After Corona: Everything the same in the "New Normal"?

Many business trips are canceled, the home office is still the workplace of choice. After all, what some companies and their employees regret helps the environment. But what happens when the pandemic is over? Are we currently experiencing the work reality of the future? The Munich district, the TUM campus Heilbronn and the Bertelsmann Foundation dealt with this question in a joint investigation. A total of 211 experts from various industries answered questions from the initiators.

According to this, only 17 percent expect people to continue following the currently inevitable sustainable lifestyle after overcoming the COVID-19 crisis. Only 13 percent expect a permanently lower traffic volume. Even societal phenomena like deceleration and solidarity support see only 22 percent and 30 percent as permanent phenomena. The same applies to government intervention: Despite the massive stimulus measures taken by the federal government, just under a quarter of those surveyed expect tightening regulations. 23 percent believe that a change in the economic order as a result of the pandemic is possible.

As Ole Wintermann, a work expert at the Bertelsmann Foundation, explains, the respondents consider Corona as a temporary exceptional situation, not as an introduction to new thinking and behavior. That is why it is now important that business and politics recognize the “sustainability potential” of digital work and that appropriate initiatives are further promoted.

After all, it is undisputed among the respondents that tools for digital collaboration and communication have changed the world of work: 92 percent generally believe that Corona has accelerated the digital transformation. In their opinion, digital services and customer communication channels as well as working models outside the office will be used more and more even after the crisis (see also the Fraunhofer IAO analysis: “Home office is set for the future”).

Up to 85 percent of those surveyed expect mobile work and digital conferences to become the norm. According to the dominant view, the profession is practiced more flexibly in terms of space and time, but above all digitally. After all, 41 percent believe that more work is done in the home office than in the office.

Helmut Krcmar, founding dean of the TUM Campus Heilbronn, appeals to the companies to set the course for the time after Corona. “Above all, the trend towards working outside the office will change the future organization of work processes considerably,” said the professor of business informatics. “This means a huge change especially for traditional and hierarchical companies – especially when it comes to leadership.”

Wintermann added warningly: “Companies that have not built a digital culture of work and trust before the crisis are now threatening to fall back further.” The non-manufacturing industries in particular currently face major challenges, as they have to digitize work processes in the shortest possible time, according to the Bertelsmann Foundation expert.

98 percent of those surveyed see the ITC industry as a clear winner. Almost as many (94 percent) also expect positive effects on the health care and chemical and pharmaceutical industries (81 percent). The losers include the interviewees as well as tourism, gastronomy and aviation as well as the automotive industry. There are different opinions regarding the perspectives of banks and insurance companies as well as the transport industry. Although digital technologies and virtual ways of working will predominantly shape everyday life in many professions, many respondents do not believe that organizations and those responsible are fundamentally willing to change. Just under a third expect that people will fall back into old habits as soon as the corona pandemic has been overcome. However, 27 percent are convinced otherwise.

“Business, politics and society are encouraged to use the time of change,” warns Krcmar. It is now a matter of preserving the positive changes for the world of work. In a changing work environment, the art was to find a balance between the needs of employees and the economic interests of the company.

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