The health crisis has accelerated the digital transformation. We are facing a major transformation of the economy. It is now important for companies to make the strategic decisions that are right for them. They have to part with many things – first and foremost with their fair-weather speeches to their own employees The crisis has accelerated many things and confirmed the pioneers in transformation – from modern employee management to digitalisation. All companies can learn their lessons from this. Concretely, it is recommended:
- Health promotion: Companies should actively promote the health of their employees: In the case of pandemics, this includes organising rapid tests for those affected, as well as promoting fitness during any lockdown. Enabling sports, offering relaxation opportunities during working hours and a slow start after long illnesses are also important at other times. It is important that the aforementioned support is offered in a respectful and non-demanding manner and that the employees are treated individually. It also makes sense that employees with difficult family situations are supported. In the lockdown, for example, homeschooling was a great burden for many parents and single parents. For the practical implementation of health promotion, health officers are needed who are trusted and listened to by the top management. In large companies this will often be a full-time job, in SMEs a part-time position. But it could also be the service of a clinic.
- Better internal synchronisation: Companies need to promote more consistent internal synchronisation of activities. If there is less physical presence, there needs to be more explicit synchronisation points, because the chance meetings in the tea kitchen or canteen become rarer and the short distances to the neighbouring office disappear. This is detrimental to effectiveness, efficiency and quality – and it fosters anger and frustration. Happy virtual break coffees are nice, but don’t solve the problem, because it’s all about feedback and coordinating what is being done. Putting all activities into either a project or a business process does not solve the problem either. It is more important to establish the “game without the ball” among employees and to support this digitally. Further training with regard to client and contractor roles can also improve a lot. Synchronisation is particularly critical wherever stressed overworkers have to cooperate with people with a lot of time or freedom.
- Improved intranets (and web presence): Intranets have been a source of organisational progress for 25 years. They have made large companies and large SMEs much more efficient, although they were once fought against. Equally a quarter of a century old, however, are the complaints about intranets in which nothing can be found. In addition, in recent years there have been complaints about web presences with a confusing page structure. New collaboration technologies have even incorporated the scattering of information as an explicit feature. Companies need to address these problems and make it possible to find information optimally in each situation. The less easily knowledge carriers can be contacted spontaneously, the more important the information on the intranet becomes.
- Orientation towards digital nomads: Digital nomads have learned to work from anywhere. Companies that rely on less presence due to Covid-19 or for other reasons can learn from digital nomads what the real needs are and translate them into their own organisational context. The best way to do this is to work with digital nomads or integrate them into your own teams.
The experience with online conferences is ambivalent: they save a lot of time, but they also largely eliminate the creative exchange that occurs spontaneously in physical meetings. Online lectures are particularly special: Many videoconference speakers whiz through their talk so quickly that there is a danger that listeners can no longer follow and switch off. However, online group discussions in small groups work well if the infrastructure is prepared for them.
- Consciously choose the medium for work meetings: Leaders should actively work to establish a sensible media culture for work meetings – and of course lead by example: Online meetings are ideal for efficient decision-making, an exchange of perspectives in the group, as well as for creative work in small groups. They save a lot of time and make it easier to find appointments. Offline sessions and offline meetings are essential for ad hoc exchange. Closeness can only be conveyed at all if you share a table. Being seen is not enough and in the case of non-greetings, for example, even leads to a feeling of distance. The digital workspace structure is crucial for efficient work. It is imperative that it remains manageable. The chaos that collaboration software often sells as a feature must be reduced as a matter of urgency.
The deceleration caused by the crisis has caused great damage in some areas, in others it has had no effect and in still others it has even increased productivity. In a competitive economy, this forces companies to react if they want to survive. These reactions, in turn, demand a lot from employees. That is why it is recommended:
- Radical activity scanning: All activities should be examined to see if they a) actually create demonstrable value, b) can be done either cheaper or better through smart digital tools, c) can be outsourced to clients, the crowd or externals, d) can be scaled, extended or offered to others through platforms, and e) can be fundamentally transformed in terms of their purpose to create more value. Central to this is digitalisation, but it must be a means to an end and not an end in itself. It can be used in three main directions: Creating transparency, digitally supporting work and networking activities.
- Focus on the market value of employees: Declared appreciation is good for sensitivities. Almost everyone likes to hear praise. Both do not help to achieve top performance or to actually change the orientation. Extrinsic incentives are more useful, but also insufficient. What counts is that employees experience how their market value increases through working for the company. This makes even extensive exploitation tolerable. Universities and tech giants demonstrate this every day. In times of change, when old values are breaking down, true appreciation knows only two criteria: direct compensation and increasing market value.
In addition, it is important to keep a clear head in turbulent times. Many behave more irrationally than usual because their tried and tested heuristics no longer fit and they do not understand the changes. Linear thinking seduces almost all of us into false expectations. And wishful thinking gives signals a relevance they do not possess. For example, contrary to expectations, football clubs in some countries took in more sponsorship money than usual despite the ghost matches because there were no other sporting events. But the durability of this trend is unlikely. In the current situation, permanent thinking is crucial. Unexpected short-term as well as unexpected long-term opportunities should be used consistently. Disciplined agility is the core competence of the present. Radical transformations and extreme business logics are more promising than usual in times of upheaval. If you want to rethink the world: now is a good time to do it!
Thanks are due to all those who have contributed to this text through substantive inputs – especially those who have provided arguments for recommendations 6 and 7. They are not named so as not to put them in need of explanation. Specific input to the online work was provided by Heinrich Zimmermann and Reto Jud, as well as many other colleagues. Thanks for the editing go to Anne-Careen Stoltze-Siebmann.
- Michel Anteby: Manufacturing Morals – The Values of Silence in Business, University of Chicago Press 2013.
- Hans Gerd Prodoehl: Abstract Man: Dramas and Paradoxes of Business in the 21st Century, Springer Verlag 2017.