LabCampus’ Sarah Wittlieb on the Importance of Collaboration and Networks

Innovation Diaries: Dealing with an Uncertain Future

In the midst of these crazy times, most industries still haven’t gotten their shit together. However, a few bright minds managed to understand the paradigm shift, act accordingly and reap the rewards. So, Catharina van Delden and I talked to some of them! Join us on our learning journey over the next few weeks to see how completely unrelated industries deal very differently with the same challenges we all share – and let’s become better together!

Since 2018, Sarah Wittlieb is Vice President of Sales & Innovation at LabCampus. With her previous experience as Head of Innovation at Munich Airport, she joined the organization to drive innovation by recognizing trends and technologies as well as collaborating with customers and companies to generate new solutions and business models.

LabCampus is a cross-industry innovation center that is being built at Munich Airport. With the mission to actively promote innovation, they are creating an environment geared towards collaboration, joint development, testing, presentation, and implementation. The workspace is designed to offer new works solutions for global players, hidden champions as well as newcomers to innovate for a better tomorrow.


What is LabCampus’ mission; what drives you?

With the ongoing crises, we have learned that it’s very important to not only bring people and companies together but also help them learn from each other. Additionally, as one of the main aftermaths of the Covid-19 pandemic, employee requirements totally changed. So, our focus is to help companies from completely different industries and sizes to face this paradigm shift by creating an optimal environment to do business, meet employee demands and of course innovate in collaboration with an ecosystem.

How do your business model and the physical space at LabCampus reflect new work solutions?

In former times, people were tied to one single office for the entire day before going back home in the evening. The biggest trend we see is flexible offices. One could claim that flexibility is becoming the new workplace currency. We observed and optimized a certain “resident journey” in our spaces. So we have created certain areas according to the current needs – a coffee space for relaxed discussions, meeting spaces for in-depth conversations, creative spaces, silent spaces, etc. Therefore, if employers want to win their people back into the office, they need to provide them with a broad mixture of different environments and workplaces that meet the unique needs and requirements that come with an employee’s workday.

Besides the design architecture, what other approach makes a difference at LabCampus?

As a further target, we are dealing with human centricity, which is about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We welcome people from all over the world – this is very deeply rooted in our DNA being located at an airport – so we must listen to them and learn how we can translate solutions to get them all seamlessly through the day. The one point, of course, is to offer basics like restaurants, sports facilities, and after-work events. In that, we must build up a universal design.

However, we really need to talk about personalization and customization because, in reality, it’s not about the office but about the employees who work there. E.g. during the pandemic, so many people had to go to the office whilst their children were not able to go to school. You should be prepared to find solutions for them. Another example: Not everybody is interested in drinking beer and having roast pork with potato dumplings. This is why we created personas and interview possible future customers; so that we can learn about the mix of interests. Essentially, we need to distinguish long-term shifts in the style of working from temporary trends in order to set our campus up for success.

What does innovation mean for you and how do you promote it?

First, innovation needs to be part of corporate culture: it has to be part of the company’s DNA. This doesn’t mean having a hackathon once in a while but relies on empowering people to come up with and share their ideas. It doesn’t end there – after voicing their ideas, employees should stand a solid chance to work on these ideas so they become reality. The most difficult part of innovation is to implement this culture and get the resources for it.

Additionally, you pay attention to different employee types, and here the mixture of different generations is essential. Of course, on the one hand, you need new ideas and think about what is coming next but on the other hand, you should always keep in mind that every product can be developed further.

During an innovation process, it’s very important to involve customers and stakeholders from the get-go, whilst still being fast enough to keep up with the market’s pace. I want to emphasize especially that developing a prototype that gets tested by the different stakeholders several times before you develop the final product is key. Also, I would recommend being very open in terms of collaboration. For instance, traditionally, travelers only became customers once they arrived at the airport. Today we think about mobility within a seamless journey, which already begins with the traveler’s thought of where they want to go. Expanding the scope of a traveler’s journey simultaneously introduces many more opportunities for them. The customer needs to make the booking, wants to do some shopping during the trip, and demands more information about the destination. All this leads to the essential element in innovation processes: you must explore collaborations with other companies because you cannot be the champion of all technologies.

How do you measure impact?

Our goal is to bring companies together and set a perfect framework (aka an analog physical location) where people can get together, sit next to each other, and have room for discussing, developing, and prototyping. Additionally, we offer a community. Every resident has a huge network, and they get introduced to each other and happily exchange their knowledge and learnings. The people here want to expand their perspective in terms of transformation. They want to talk about what is happening in the world and what kind of impact it has on business and how they can adapt to changing conditions. Of course, we are not in charge of innovation for our customers themselves; but we do create a perfect test lab for them, we are enablers. It includes a popup lab within the security area of the airport terminal. There, companies have the opportunity to introduce new products to all passengers, who are usually interested in passing some time after security checks, hence our special infrastructure there.

What role does digitalization play in all this?

In terms of digitalization, I would say there are two main areas that apply to LabCampus: new work and seamless employee experience. For that, it’s necessary to be able to go through your day with all the information you need and be able to book venues with easy centralized access. Therefore, we are currently working on a resident platform where our customers have access to all relevant information, such as where to book meeting rooms, catering for meetings, or even live information on public transport. Of course, we have this analog architecture to bring people together, but everything is fully supported by digital solutions. This digitalization of processes relates to one issue especially crucial at airports: security. With security, you can win or lose your customer’s trust. So, for fully digital and new products, it is important to ensure the highest level of digital security.

How do you incorporate these values into your culture and leadership in times of crises?

You see, all people are human and have basic requirements – shocking, I know! Leadership means listening to them. Of course, performance management and leadership are important, but the point remains: it’s not possible without a team. We founded our company and started construction work at the same time as the beginning of the pandemic. It was imperative to communicate well within our team so that each member could stay informed and work towards our common goal. In this crisis, everybody was affected differently, and everybody had different coping strategies, but you really must care about people and cannot simply abandon them. We realized that you couldn’t continue giving 120% all the time; especially, in unprecedented environments. It’s also necessary to find professionals to build a resilience concept into corporate culture.

I want to highlight that in this context, you also need to analyze every role in your team. What is the impact of all those changing situations and crises for different roles and how do you bring them together? A salesperson must think about where to get new customers without live events, or a product manager comes to realize that the customer journey is shifting to online platforms if a lockdown is issued. All this shows even more how important it is to associate people from different industries and disciplines with different technologies. The combination of them all is the solution. That’s why I am glad to offer the opportunity to collaborate with people here at LabCampus. And of course, I need to say; I am proud of the people at LabCampus. They have this kind of specific DNA; wanting to make a difference and the vision and dream of making this campus happen.

Tl;dr for the lazy

  • Flexibility is the new workplace currency.
  • Offices must offer their employees opportunities for personalization and customization.
  • Distinguish long-term shifts from temporary trends.
  • Involve customers and all stakeholders in the innovation process from the beginning; test prototypes before you develop the final product.
  • Redefine your customer journey to include all decisions connected to your product/service. This will uncover new opportunities for innovation and improvement.

Original Post on LinkedIn