Mr. Tilker, you work as a consultant for the international management consultancy Eric Salmon & Partners. What effects did COVID-19 have on CIOs and CDOs during the lockdown and how does the pandemic now affect after the easing?
Lutz Tilker: In the midst of the harshest phase of the corona crisis, we organized a virtual roundtable with international chief digital offices – that is, with CDOs and CIOs – from European and Asian companies of various sizes and from different industries. We were able to draw interesting conclusions from this group of experts. The COVID-19 pandemic and the role of the CDO and the CIO are typical examples of a VUCA phenomenon: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Digital Workplace and Flexwork were already a big topic before COVID-19, but it was only through the lockdown and the associated restriction of social life that work was really pushed ahead remotely. The CIO and CDO became crisis managers ad hoc, who had to make these new working methods possible or at least provide more intensive support. To cope with the additional workload associated with the pandemic, companies are investing heavily in new technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Data & Business Analytics.
Mr. Altgassen, as CDO / CIO of Etex, a group of global industrial companies for building materials, can you share this observation?
Dirk Altgassen: At Etex, we had the great advantage that we had already pursued key elements such as a cloud-first strategy and digital workplaces (“Etex Smart Workplace”) and implemented them almost completely. Most employees were used to working from home and using Microsoft Office 365 and MS Teams. In the early days we offered additional training remotely for optimization purposes.
At the same time, SAP rollouts for two smaller Etex companies in the USA and the United Arab Emirates were running, which had started with visits on site before Corona and were then continued completely remotely. Here the final introduction as well as testing and training were completely controlled from a distance. Dubai has been live since the beginning of June and the USA follows in August. It was also important to carry out appropriate change management for the IT staff so that they accept the “new normal” and to apply alternative solutions to the rollouts. Furthermore, we started various new projects with the digital and IT organization, in particular with the Etex customers, in order to do justice to the changed situation due to Corona. These range from faster and more flexible reporting to setting up new sales channels and more intelligent digital solutions in production and logistics to enable, among other things, social distancing and more paperless.
- 6 tips for digital workplaces
Companies that want to introduce digital workplaces should plan well in advance. The guide of Hirschtc GmbH lists the most important planning steps.
- 1. Determine the current state of the technology
In order for employers to be able to estimate how far the path to the “Digital Workplace” goal is, they must be aware of the current status. Therefore, the first step is to analyze the current state of the IT infrastructure. What systems are in place and how are they used?
- 2. Analyze the current status of the processes
Processes put on from outside are rejected by the employees. It is therefore important to understand which work processes have proven their worth and where there is potential for optimization. Employee wishes and IT options should be interlinked.
- 3. Define requirement profiles
Only after the first two measures can it be clarified in detail what the goal is. The digital workplace can look different from department to department – not everyone needs everything. This creates requirement profiles that lead to the crucial question: What do we actually need?
- 4. Differentiate between standard and special solutions
Systems such as office programs or document management are required at almost every work station. Here it makes more sense and is cheaper to rely on standard solutions. This makes it clearer where specially tailored individual solutions are required.
- 5. Select special solutions
At the core of the Digital Workplace is smooth communication using collaboration tools – both internally and externally. For certain departments or employees, for example, data analytics software and special CRM or digital marketing tools can also be important. Finding out who needs which special solution lays the foundation for tailor-made digital workplaces.
- 6. Rethink IT security
The more information is exchanged digitally, the more important IT security becomes. To keep the risks to a minimum, the right mix of on-premise systems and cloud services must be found. In addition, employers must decide whether employees should use company devices for their work with a view to data protection and security or whether they should use their own mobile devices.
Has Corona changed the tasks and position of CDOs and CIOs in the company and what will it look like in the future?
Tilker: For many companies, the corona crisis was one of the greatest experiments ever by sending many employees to their home office. Even die-hard supporters of the presence work had no choice but to start the home office experiment. During this phase, quite a few realized that digitization is really a business enabler and not just a catchphrase.
Altgassen: The digital and IT organization at Etex has received a lot of recognition. I would even go so far as to say that our structures and solution-oriented and agile working methods have led and supported business in some areas in the right direction, for example with apps to book jobs in the office. In any case, we were able to use the positive attitude towards IT to implement further standardization and harmonization; and sometimes faster than before COVID-19.
Now we want to use this positive momentum to further develop and improve the digital and IT organization. A transformation project with the name #MoveIT that started at the beginning of the year was pushed ahead with almost no delays, which included outsourcing the IT operations to a strategic partner and improving the business relationship as well as a future-oriented and agile set-up of digital and IT Organization for future digital issues.
How will the digital and innovative corporate infrastructure continue in the post-COVID period? Will the framework f
or homeworking be spiced up and will there be new working models?
