The Corona crisis has taught us a few things. Conditions in parts of the meat industry are abysmal - which, admittedly, you could have seen without Corona if you had just taken a quick look. We found out that the people who work in hospitals, nursing homes and supermarkets have systemically important jobs for society as a whole. That, too, was basically no surprise. Still others have realized that their job isn't as vital as they might have thought, and that there are many different ways to get tasks done - and the outcome can still be good. Home office has finally become the talk of the town in Germany since Corona, and the fact that so many companies were suddenly able to rely on home office after all during the initial lockdown certainly helped Germany get through the crisis comparatively well, especially during the hot phase in April and May 2020.
Home office wherever possible was a successful measure in the first lockdown. Now, in the second lockdown, more people are back in the offices.
Since last summer, companies have been back to ordering their employees back into the offices. Actually, it was thought that when the second wave came, it would be possible to send everyone back to the home office in no time at all. Certainly, the first wave was absolutely challenging for all non-system professions as well. However, it has shown that it is very possible to work in the home office as well. Now we have the second wave and it happens - surprisingly little. Many people would like to work from home again, but are not allowed to. The pleas from politicians, scientists and the workforce are becoming more serious and louder. Home office could further ease the infection situation.
VPN and trust
What challenges did the companies face in the first wave? The infrastructure had to be checked for Corona suitability within a very short time, if it did not exist, and then converted to remote. This went surprisingly well, if you ask around the business world. Of course, the first few weeks were a bit bumpy, but eventually even the last videoconference participant had figured out how to turn the microphone on and off. The IT people were challenged more than ever to set up a webcam for even the last holdout. While individual employees struggled with VPN connections, muting and the "screen share" feature, executives faced an additional challenge: Trust. No one is in the office and somehow the work still gets done. That's reassuring. But isn't Mr. Schmidt taking too many smoke breaks and is Ms. Müller perhaps oversleeping every morning now? A good manager could use the corona crisis to build on her ability to trust her employees. It helps to focus on the essentials: Are my people doing their jobs reliably and on time?
What comes next?
Home office has been a challenge but also a huge success in an incredible number of companies. But what does this mean for the time after the crisis, which will hopefully come at some point? Many companies are thinking about making home office a permanent option. Twitter, for example, was one of the first companies to publicly announce that the right to work from home would henceforth be granted to all employees. Permanently. Several other companies followed suit. A huge step towards the future and towards new modern working conditions. Many German companies have at least considered taking similar steps, albeit not quite as drastic.
Home office as the future of all companies?
More than 40% of all Germans could work from home 90% of the time. Less control over employees may be a disadvantage in the eyes of some bosses, but the benefits undeniably outweigh the disadvantages. Picture it: Companies could save a lot of their office space. Employees are more flexible and rested because they don't have to travel to and from work. This, in turn, leads to employees being happier because they can balance work and family much better. More satisfied and rested employees are better employees. Various surveys have shown that around half of Germans would have no problem working from home full-time. So will this lead to a lasting, long-term change in the work culture in Germany? In some companies, certainly. In others probably not, not as can be seen now, in the second wave. Will the right to home office perhaps even be enshrined in law? Who knows. What is certain is that it is currently working out very well in many companies that HR departments, IT people and office workers can be released from the obligation to be present in the company. Thousands of meetings are held daily via Webex, Teams, Teamviewer or Zoom. Even training sessions and job interviews take place online and, incidentally, millions in travel costs are saved. Fewer business trips are certainly a point that will stay with us, because savings here are not only good for the company coffers, but of course also for the environment.
Digitization, where Germany has lagged well behind many other countries in recent years, has received a huge boost thanks to Corona. After all, it is often the case that people only become inventive in times of need. Corona has presented us all with enormous challenges in some cases, but many companies have risen above themselves and achieved in a matter of days what long programs on the subject of digitization have failed to do over a period of years. The lessons learned will help us all. Even the event industry has been able to develop new concepts in some areas: Trade shows, product demonstrations, launch shows and other events are taking place online. If things continue like this, perhaps panel discussions, theater performances and readings will soon take place as well? Of course, nothing in these areas replaces the real, genuine interaction, the on-site experience. But in the meantime, maybe it can keep some self-employed and small business owners afloat. Unfortunately, we don't have a choice at the moment, because Corona continues to force us to be creative and will probably continue to do so for a while. So let's seize the opportunity and try to learn some lessons from the disaster, at least in the area of home office and digitization, which can also give Germany a competitive advantage in the long run.
Author: IAPM internal
Key words: Home office, Project management, Crisis Management, Economy
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