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Changing values in our society

Our society is changing: On the one hand through demographic development and on the other hand through changes in social structures. The significant increase in life expectancy and simultaneous individualisation is leading to serious change. A society is developing which places great emphasis on the individual freedom to choose and decide, as well as traditional values like community and human ties.
In some cases individuals are living out their lives completely independently of what many would see as a restrictive (family) structure. Thanks to new means of communication and changing modes of living, there are now many possibilities to network, which satisfies the needs of social living and integration. Birgit Gebhardt has spent many years looking at trends and the interpretation of social change. profile editor Stephanie Loose spoke to her about changing values in our society.

Birgit Gebhardt
Birgit Gebhardt, trend-spotter, is the author of the book "2037: Unser Alltag in der Zukunft", which she wrote on behalf of the Körber Foundation.
As a managing director of TRENDBÜRO between 2007 and 2012, Birgit Gebhardt took responsibility for the project business of Germany´s most influential business consultancy for social change.
Before her promotion to managing director through Prof. Peter Wippermann she spent six years as senior consultant applying the methods of qualitative trend research to various problems and developing cross-industrial product and communication strategies for companies like Audi, Procter & Gamble and stilwerk.
Until 2001 Birgit Gebhardt worked for five years as an editor for the magazine Design Report. Since 2011 the graduate interior architect is a member of the board of trustees for the academy of fashion and design, a founding member of the Hamburg think tank FUTUREPORT and since 2012 is on the expert commission of the Bertelsmann Foundation with a focus on "Working and Living Perspectives in Germay".

Frau Gebhardt, “freedom” is at the top of the list on the Trendbüro ranking chart. What does that tell us about our society?
“Freedom” is at the top of the list because it is the subject most discussed in internet chat forums. From the number of posts on each subject we are able to produce a ranking chart.

That means “family” and “community” are the next most often discussed topics?
Right. In 2009, “family” was on 4th place and “success” on 2nd place in the ranking. “Community” has also made a significant move up the ranks. However, the desire for “individual freedom” is obviously greater than the values placed on “family”. But how would you define family today? We had already established in 2009, that there is a perceived family ideal in the minds of the people. People want long-term commitment: Families should provide support and security. In reality however, we live more in elective affinities like patchwork families and transitory relationships, because flexible relationships in our private and professional lives seem to be more practical. It seems that we’re shunning the responsibility that comes with family.

Today, most employers expect Mobility and flexibility. But then family structure is not easy to maintain. Is there a solution for the future?
In the future we will have better possibilities to be remotely “present”. For example, with the help of Skype® or Facetime® or by using desktopsharing. Video conferencing has also become very popular. Furthermore, through the influence of social media and social networking the line between private and business life is becoming blurred. Business contacts will often become private contacts. In many ways, our mobility has already increased significantly. To have too little time to be with the family, is a living reality. In order to meet the needs of family and work commitments in the future, we will spend more time working from home and go to the office sporadically when necessary.

What effect will this have on the design of office space?
The biggest question from our most recent survey was, what does the office building have to deliver if I am networked and therefore locationindependent, able to work from anywhere and with colleagues spread all over Europe or even worldwide? When this is the case, social aspects become very important. In the office, I meet my colleagues and nurture my networks. There are also spatial advantages: In the office there are both open spaces which allow communication and quiet rooms conducive to concentrated work. One theory on the study of the new work culture claims, the office will become a meeting place with event character, physically conveying the values and attitude of the company. In this way, employees will connect with the company even though being more flexibly and freely engaged.

Are we still talking about the office that we are familiar with, the corridor with offices branching off left and right?
Probably not. The trend is towards “Open Spaces” to encourage communication in the office. A woman from a large software company explained to us that she works from home, because she can manage her personal affairs and professional responsibilities more effectively e.g. evening calls to the USA. One day in the week she goes to the office, because she wants to meet her colleagues and she can get all the information she needs to continue with her work from home.

Is there anything in the new study that really surprised you regarding trends in office space and work?
What surprised me was the development in the design of office space. The office has to qualify as a work environment, as a competitive “coworking space”. Architects need to consider functionality as well as emotional response when designing office space, so that the employee chooses the office over the home-office.

That is certainly going to be a big challenge for architects in the

Yes, indeed. The development is going in the same direction as flagship stores where the brand experience is at the forefront. Through spatial design, companies are eliciting an emotional response. It is interesting how people’s behaviour can be influenced through architecture.

Personal experience and personal contact continue to be extremely important. Have values not then changed so dramatically?
That is what different studies show, probably because values themselves are rather conservative. Trendb üro founder Prof. Peter Wippermann says: “Everything that threatens to disappear, gains value.”

In your new book “2037: Our life in the future” one has the feeling, that the demographic factor has a strong influence on our future lives. Will cities in the future become even more dense or will we all move to the countryside?
Cities will become denser, for a number of reasons. First, because it is easier for us to nurture personal contacts in urban agglomerations and second, we believe that in this country, in the future, there will be less investment in the infrastructure of rural areas. Elderly people will move back to the city because they will be better cared for. It is interesting that virtual and social networks are also playing a part in these decisions. People who are socially connected in a virtual environment are those who actually meet each other more often, being generally more sociable and will therefore prefer to live in the city. For architects, the city continues to be the main field of activity: The conversion and revitalisation of buildings is, in our opinion, the way forward.