In Part 1 “MARKET: HOME OFFICE – DO THE ADVANTAGES OUTWEIGHT THE BENEFITS?” we previously reported on how companies deal with the topic of home offices and what opportunities and risks this entails. Here in Part 2, you can read more comments and experiences from the IOP members.
Schätzl Druck + Medien GmbH
As of March 2019, we had already expanded home office to a very large extent. Every employee in administration and production management has set up the infrastructure for home office. Depending on the department, they organize themselves independently as to who is in the home office or onsite and when. There are no requirements from management.
Home office is part of our new strategy and saves office space and is also very much appreciated by employees in management, accounting, IT, sales, account management, production management and human resources.
The experience has been very positive across the board. Some of the employees are more productive than in the company and freer to organize their day. File sharing, collaboration, etc. runs smoothly thanks to the cloud. Currently, about 70% of the workforce is in the home office. In some cases, and for technical discussions, meetings take place on site, otherwise also virtually.
Verband Druck + Medien Nord-West e. V.
At VDM Nord-West, digital structures are part of everyday work. Since our employees are divided between three offices, they were already used to working together remotely before the first lockdown. Thanks to our technical infrastructure, we were able to switch to mobile working relatively easily in March: With a few exceptions, all employees are equipped with the necessary mobile work tools and can access all data via secure VPN connections.
Cloud telecommunications ensure that our team can always be reached via their usual phone numbers wherever they are, and we had already introduced Zoom and Teams. Still, it was a new situation and we had to get more involved in using digital media than before.
Team and work meetings via Teams have proven their worth over the past few months. “Seeing each other” was and continues to be important, especially in lockdown times in order to stay in touch. But even in the office during “face-to-face” communication, all employees are practiced in keeping their distance and wearing masks while observing all hygiene measures. Since our members’ need for information concerning measures and support services during the pandemic is very high, we are meeting this need with online information events, webinars, video conferences and remote consultations. This keeps us in close communication with our members, even without face-to-face meetings.
In general, it has become apparent that the workplace is not a hotspot for contagion, even in our industry’s operations. This has been helped by the already high occupational safety standards and, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the meticulously implemented hygiene rules. The industry is doing everything it can to prevent infections. Where production takes place, we have just as little incidence of infection worth mentioning as in retail stores that are open to meet daily needs. A legal obligation to have a home office is therefore completely misguided.
As a software company, we are certainly set up differently than a typical printing company because we don’t rely on a production facility and we don’t need a team of machines. Our operations have been running nearly remotely since April 2020. That means our developers and our consultants are all in home offices. Sales and administration also work almost exclusively at home with laptops and phones.
A few exceptions were presentation appointments at prospective customers and training appointments with customers if the partners emphasized this. Every two weeks, a few employees still meet in the office to coordinate joint projects. However, in the event of a worst-case scenario, we could also conduct these meetings remotely.
Since we use our own web-based ERP solution for administration, there is no difference between working in the office or at home. Also, before Corona, we were already conducting online meetings internally and externally, using appropriate software and building up a lot of experience. We have since expanded this way of working, in addition to online meetings we work with chat rooms and use central SharePoints. Our employees were skeptical at first. Today, many no longer want to do without the home office. We have not seen a drop in performance. Nevertheless, we will reintroduce two attendance days after the crisis, probably one fixed and one variable day, to promote personal exchange and a sense of togetherness.
In my opinion, in addition to suitable IT, fixed-schedule online meetings in which employees exchange ideas are important for successful home office. Within work groups, departments and even across companies.
Druckerei Häuser KG / www.druckdiscount24.de
We have taken a closer look at home office and have also identified some areas where we can offer and do home office. These include software development, SEO/SEA, marketing, and field sales. In these areas, home office works quite well because clear tasks and goals can be agreed upon.
In the case of order processing, we thought about it for a long time, but working from the home office would change our entire organization in this department. The clerks would then no longer have direct contact with the technology and would not be able to look at their orders in production. New structures would then have to be created here to divide the tasks more granularly and have some in the home office performing desk work (creating quotes, customer phone calls, etc.) and some here on site to look after the orders in engineering. However, this would then result in several employees looking after one order in the life cycle. That is why we decided against this together with the employees. Unfortunately, home office is not possible in our production areas.
mediaprint solutions GmbH
Due to our special challenges at mediaprint, home office is just not possible for many. In a production company, home office is simply not possible from prepress onwards. 80% of the employees in production do not work from home. In sales, it works very well (one week home office, one week on site). We try to do it wherever possible, even if it can be exhausting in the long run, since many things are often resolved more quickly in person. However, we do take into account the needs of our colleagues: Those who have to look after children can immediately go into the home office. Some colleagues have been working from home since the beginning of Corona, and this is possible in the e-business division.
