Between the past and the home office – Was it a curse or is it a blessing? We do the reality check and give insights from our everyday life.
An experience report
Completely unprepared, we all fell into the 1st lockdown of the Corona Pandemic. Exactly fell! We had no problem in our company to switch to home office. Well, at least technically. But were we prepared for it? Mentally, organizationally, and work-wise?
A look into the immediate past
Home office has a long tradition at WebGate. Actually, WebGate did not have an office when it was founded. As consultants, we were mainly with our customers or worked from home. As we grew and acquired more companies, we added offices and, as a modern company, also the possibility to do home office one day a week. We tried to make this as individual as possible, meaning according to the client and employee. But did this prepare us for COVID-19?
Reality check 1 – The technical aspect
We were just lucky. Two weeks before the 1st lockdown, we had finished our mail and CRM migration to the cloud. Our ERP has been in the cloud for 2 years and our development tools are also cloud-based. For a long time now, our employees have been getting notebooks as work tools. No, we hadn’t smelled it, it was pure luck!
But I did wonder a few times what would have happened if we had still needed access to our infrastructure in the office. Of course our team would have set up VPN tunnels, etc., but how would that have worked with communication and collaboration? Without cloud-based meeting and chat software, would we have been able to orchestrate a daily meeting so quickly and easily? And what would that have been like with pair programming? The collaborative work on proposals? The collaboration with our customers? I doubt we could have mastered this as well. From a technical point of view, we were just lucky to have chosen the right tools at the right moment.
Reality check 2 – The human aspect
But how did we fare as people in the process? With the closing of the schools, it was immediately clear to Roman and me that our employees were now needed at home. An exceptional situation had arisen! This required the highest flexibility and adaptation from all of us. But it was not only the fact that the children were now suddenly at home or that the partner was also working from home that challenged us, but also the fact that we were no longer meeting physically.
One of the things we did was to meet virtually at the same time every day. 15 minutes to share, gossip and hear what was going on “in” the company.
After two weeks, I was totally exhausted and had aching limbs. My body was rebelling against all the meetings. It seemed as if my body couldn’t handle the fact that the picture transmission was very slightly, imperceptibly delayed compared to the sound. I realized how much of the nonverbal message was falling by the wayside. And I miss the contact with my fellow participants!
Let’s look a little further back
There used to be a reason we came to the office….
Yes there really was, the reason why we humans get together to work. No, the reason was not that we like to hide in a corner in open-plan offices. The reason has more to do with the coffee machine. We are social beings, we need the exchange. And we need it just as intensively as we need concentrated work. Creativity, decision-making, error detection and many other activities are linked to this exchange.
If we want to find solutions, we need to interact with each other. The team is more than just the sum of all the individuals. We spur each other on to the good, even to the best. (I know whoever has children would now say “or for the worst”). Our world of work has changed, but when we look back, we realize that this working together, having a common goal, was and continues to be essential to succeeding as human beings. Whether this was in the past as production communities among farmers, as artisanal family businesses, as factories during industrialization, or today as large think tanks, we need this togetherness.
Summary of our experience
No, we were not prepared for home office in this form. And I personally don’t believe in this isolating form of home office either. I am convinced that we need social interaction. But I am also convinced that home office as part of a company’s culture is an important contribution to a healthy society, better work-life balance, strengthening of families, protection of infrastructure and resources. It’s just that I think we still have a lot to learn here. We need to find a balance between working together and working in a focused way. Both elements are important for our mental health. – So the journey to the workplace of the future continues.
Author: Christian Güdemann