100 % HomeOffice: The right sign for future-oriented work
If Corona has taught us one thing, it is the spontaneity of necessary change, not waiting until you might be ready, but making sure you have to be ready.
It’s almost lucky that, as fans of digitalisation, we were already thinking before Corona about the benefits of improving our communication and data storage through Office 365. Looking back, there almost couldn’t have been a better time to put this plan into action. When the big bang came and we suddenly had to rethink all work, we already had the infrastructure in place. The only thing that was still a little lacking was getting used to the new working environment, which ultimately convinced us with many advantages. Not least because of the switch from being present in the office to a home office overnight.
From now on: working from home
When the circular arrived that none of our employees – if possible – should come to the office any more, but that they should work from home from this point on, there was nothing to stop us from just doing it. Only one or the other went back to the office to get the laptop, the second monitor or the office chair they had grown fond of, so that an ideal working environment could also be created at home.
In the months that followed, there was the occasional release (not request) to return to the office. With a healthy scepticism we took note of this and … well, put it aside for the time being. On the one hand, because it was actually crystal clear that this relaxation could not last in 2021, and on the other hand, because it was simply not necessary. The experience during the lockdown showed that we can coordinate and work together just as well from home as from the different offices and locations. Communication even improved because employees from different locations could suddenly communicate with each other easily and quickly and project groups could be mixed across disciplines and departments without having to make a big effort.
Social togetherness vs. professional quarantine
The initial fear that we would now have to do without naturalised ways of communicating or that we would distance ourselves too much socially was not entirely confirmed. Even the “kitchen talks”, which our management even encouraged, were transferred to the digital environment without further ado. The lockdowns were so easy to endure, not only in the context of daily work, but also in terms of social interaction.
Of course, no Zoom or team meeting can replace face-to-face meetings, so many were happy when the offices were reopened. But it’s just done on a voluntary basis, inviting people to get together for office hours. For some meetings, especially when it comes to creative work, it is better to sit together in front of a whiteboard. Colleagues who can’t be present (or don’t want to be for health reasons) can be added by teams. It doesn’t get much more flexible than that.
Is there still work to be done?
It’s obvious. The biggest disadvantage of a home office arrangement is the fear that people will now stop working and the workload will explode. I certainly cannot speak for all companies and employees here, but this has not been confirmed in our case. Meetings are held just as reliably as before, and of course work doesn’t stop. In some departments, it is even rumoured that efficiency has increased even more and that more can now be done in less time than when people were present.
Admittedly, it is very difficult to get rid of this … let’s say “control thinking”. The way of working has been established and proven over decades. And the saying “never change a running system” is no coincidence. Nevertheless, managers must also be prepared to rethink when circumstances demand it. Or our working methods change. Work-life balance is more important to employees than ever before and can be achieved much better with a home office arrangement than with rigid attendance or core working hours. This is also a sign of appreciation towards the employees, giving them the opportunity to flexibly combine work and life.
Learnings and consequences
This experience was also the decisive point for us to say that we might as well keep it that way. Not only the abolition of core working hours, but also voluntary presence in the office. If you don’t want to – and the boss doesn’t order it – you no longer have to come to the office at alfa. If joint meetings or presences are planned, they are now even welcomed with pleasure because we see each other again and spend time together. And no one says “no”.
We got through Corona very well with this method. I don’t have any figures now, but noticeably we had fewer absences due to illness than before the pandemic and the absences due to Corona have also been very limited. We were even able to hold training sessions and workshops with our clients digitally, so that day-to-day business and project work had almost no losses, even if we had to fan out the times a bit, because digital training is more strenuous than face-to-face training. For trainers and learners.
Better working conditions than before?
In my eyes, a home office arrangement is the way of the future. Not only from a human point of view, because employees are now given much more leeway in shaping their lives and their work, but also because they are trusted. And that also shows. This control thinking and the top-down management style are no longer sustainable in the long run.
However, it also pays off for the company itself to do without compulsory attendance. Office space that is no longer necessary can be saved. At our location in Koblenz, there are already so-called shared places. Here, three employees share a workstation, as they are only in the office very irregularly anyway and almost never at the same time. At our main location, too, we can probably reduce the number of rooms. That saves quite a bit of money.
Last but not least: Sustainability
If we don’t have to manage so many floors, it also pays off in terms of our CO2 emissions and pays towards the savings mandated by the government. Of course, one must also consider here that the heating loads are passed on to the staff, who now have to heat their flats during the day as well. Especially with the increased energy costs, this is a significant additional burden. Nevertheless, in general terms it is cheaper to heat a well-insulated living space rather than an office floor with an open construction.
The most obvious argument for sustainability is certainly the saving on car journeys. Business trips are no longer made as often because meetings are conducted digitally, but trips from home to the office are also eliminated. Since we have some commuters in the company, that makes a lot of difference. This is especially noticeable now, when fuel prices are still higher than before the pandemic. In the end, it’s also much better for the climate balance.
What people often don’t think about is the amount of paper that accumulates in offices. Documents are printed out more quickly for review if the office has a printer that is easier on the nerves than private printers. At home, people think twice about whether they really need to print out the PDF or whether they could also read it digitally. The shared document storage in Sharepoint – and the hurdle of not having to burden yourself with mountains of printed paper at home – also saves some resources here. This pays off again in terms of money and resources. Sharing PDFs via Sharepoint is also much faster than copying the paper and carrying it over to someone else.
You can see that we at alfa Media are fans of the new way of working. From a human and economic point of view, we have had very good experiences with introducing a home office rule that leaves it up to the employees to decide how and where they want to work. Actually, our rule is not called “home office”, but mobile working. It would also be conceivable to travel to the North Sea with a 49-euro ticket and work from the beach there. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection. And a bit of thick skin against envious colleagues when you can hear the sound of the waves and the screaming seagulls during your morning rounds.
But there is always room for improvement. We are currently evaluating the past years and trying to further improve the community through digital tools. In the meantime, some people miss the regular get-togethers in the office and the company of colleagues, so that in 2023 we have the task of coming up with solutions for how a new concept for the office space can provide a remedy. And of course we will report on this.