Tilker: For example, if social contacts were the be-all and end-all of living and working together, virtual and digital contacts are now the measure of all things. So the first question is, when does the Post-COVID-19 time begin? There is still no answer to this question. In this respect, digital working models will be on the agenda for at least the next three to six months. In the meantime, many employees and managers have got used to this form of work. So security in the home office is becoming increasingly important. This not only affects IT security, but the employer is also responsible, for example, for compliance with labor law security regulations in the home office. Many employers are not aware that home office is precisely defined as teleworking in the workplace regulation. In addition to the physical infrastructure for homeworking, the mental infrastructure is at least as important. Here companies are asked to give their managers and employees both rules and a home office working culture.
- Rights and duties in the home office
Labor law also applies in the home office. Claudia Knuth, specialist lawyer for labor law in the Hamburg office of the law firm Lutz Abel, explains the rights and obligations of employees and employers.
- The employer decides
The employee is not entitled to a mobile or domestic work place. Ultimately, it is the employer who has the freedom to organize the company organization.
- Pay attention to the legal situation
Anyone who takes home printouts, files or forwarded e-mails runs the risk of sanctions under labor law, depending on the sensitivity of the information, even to the point of termination. Employees should therefore coordinate precisely with the employer beforehand whether and which company documents they can take home.
- Check requirements
In principle, the employee’s work must be suitable for this. Company appointments, customer appointments and meetings should have priority. If mobile work can be integrated into operational processes without disruption, the same efficiency of work performance as for presence work should be ensured.
- Clarify working time recording
Instead of stamping in and out at the start and end of work, it should be noted in the home office how long the employee worked each day of the week. A prerequisite for this is a work culture based on trust and results, since time recording is more difficult to control. The Working Hours Act also applies outside of the office: The maximum working hours per day (maximum ten hours), the rest periods (at least eleven hours) and the ban on Sundays and public holidays must be observed.
- Ensure data protection
The employer must take the necessary protective measures. For example, secure data transfer can be guaranteed by using VPN connections. It is important that only software and files approved by the employer are used. The employee must ensure that no one else, including family members, has access to the mobile devices used. In addition, passwords may not be passed on to third parties or be kept negligently easily accessible.
- Works council’s right to have a say
The works council has no say in the decision for or against mobile work. With some changes, however, for example when changing working hours, using technical facilities that have not yet been determined, preventing accidents at work or transferring work. The works council must also be involved in the planning process.
- Assumption of costs
If the employer grants home office, he must also bear the necessary costs. This includes the office equipment, the technical equipment and the telecommunication costs. Either the employee is equipped with everything necessary or he uses his own end devices (“bring your own devices”). Whichever variant or mixed constellation you choose, a contractual basis is essential.
Altgassen: With the Etex Smart Workplace, we have already equipped employees with secure end devices and modern tools; we will continue to do so. The office infrastructure was equipped with booking and modern conference and video systems. We are currently working on further concepts for how hybrid models can work. Of course, we cannot ignore the employees who do not have the appropriate and quiet workplace at home and therefore work better in the office. With its presence in 42 countries and with several production and logistics locations, Etex has a very heterogeneous overall picture to manage. Global concepts on the one hand, but also local necessities and adjustments to legalities on the other.
We have already started a very important project, namely the connection of production employees to our collaboration tools such as Microsoft Office 365. WhatsApp groups have also been created. We want to better support this from the IT side in the future. It also opens up opportunities for smarter manufacturing and Industry 4.0 if each factory worker receives his own user ID for the Etex systems and is connected accordingly.
If more digital homeworking takes place, will digital control systems also be introduced? How will companies deal with control in the future?
Altgassen: This is a complex issue, especially in a global company. We do not have digital control systems and they are not planned. In essence, we have trust working hours for the office staff. I also think that this has to be about developing leadership accordingly and then leading and evaluating the result-oriented employees. In a global company, of course, the locally applicable legal provisions must also be observed.
Tilker: Control in the home office is a very sensitive issue. A company must be clear about how it acts in the area of tension between “time tracking” versus “output-based”. Of course, checking the work at home is much more difficult and it is therefore strongly advised not to work with so-called keyloggers. The Federal Labor Court has defined very specific framework conditions here. In this respect, it only helps to train executives in the “Remote Leadership” discipline, because agile and flexible collaboration in cross-functional and decentralized teams represents the success and survival factor in such a context.
What measures do companies take to retain employees even without a physical presence?
Tilker: Team spirit, team building, working atmosphere, etc. work differently in the virtual team and thus also in the home office. Good management is all the more important in order to bind the employee to the company. Wor
king at home makes good employees vulnerable to poaching in particular. Those who work for employer X from their home office today, but are offered a much more exciting job by employer Y, which they can also do in their own four walls, will sooner ponder. The workplace in the strict sense does not change. It is all the more important for managers to maintain personal relationships in the virtual team and to focus on employee-specific support and support in addition to the classic demands and support.
