ITD: Mr. Fauser, on March 20, 2022, the renewed commitment to working from home ended. But how insistent are employers in large companies virtually that all employees return to the office immediately?
Bernard Fuser: This decision largely depends on the company. A survey conducted by the Rheinische Post in North Rhine-Westphalia shows that hybrid models will continue to define the day-to-day work of many companies in the future. In my opinion, the prerequisite for the successful integration of home office concepts into everyday working life and acceptance of these concepts is corporate culture. We have been living a business model based on goal-oriented leadership and working hours based on trust for many years. It gives our employees the flexibility they need in an international corporate environment. This is working very well and has also made us past the time of the pandemic. I am now a fan of the hybrid model myself. When used correctly, it can make an important contribution to work-life balance if I decide on my daily work instead of a time clock.
ITD: How do employees themselves feel about the end of the home office requirement?
melting: Much more than just the end of duty, I find it very convenient to reduce workplace requirements in teams. The interest in returning to the office is enormous. The office function has changed. It is – more than ever – a place for collaboration and meeting. Flexible models continue to play a major role in our daily work. Our employees all over the world have the opportunity to work flexibly from their offices at home in consultation with their superiors. With us, the possibility of flexible working is not related to legal requirements. A trend I also see in other companies, partners, and clients. The future of the world of work is mixed.
ITD: How can a return to the office or office experience be made more palatable or redesigned for future employees?
melting: Speaking on our behalf, we offer various initiatives to get employees back into the office. However, we have used the time in the past two years to adapt the office environment to the new requirements in some locations. We have reduced the number of offices and created cooperation areas. Personal contact – be it with colleagues, clients or partners – is and remains one of the most important reasons to return to the office. In conversations, the desire for personal exchange has always been reflected in me when it comes to the disadvantages of working from home. Innovative office concepts can also make a positive contribution to employee acceptance.
ITD: What role might, for example, areas of collaboration and social contacts, quiet areas, sports and wellness areas play?
melting: The office of the future must change. Mixed business models require offices to be designed and planned differently. Collaboration spaces play an equally important role as quiet areas for focused work. The focus is on the employee, who must emotionally connect the office to the place of identification, social networking and personal exchange. Employees must be able to move, exchange ideas, and communicate in different areas or rooms. They must find space to work, but also freedom. Essentially, the office of the future is like a diverse ecosystem in which employees feel safe, cared for, and comfortable.
ITD: What technologies play an important role in the corresponding business concepts?
melting: The digitization of the world of work has received a huge boost in the past couple of years. Modern information and communication technology is the basis of this development. In addition to modern IT hardware, this also includes collaboration solutions that support flexibility, collaboration, and exchange within teams. However, there are also downsides – in recent years, the number of cyber-attacks has reached an all-time high. IT security must be completely rethought in a hybrid work environment in which devices are used extensively outside of company walls. Hardware protection is of additional importance.
ITD: What are the potential drawbacks to redesign? So what should you pay special attention to?
melting: I have already mentioned many topics – the issue of leadership and trust – as well as the technical requirements for the performance of the devices used and the integration of trusted security concepts. One topic has proven to be particularly challenging for me personally and as a manager: How do I stay connected with my employees in a mixed work environment? By this I mean less a matter of the day-to-day progress of the project. It comes down to the nuances. It is about unfiltered market information. Feedback from clients and partners. Peer evaluation. All these points form the basis for important business decisions and are essentially the result of personal exchanges. In my view, this only works through presence. Having – or should I say accessibility – I can achieve with the help of technical assistance, even across geographical distances.
IT Department: What is the impact of modern, blended business models on issues such as employee turnover, hiring, productivity, and health?
melting: The feedback – especially from young employees – is that hybrid business models make us more attractive as an employer. At the same time, they provide the opportunity to adapt daily work to the current life situation. Short contact with family during the day between meetings – for me extra fun time during the work week. Flexibility and personal responsibility increase motivation. What I find particularly exciting is that intergenerational collaboration and experience sharing is sometimes turned upside down when older employees benefit from the experiences of younger employees using modern collaboration techniques. This also has a positive effect on the work climate. Many positive reasons. In addition, it should have been clear in almost every company by now that productivity does not have to be equal to being in the office.