CIO.de: Ms. Wolf, how has your work as HR changed in the wake of the Corona crisis?
Susanne Wolf: I was quite used to having to look for data and AI experts in the highly competitive Munich job market. We were still on a full growth path up to and including February, like in previous years. At that time we had over 30 vacancies for data experts as well as in other areas such as marketing, IT, sales or human resources. But then Corona came!
Some projects were temporarily stopped and we decided to introduce short-time work. A topic that I never had to deal with before. It was no longer possible to do business as usual and pretend nothing had happened. I had to proceed iteratively, that is, first of all questioning all the plans made and checking what the new personnel requirements look like.
CIO.de: How did your employees react?
Susanne Wolf: Our employees were able to understand our approach very well. Because they understood that short-time work is an important tool to keep as many jobs as possible. We did this very well by trying at all times to provide the best possible transparency on the subject. An individual conversation was held with each employee and the respective reasons were explained in detail.
In addition, the management has decided to increase the short-time work allowance for employees. As soon as the project situation changed, we immediately adjusted the short-time working regulations for the employees concerned or even canceled them completely and agreed this with the employee immediately. The effort for us as the HR department and also for payroll accounting is enormous.
CIO.de: You did a lot of job interviews in February, and applicants then signed the employment contracts. What happened next for these employees who started their jobs in the middle of the crisis?
Susanne Wolf: We have not canceled any of the planned new hires. This was particularly appreciated by the new employees. Despite the changed framework conditions, it was important to us to stay in constant contact and to be in contact with future colleagues. We have mapped the onboarding virtually. The changeover was not a problem for us because the infrastructure was fortunately already in place. The equipment such as laptop, smartphone, etc. was sent home to our newbies in a simple welcome package.
Due to the exclusively virtual contact, it was particularly important to me to pay even more attention to our buddy program. Because in everyday office life, new colleagues can speak to their neighbors or their superiors if they have any questions – but not during Corona times. The buddy program is set up so that every new employee has two buddies at their side. A buddy is specifically responsible for the onboarding phase, i.e. for the first few weeks of introducing the team setting and the corresponding technical tools.
The second buddy is available for long-term support for personal and professional development. Everything worked really well and despite the new situation, the new colleagues found it very professional and structured.
CIO.de: What challenges you most as a HR manager?
Susanne Wolf: The legal protection was one of the biggest challenges for me. Due to the new situation, even the state authorities were often not informed about the short-term political decisions. Furthermore, it was a balancing act between the introduction of short-time work and employee satisfaction. The corporate culture has also suffered from the changed work situation. Because our previous work also lived from joint activities, whether it was barbecues on our roof terrace, table football or nerf gun battles. Here we have come up with some measures that promoted our musketeer principle.
CIO.de: Can such cohesion also be promoted virtually?
Susanne Wolf: Yes, of course that is not that easy, because you can never depict interpersonal relationships in a virtual way. We have dealt very closely with the question: “How do I deal with this topic in social distancing mode”? After all, we increasingly focused on digital events. Virtual coffee breaks take place twice a week, during which founder and managing director Alexander Thamm gives a short update on the current situation.
Another initiative is our “Keep the AT Spirit alive”, for which a separate task force has been set up. Every employee can join in and help promote cohesion more strongly. Employees have also become active, for example programming an algorithm with the Lunch Loop that throws colleagues together for a virtual lunch. This balance of corporate measures and employee initiatives works really well and strengthens us as a team to get through the crisis.
CIO.de: How are things going for you?
Susanne Wolf: Some of the employees are now working in the office again. However, the number of workplaces is limited in order to be able to comply with the distance rules. In order to ensure this, each employee must enter himself in a document plan in advance. In addition, we have taken further hygiene and occupational safety measures. Most of the colleagues still work remotely. Otherwise it is not so easy to answer how to proceed as we are faced with unpredictable developments.
On the one hand, the further course of the Corona crisis cannot yet be assessed, on the other hand it is already clear today: Due to the crisis, the framework conditions for economic activity will change, previous strategies must be fundamentally reconsidered and additional action plans drawn up for the period after the crisis. In this
regard, only hypotheses can be formulated and scenarios based on them can be designed. We see this as our task and want to set the course for success after the crisis. That is why we are working on a recovery plan that should describe the way back to normal. This plan needs to be checked regularly.
CIO.de: What do you currently recommend to applicants?
Susanne Wolf: Even if the economy is about to collapse and the number of short-time workers will remain at a record level in the near future – it is still worth applying! In the IT industry in particular, there has been no significant decline despite Corona. There is a constant search for qualified personnel in this area. Even young professionals shouldn’t be discouraged and temporarily close the gap with further training. Therefore, my recommendation would be to continue to apply to companies.
CIO.de: What can you say to the readers?
Susanne Wolf: We have to rethink. The need for flexible working models will now be even stronger than before due to the Corona crisis. The employees ask themselves, why should I sit at the desk when work can now be done in a café or from home in your own four walls? And employers are asking themselves, why should we rent so much office space when the employee can do his or her work from home? In a working world in which results count instead of just shining through presence, the culture of presence is on the decline. Today more than ever, individual work models are an indispensable part of any compensation package.
Every company should reflect and put to the test in order to change certain things for the future. I also see an opportunity for positive disruption in this crisis. As HR manager, I think it’s a very exciting process that I’m watching here right now. Finally, with digitization, there is movement in areas where a lot of people have been overslept. One day we may look back and find that the crisis has given rise to innovations that have contributed to the metamorphosis of the economy.
The data and AI consultancy Alexander Thamm GmbH develops and implements data-driven services and business models in German-speaking countries, from data strategy to the development of algorithms and the construction of IT architectures to maintenance and operation. It also offers training on data science, big data and artificial intelligence. Alexander Thamm GmbH was founded in 2012 by Alexander Thamm and currently employs over 150 people. The head office is in Munich. Other locations are Berlin, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Stuttgart and Cologne.