I assume that we will now try to work more in home offices. Personally, I think mobile working is great if you can use it flexibly according to your needs. If you are forced to do so, it can be a punishment. In addition, if you have a permanent home office, you lose your connection to the company. The flow of information, whether negative or positive, is just as important as the human interaction.
We now know that mobile working is possible. This is a gift for us in the future. It just must not lead to two distinct classes in the company.
Rene van Dijk
Helloprint Global B.V.
With the start of Corona, we immediately adapted our policies and hygiene regulations and made working from home possible. This has been the case until now and is even strongly recommended by Helloprint. All team members can work from home. If you still want to come into the office, that is also possible – but only with a limited number of people.
We have had good experiences with home office and see the same motivation and performance in our teams as when we are present in the office.
Kalfany Süße Werbung GmbH
As a food manufacturer, we have a crisis management system that we have fortunately never had to use to its full extent. However, in February 2020, because of Corona, we prepared for a possible company shutdown, worked out a complete concept of who could go into the home office immediately, how and with what hardware, so that we could remain able to act. Less than two weeks later, we had the case that we had to apply the concept. On Sunday, I got the call to summon all employees in administration on Monday morning and send them to home office immediately, equipped with hardware. Fortunately, we were able to keep production running since we were already working there with protective clothing etc. anyway. Home office, which was absolutely non-existent before, was introduced virtually overnight and worked.
We went back to normal mode after a few weeks. Now that the corona numbers are high again, we are focusing on distance and a reduced number of people per office. Home office has not been implemented across the board. If no distance etc. can be maintained, home office is used. Likewise, if 100% presence is not privately possible due to childcare, etc., then home office is chosen. Administration, marketing, online team etc. are in home office, and from prepress to shipping they are not.
We introduced teams hesitantly at first, then across the board. It’s a powerful toolbox that can’t do anything on its own, of course. We first had to learn how to use it and how to use it effectively. To ensure that virtual work is also effective, we have acquired remote and face-to-face training, etc., virtually on our own. However, there are always limits where creative work is required.
There is also a downside to home office for employees who have only a small social environment. They have to be actively brought back into the office so that the daily routine is brought back into sync and social interaction takes place. Likewise, the many short conversations at the coffee machine, etc. are missing. Home office is a good alternative form of work – but not for everything and is not 100% a good solution. This is my experience. As an executive with three areas of responsibility, you are virtually on the go all day via five channels. That’s a kind of stress that I wouldn’t want to have all year.
Qubus media GmbH
We have digitalized our commercial and administrative processes as far as possible, independently of Corona – from electronic document management for incoming invoices and letter mail, to the electronic running bag in production. This is why we were able to send clerical and commercial staff to the home office very quickly in March 2020. We procured notebooks for this purpose, which, appropriately configured, were made available to our employees.
When the infection figures came down in the summer, we largely dispensed with home office. At present, however, numerous order processors, sales staff and commercial employees are back in their home offices. We do this alternately, one person is at home for one week, the other person is in the office during the week. The next week it’s the other way around. Our aim is to have employees in the company as contact persons for colleagues from the technical department, management, etc., but to reduce the density of employees in the company so that contagion is unlikely. In the offices, home office arrangements and staggered working hours ensure that only one person is present in each office.
The further we leave the office environment, the rarer the home office becomes. In prepress, there is already hardly any home office, and in the print shop, post press or logistics, naturally not at all. The inclination or aversion of employees to home office is as individually different as their personal lives or the respective workplace. One key message from the workforce is that a home office and childcare are not possible at the same time. Working at home and taking care of a child who is not yet in school at the same time is described by several parents in our workforce as simply impossible. It is a noble attempt to tell the three-year-old child to occupy himself quietly and alone for an hour because mommy or daddy is in a video conference, but this attempt has not passed the practical test in our workforce.
