Few companies are as famous for their modern offices as Google. Before the pandemic, employees were motivated to spend as much time as possible at the company with their own fitness studios, office massages, basketball hoops, snacks, and other offerings – in the hopes that they would be as productive as possible. But Google also decided in early March 2020 to send almost all employees around the world to the home office.
18 months later, Philipp Justus, Head of Google for Central Europe, summed up at the Plan W congress: “It has worked incredibly well. Whether you’re a software developer or a marketer, most of the work could just as easily have been done from home after a short transition period. “It was a surprise to us,” Justus says. Due to the positive experience, Google employees will be able to work from home on a daily basis even after the pandemic. An attitude that not all managers in Germany share by far.
There’s the boss who asks his employees to leave the laptop camera on all day at the home office so he can always check to see if his coworkers are really sitting at their desks. Or the manager who gives champagne to employees who come to the office voluntarily every evening to celebrate the culture of presence. There are some glaring examples that the Greens candidate for the Bundestag Laura Sophie Dornheim puts forward at the Plan W congress, but they point to a general problem: the demands placed on managers have changed radically – and not everyone has not the ease of adapting to it.
Get Remote founder Hertwig recommends agreeing on a team code for the home office
Most office workers are now likely to have laptops and more or less ergonomic workstations set up within their own four walls. But that alone is not enough to ensure that home office work performs well in the long run. “This is more a question of organization and management than a technical question,” explains Teresa Hertwig. The founder of Get Remote has been advising companies on the introduction of mobile working for three years. The pandemic catapulted his business from a niche existence in the mainstream and won him numerous commissions. “All of a sudden we were asked by CEOs who were previously outright opponents of home offices,” Hertwig reports. One can imagine that the consultant would be sensitive to their concerns, at least she admits: “I also felt this loss of control when I introduced ‘remote work’ as a manager.
Above all, it would have helped her formulate clear expectations. She recommends that every manager talk a lot with his employees and agree on a team code that defines how cooperation should be structured in the future. It could also answer some very practical questions like whether the camera should be turned on during meetings or not. In Hertwig’s opinion, a camera on is always the best option.
Good communication skills are especially important during the pandemic
This is confirmed by Petra Nieken, professor of human resources management at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. The expert in the field “Future of Work” is connected to the Plan-W congress by video. Because a corona case occurred at her son’s daycare, she was unable to come to Berlin – an issue many parents of the pandemic should be aware of. Using his own example, Nieken immediately demonstrates how communication changes when you aren’t sitting together in a room: “Some of my body language is missing, we’re just not that close digitally,” the professor explains. However, managers should learn to interpret their employees’ non-verbal cues through a camera.
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“I had to learn a lot more to listen”: Ulrike Tagscherer (left) from Augsburg-based robot specialist Kuka, on his experiences with digital management teams. Right in the photo, SZ Nakissa Salavati presenter Petra Nieken was connected via video.
(Photo: Johannes Simon)
Ulrike Tagscherer has also found that it is not so easy to correctly perceive and classify the body language of colleagues digitally. “I still had to develop a little sensitivity, and listening was another topic,” explains the innovation manager at Kuka, a robotics specialist based in Augsburg. Tagscherer has now gotten used to calling employees one-on-one after digital meetings and asking them how they’re doing when they have a weird feeling – for example because a coworker hasn’t nodded during a meeting and doesn’t didn’t sound enthusiastic. You have only had good experiences. “My colleagues have always been grateful that I brought things up,” Tagscherer says.
Good communication skills are now one of the most important qualities of a modern manager, as everyone in the discussion agrees. In addition: the ability to let go, to trust employees and let them work independently. “Today’s manager is a coach who guides employees to do things better,” says Nieken.
However, there is disagreement over whether it is necessary to have a legal right to work in the home office – something that the Greens’ candidate for the Bundestag, Laura Sophie Dornheim, would like to uphold. Stefanie Wolter of the Institute for Employment Research thinks “that a company agreement is always preferable to a political constraint”. Founder Hertwig agrees with the labor market researcher: in practice, it will likely be difficult for employees to enforce the right to work from home. “If I have a boss who doesn’t want to work from home, he’ll punish me in my career,” Hertwig says. In his opinion, the employees would then be better informed to look for a new job. After all, a lot of businesses have now recognized that home offices can work.