Altgassen: This is always a basic issue of how to bind employees to the company. This is about leadership, employee development and engagement. A big topic is the constant change and transformation, the dynamics of which have increased due to increasing digitalization. The employees have to be taken along and developed further. However, it is always a personal decision of the employee to what extent it still suits him. It is therefore important to create an open culture, communicate a lot and involve employees in the transformation, keyword “co-creation”. During the Covid-19 period, we also devoted more attention to the topics of “HR Wellbeing” in connection with homeworking in IT. We have promoted various offers in the IT community, such as “Virtual Campfires” on private or professional topics.
What do CIOs and CDOs want from their board members because of the entrepreneurial COVID-19 experience?
Altgassen: This time also made it clear to the board that digital and IT can add value to the company. Digitization and IT have to be “enablers” for business and all the other functions in the company. We do not pursue digital topics or IT for the sake of it, but to enable efficiency increases, to develop new fields of action, to promote innovations and ideas and to better connect customers and employees. Here, too, the digital and IT organization must become more confident and advise the business – to do this, of course, they must also have done their homework in order to be taken seriously in this “advisor role”.
Tilker: One speaks of “The new normal” when one thinks about Post-COVID-19. That means it is currently an extremely important and correct question for your own company how this new normal will look like. It is the responsibility of the management to strategically reposition the company along the new normal. A McKinsey study described innovation as an important momentum to overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means not only technological upgrade, but also the digitization of processes that is urgently needed in many companies, for example in the areas of human resources and sales, which have so far been digitally transformed less intensively than other areas. (pg)
- The sports director of a club
The sports director of a club puts together the squad and designs the game and schedule for competitions and training. He instructs talent scouts, purchases players and ensures freedom of movement for necessary transfers. His goal: to find and retain people who constantly drive the further development of the company. It extends the search criteria for recruitment, hires employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and enables family and age-appropriate working time models.
- Leadership in digitization
The study “Attitude decides. New leadership practice for the digital world” comes from LEAD (Mercator Capacity Building Center for Leadership & Advocacy) in cooperation with the company consultancy Company Companions as well as the School of Public Policy (Central European University, Budapest) and the center for Leadership and Values in Society (University of St. Gallen). The authors recommend eight roles as a guide.
- The landscape gardener
The landscape gardener designs and maintains green areas. She understands the entire ecosystem and knows when which plants have their effect at which point in the change of the season and how everything interacts. Their goal: to position the company in the long term when crisis and change have become the norm. It enables rapid prototyping, enters into unconventional partnerships and breaks down silos using heterogeneous, cross-functional teams.
- The seismologist
The seismologist needs to know where the earth could shake. To do this, it analyzes data, registers extremely fine vibrations and detects tensions at an early stage. However, it does not succumb to the illusion that it can accurately predict the future. Your goal: to create the basis for good decisions in a confusing world. She establishes “situation rooms” for the development of action strategies, accesses hidden knowledge via digital platforms and trains her intuition as an additional “data source”.
- The Zen student
The Zen student is in training and preparation. He learns, reflects and tests himself. Mindfulness, compassion and openness are his virtues, he maintains a disciplined (spiritual) practice. His goal: to find what he can hold onto if everyone clings to him. He uses coaching and mentoring programs, creates physical spaces for balance and looks inwards.
- The DJ
Disc jockey makes people dance with his music. It sets a framework that motivates, stimulates and generates shared energy. At the same time he has an open ear for suggestions and sensitive antennas for the right piece at the right moment. His goal: to create a culture of devotion – but with a focus on results. To this end, he builds empathy as leadership skills, creates spaces in which people like to work, and acts as a role model for devotion and performance orientation.
- The director of a theater
The director of a theater chooses the pieces for the performance. It develops the common thread and shapes the social impact of your home. She involves the artists and their expertise. Your goal: to provide orientation in times of great uncertainty and unpredictability. Using a “Strategy Board”, she creates the prerequisites for making directional decisions, increases agreement on the direction by means of interactive forms of participation – and has the courage to make a clear statement in the crisis.
- The trainer
The trainer guides a team tactically, technically and conditionally. It determines the training process, team line-up and strategy. She has to stand for failures, she leaves successes to her team. Your goal: To empower employees to take on more responsibility. To this end, it develops competencies using contemporary learning formats, builds mutual trust and introduces incentives to assume responsibility.
- The blogger
The blogger comments on events – exaggerated, startling and mostly from a personal perspecti
ve. He wants to understand, explain and translate the world. It thrives on direct feedback from readers. His goal: to write willingness to change in the company’s DNA. He cascades the history of change in the company, moderates joint learning processes and gives visible impulses for change.