和平日里他们没有机会互动的人一起聊聊。这反映在他们自己的工作空间上,优先考虑的是透明度(不管是字面上和比喻上而言)很显然透明化的一部分就是开放空间。我坐在这,法兰克在一旁,大家皆可直接地接触到我,这类更加透明的方式也反映在我们的内饰上。

近年来,企业提升透明化和互动性的趋势形成了公司新式组织和设计体系。AgileLean 和设计思考运动皆广泛运用从传统工作框架上到创新和效率突破的好范例。这些灵感也促进了世界各地合作现象的发展,其源自90年代末的小型企业社群到今日数十亿美元的产业。

在柏林,位于格尔利茨公园东边的一栋五层楼工业建筑物Factory的第二分店为最共同工作空间的最新枢纽地。应是这座城市里最广为人知的共同工作空间网络,Factory自许为创造明日世界使命的下一代商务俱乐部。他的成员由一群由自由工作者、各种规模的初创企业、和国际企业团队如: 奥迪、西门子和Zendesk而组成。

99把椅子也肩负了在格尔利茨公园Factory 14千平方米的内饰设计。起先这项任务是建造出鼓励共同合作的环境。朱利安解释 Udo Schloemer的创办人想要做全面性的生态系统,于是灵感油然而生这是个有极有企图心的概念,他不要把空间浪费在许多会议室或传统办公室上,他宁可将互动与合作关系摆在第一。

4层楼(5层楼为电影院) 里的开放空间、会议室、厨房,公司在这些地方提供了时尚办公、咖啡馆风格的工作环境,还有脑力激荡的舒适坐垫、有如图书馆氛围的安静区域。在中央餐厅用餐,离去后,你会经过大片阳光的后院,然后跳入到一个巨大、全黑的球形凹处地。听起来似乎有些夸张,但朱利安指出,有趣的主意不应该被低估,人们比以往任何时候都可决定他们想要的做的事。显然对他们而言,如果工作无趣,想当然他们在这也待不久,好玩不仅是表示玩耍,更是被公平的对待和对事情负责。



兴起共同工作运动比渴望合作或迎接明日世界的野心来的重要。过去十年受到全球经融危机动荡的影响,全球传统全职工作职位逐渐减少,年轻一代也学习看待兼职工作不仅是必须也是理想的。根据Ituit 2020报告指出,2020年估计美国有40%的劳动人口中是由自由工作者、临时工及其他形式的自雇者所组成。相反地,80%的大型企业表示他们计划增加弹性劳动力得以缩减成本和增加效益。

共同工作空间已成为这些力量汇集的地方,他们不仅提供工作场所的基础设施,也提供了在咖啡厅或在家工作时缺乏的网络连结、合作及社群意识的独特工作方式。共同工作现象正崛起中,所提供吸引的族群不只是自由工作者还有来自大公司的团队。根据Deskmag2018全球合作调查指出,今年底约有 170万人在19,000共同工作环境地点里,近年来这个数字稳定成长中。

朱利安和法兰克成立99把椅子时,对公司运作设定了基本信念,他自问对员工该提供那些基本福利?”例如: 灵活的工时、家中办公、可自行决定该做甚么的自由,及自主权都是必要因素。然后他说,这其实是找到能胜任他们任务的团队。


家中办公的灵感 (或电话沟通),弹性时间和其他替代朝九晚五的工时已越来越常见,即使在大型企业如戴姆勒和SAP中也是如此。但更激进的想法正出现特别注重文化的公司,99把椅子就非常严肃地看待此事。


近年来,自我组织和自我管理团队背后的想法逐渐稳定建立。2013年网上时尚零售商Zappos 宣布将采用Holacracy上了头条新闻,一个全面自我管理上的领先方式与平台。即使拥有1500名员工以古怪文化出名的公司,此举动也震撼不少人。自我组织、自我管理文化仍被广泛视为工作混乱与理想化,对商界人士来说,权力分散为荒谬的观念。

但对向朱利安这样的支持者而来说,自我组织不仅是拥有真正文化创新、灵活公司的一种方式。我们来探讨他在99把椅子中如何发展及其背后的使命。朱利安引用Frederic Laloux 2014年出版彻底改造组织 深具影响力一书,Laloux分析人类组织在历史上从原始部落到早期宗教、帝国,启蒙机构和现代企业的演变方式。他指出随着每个新组织范例地出现,繁华与重大突破一定被后者加以改善。




相信朱利安对保证打造一个有热情、目标的工作世界,乐观情绪是容易的。当然在年轻企业家中希望看到工作将变得更自由、更有意义,他并不孤单。但他打造的理想主义品牌能够成为新常态吗? 抑或是这仅是令人婉惜的千禧年世代其众多又不切实际的期望呢? 朱利安笑了,承认千禧世代的确让大家变得更困难。但对他而言,无疑的,热情带来生产力,有了生产力就会创造出更美好的将来。问题在于,你能创造一个人人皆满足、快乐、努力达成目标的世界吗? 实际上可能吗? 我不得而知。我希望大多数人都可做到,因为这样会更有趣、更充实。并想象我们可以为世界做些甚么,如果人人都快乐、也在做自己想做的事,那会更有效率并有更多的变化。


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