Colleagues who are undisturbed at home because childcare is provided, or someone has a quiet home office appreciate the home office very much and consider themselves more productive there than in the company. Management also does not notice any lower productivity in the home office, although it is sometimes difficult for us to step into an office to speak with a clerk who is not even there.
Overall, the topic of home office has received an irreversible boost due to the current necessity. Under the aspects of work-life balance and reduction of office space, there will certainly be home office workplaces at Qubus media even after the pandemic, which will hopefully end at some point.
When our current co-partner Matthias Lukaseder joined us as head of software, there were job postings in which he stated that 60% home office would be ok for the job. I was skeptical, he increasingly became so. For whatever reason, as a result, developers were also in the office. Many every day. So were all our employees. Except for those who worked elsewhere because of their local preferences. We also lost employees because they wanted to move and neither they nor we could imagine that one could manage without presence in the long run. But of course, they all had workstations at home where they worked after or before office hours.
Then Corona came along. And from one day to the next, 80% to 90% of all employees were at home. We had a mixture of arrogance (who could do this better than we could) to dejection (this will never work). It quickly became clear that our arrogance was not justified. Quickly answering a few mails on the sofa, rendering the cyan plate that the printer broke during the night shift, was of course something completely different than working at home for weeks on end. We had to learn and buy. I have never in the history of the company bought as many monitors, headsets, and docks as I did in March/April 2020. Unnegotiated and with outrageous markups at that. And we are still learning how home office can work. Maybe our experience in agile projects will help us because that’s exactly the transition to home office. But our skepticism was also unfounded. I couldn’t believe how relaxed people were about the sometimes-difficult circumstances (daycare stress, all at home in 80 square meters, home alone, homeschooling) and how little jarring it felt. Corona turbocharged existing trends in the company.
Once we were out of the spring kurzarbeit (reduced hours), we had to hire people in the software department and retrain people from the flagging prepress department to software project management. And all this without seeing each other in person. The process is still going on, and I look at it every day with wide eyes and marvel at how smoothly it’s going and how new colleagues who were only in the office for an interview have now been integrated into the team.
Of course, there are also problems: Why doesn’t the VPN work properly with this or that router? Why do I have to restart my router all the time? Which fool bought a MS Office site license without teams three months before Corona? For hallway and kitchen conversations, Teamspeak, well known in the gamer scene, is used. However, this cannot replace real encounters in the hallway, in the kitchen or at lunch together. The constant switching between communication channels can sometimes lead to people no longer knowing which channel they are on. And anyone who already suffers problems with procrastination in the office will see this tendency intensified in the home office. In the Corona year, we were able to achieve the highest sales in the company’s history. That makes up for one or two stresses. I certainly see others in the industry suffering – not to mention other industries. I’m sorry to hear that. I wish the virus all the worst and us the preservation of all the good we were able to learn during the crisis.
johnen-druck GmbH & Co. KG / emarpo UG
At johnen Druck+ Service+ System+ we are not yet working in home offices. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of the appropriate infrastructure here and the employees are not really interested in it either. They like to be on site and physically exchange ideas with their colleagues. The production-related departments have to be on site anyway – that is indispensable.
However, work is also being done in sales, clerical and so on to create opportunities for home office and to offer employees the opportunity to work from home if they are interested. In my newly founded start-up emarpo, we work exclusively in a home office or, if necessary, in a co-working space. Due to the different locations of the employees all over Germany, we exchange information via Webex, Teams and Trello. The colleagues get along very well with it, which is why the collaboration also works.
Since we have focused on e-commerce platforms and marketing here, this is of course very easy to implement. Being open to change and offering home office will be mandatory in the future. After all, the given technical possibilities make it possible to work from any location. Especially since physical meetings are no longer absolutely necessary. We will have recognized this by 2020 at the latest, and this realization will fundamentally change general collaboration. Companies, regardless of their industry, must be prepared for this. This will be increasingly demanded not only by customers, but also by their own employees.
MARKET: PART 2 - HOME OFFICE - DO THE ADVANTAGES OUTWEIGH THE DISADVANTAGES?
In Part 1 "MARKET: HOME OFFICE - DO THE ADVANTAGES OUTWEIGHT THE BENEFITS?" we previously reported on how companies deal with the topic of home offices and what opportunities and risks this entails. Here in Part 2, you can read more comments and experiences from the IOP members.
Klaus Peter Nicolay