The view from CIOs

Remote working is the new normal

Many IT departments were disrupted in mid-March, when entire workforces suddenly needed to start working from home. Since then, it has become clear that this is not a temporary switch, but the start of a longer journey – including in terms of technology.

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, thousands of home workstations had to be set up at very short notice. According to trade association Bitkom, half of all employees were working from home for full-time or part-time by the end of March. Many companies struggled to cope with the new requirements. “The coronavirus pandemic has transported the world of work into its digital future and highlighted the areas in which IT managers still need to improve their digital workplace strategy,” says Oliver Schorer, CIO and a member of the Board of Management of CHG-MERIDIAN.

Companies that had invested in remote working before the pandemic had an advantage. This was confirmed to us by many of the CIOs to whom we spoke, including Andreas Plaul, Head of ICT Services at the Haufe Group. “Mobile working was well established in our firm before the coronavirus crisis, so our employees already had the devices they needed to be able to work from home. This investment paid off, because it enabled more than 2,000 employees to switch to mobile working without any issues,” he explains.

Thomas Henzler, CIO at fan and blower manufacturer Piller, had also invested in mobile working before the pandemic and had switched the entire work and collaboration infrastructure over to remote working. This included making changes to the IT infrastructure and introducing new tools, such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online. “Every employee now has their own OneDrive, enabling them to access all data on any device from wherever they are,” says Henzler.

However, Andreas Plaul from the Haufe Group points out that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to the digital workplace: “We have various workplace configurations that give employees a great deal of mobility and are geared to the specific needs of the individual departments.”

Guy Poirier Vice President

We have various workplace configurations that give employees a great deal of mobility and are geared to the specific needs of the individual departments.

Digital workplaces form part of the bigger picture

Oliver Schorer sees mobile working as just one aspect of an overall concept. “The digital workplace is an integrated usage concept that requires the right technology, the right platform and the right mindset. It needs to be adaptable because the requirements of companies and employees are continuously evolving. Businesses that succeed in managing their digital workplaces as flexibly as possible – and on an international scale – will be the ones that see the most benefit.”

Thomas Henzler also views the digital workplace in the broader context of digitalization: “Our digital workplaces are a combination of processes and technologies on the one hand and the ability to deploy them efficiently on the other,” he explains. “This combination creates a flexible structure that enables us to work on almost any device available, including iPads, iPhones, and laptops.”

“A digital workplace that addresses all of these aspects is more easily accepted by employees,” affirms Peter Janze, Managing Director and CIO of Digital@M, the digital consultancy of the City of Munich. He also confirms that buy-in is more likely, the more that processes have already been digitalized. Nonetheless, he also believes that technology is just one part of the bigger picture. “The switch to digital workplaces needs to be accompanied by internal marketing, the influence of opinion leaders, and other supporting activities,” says Janze.

Working from home or remotely is here to stay

In terms of applications, the main feature of remote working over the past few months has been the use of online and video meetings. According to a joint study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) and the German Association for Personnel Management (DGFP), a substantial 93 percent of the surveyed companies said that they held online or video conferences all the time. Almost two-thirds reported that they now conducted staff appraisal meetings digitally and 57 percent said that they even used video conferencing to interview job applicants.

“Remote working is here to stay and will form the basis for the systematic digitalization of business processes and the digital workplace,” predicts Janze. He also emphasizes that the digital workplace journey has by no means reached the end, especially from a technological perspective: “The digital workplace does not just come in the form of new IT infrastructure that fosters collaboration, it also underlines the need for a new architecture.”

Peter Janze is probably right that remote working will remain popular across the board even after the coronavirus crisis. People who are now working from home are satisfied on the whole, despite some initial concerns. This has been confirmed by a number of surveys. According to a report from the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt), “there is a very strong desire to be able to work from home more, with around 68 percent of the surveyed employees saying that they wanted to work from home more regularly after the coronavirus crisis.”