Hybrid work is only possible if the technology works smoothly and humanity does not fall by the wayside, according to the result of a current, virtual CW roundtable. […]
The pandemic acts as an innovation accelerator. In spring 2020, companies had to react quickly and offer their employees home office and mobile working wherever possible. If many bosses had previously rejected hybrid forms of work, they had no other choice during the first lockdown. But what about a year and a half later? Is hybrid working becoming the New Normal? Computerwoche wanted to know this and invited experts from the IT industry to a virtual discussion round.
In March 2020, companies were desperately looking for software solutions, collaboration and video conferencing tools so that their employees could continue working from home without any problems. For example, mobile solutions were in demand to work together on documents as well as a well-functioning call and mail forwarding. Video tools and secure access to the company network were also in demand. “Today, customers have more specific requirements, such as that solutions are better integrated into their IT landscape,” says Galina Goduhina, Sales Director of Onlyoffice, a provider of cloud-based office solutions.
The situation is similar for Dr. Ralf Ebbinghaus, Managing Director of Enreach Germany. “With Corona, the employees switched to the home office on an ad hoc basis. Now many customers want to professionalize mobile working.” Integrated solutions are in demand, says Ebbinghaus, for example that no telephone rings during a video conference or the five most important customers are always put through.
Before Corona, there was great skepticism about cloud applications in this country, but collaboration tools require virtual storage. “Many companies have thrown all concerns about cloud overboard, because they wanted to ensure the employability of their teams,” says Christian Koch, Manager Unified Communication & Collaboration at the consulting firm Campana & Schott.
But hybrid work is not a self-starter. Not all collaboration tools can be operated intuitively, especially many older employees who have no experience in mobile working feel overwhelmed by the new working environment in the home office. “Software developers like to add new buttons and features. The trick is to omit as much as possible and to make the user interface simple,“ says Ebbinghaus.
New Work demands a lot from employees. That is why leaders are needed who, even in this situation, keep an eye on humanity and adapt their leadership style. This starts with the distribution of tasks. If bosses continue to push work orders by e-mail without comment, the employees lose track and, over time, also lose patience.
A grip on the phone or a short video meeting often helps. “After a telephone call, employees can better assess the work order,” says Christian Koch. In a short video call you also get the facial expressions and mood of your counterpart. Koch observes that many companies initially focused on introducing a basic technology and took care of IT security. But the organization of work should not be neglected, he warns.
Video conferencing is a double-edged sword. In some companies, one virtual meeting chases the next. Many employees lack the time to rework or document what has been discussed. Some employees feel enormous pressure. “It is important that managers support their teams and take this pressure off,” says Wolfram Disch, member of the senior leadership team of the IT service provider Experis.
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Precisely because mobile work demands more from employees, bosses who know how to successfully lead a virtual team are needed. This includes, for example, better planning work orders and meetings and not overburdening anyone. Especially if you have working parents in the home-schooling stress in the team, you should react tolerantly if a child of the employee runs through the picture or needs to be comforted. More consideration for each other improves the virtual working atmosphere. For example, if an employee forgets to adjust the camera correctly, it helps to point this out discreetly or with a joke in order to avoid embarrassing situations for everyone.
Professional equipment should be a matter of course. However, employees often lack a study in their own apartment. Some people are uncomfortable when the boss sees how the living room is decorated or when dirty dishes protrude into the picture. A virtual background in the video tool solves this problem elegantly and simply.
Team managers should make sure that the privacy of their employees is also protected in the home office. In addition, it is recommended to have enough distance from the camera so that not every wrinkle on the face is noticeable. After all, employees in the conference hall do not get on the pelle either. Wolfram Disch, for example, recommends unplanned calls in order to informally exchange information with employees about current tasks or sometimes turn off the camera when it comes to short agreements.
Many employees in the home office miss the gossip with colleagues in the coffee kitchen or in the hallway. Platforms can only insufficiently replace this exchange of knowledge. Some also feel stressed by the feeling of always being reachable. Managers have a duty of care towards their employees and should set clear limits on when it is over in the home office. Agreements and technology help to implement this.
Christian Ruoff, co-founder of Epikshare, says that his startup, which has three locations, has struggled to work well together virtually. According to Ruoff, Epicshare was created because a few puzzle pieces were still missing in the hybrid working world. “It was important for our customers to raise the security standards,” says Ruoff, who is also in charge of Services and Marketing. Virtual collaboration is particularly difficult for employees who have always worked in the office and could reach user support at any time.
“Too much technology scares the employees, especially when they are sitting alone at home in front of the computer,” says Ruoff. The decisive factor is empathic employees in the help desk who take the problems of the customers seriously and solve them competently. In addition, all those who worked in user support should be “in a good mood” and spread a good mood on the phone, recommends Ruoff. Especially because a lot is demanded of the employees in the home office, empathic support is crucial. “The employees in the help desk have to be careful and talk to people sensitively,” says Ruoff.
To ensure that a new platform or software is not rejected, it is necessary to identify key figures in the company and train them with the new technology. They carry the idea further, engage their colleagues and motivate them. “Investing more time in employee training is the greatest success, according to our experience. This is the only way to get everyone involved,“ reveals Christian Ruoff.
With the lockdown, the continuing education business collapsed in attendance. But in order for employees to be able to work quickly and efficiently on the move, they need training in addition to a professional help desk. With webinars and e-learning offers, many companies closed this gap. The e-learning providers benefited from this. “We have been feeling a strong trend towards more e-learning for several years now,” says Dr. Hartwig Holzapfel, Member of the Management Board of time4you. Founded in Karlsruhe in 1999, the company is one of the pioneers in the industry.
During Corona, customers often looked for training offers at short notice and often opted for webinars. But online learning content would have to be conceptually integrated into the training concept of a company and that takes time, according to Holzapfel. The demand for learning platforms also increased. E-learning offers create flexible learning incentives that employees can use without travel costs and little effort. Even after a training, the learning platform often provides additional information or tests.
In the spring of 2020, many thought that the employees would soon return to the companies. By the winter of 2021 at the latest, it will become clear that this was a naive illusion. Therefore, it is high time for companies to take more care of psychological aspects and work organization in addition to professional collaboration tools and IT security. After all, the longer employees work on the move, the clearer it becomes that without empathy and humor, productivity also suffers.
*Ingrid Weidner works as a freelance journalist in Munich.