Kamera off! The Frankfurt private bank Bethmann is currently transforming its former trading room and library into professional television studios. With cameras, light and everything that goes with it. She is preparing for the fact that her employees and customers will increasingly work from home even after the pandemic. The institute wants to look as good as possible: In the future, events and requests to speak from the headquarters should come from a modern set, no longer from a boring conference room.
Other companies, however, do not want to accept the home office as a permanent situation. Doubts about virtual collaboration are growing in executive suites in German business and in consulting firms. Some complain that important people are missing in the office and their loyalty is waning. Others complain that the corporate culture is suffering and that little new ideas come from home to advance the business.
The majority of companies want to bring employees back
Imeyen Ebong from the management consultancy Bain & Company has met dozens of CEOs and board members of large corporations and German medium-sized companies in the past few weeks. No question is currently being discussed as intensely as returning to the office. “This is still an unsolved problem for almost all companies.” The vast majority of companies want their employees to work at least 70 to 80 percent from the office again.
Most of them are far from that. A survey by WELT AM SONNTAG among the DAX companies shows that although there are no legal restrictions, many offices remain empty. At the reinsurer Munich Re, for example, the home office rate is 90 percent, at Allianz it is 76 percent, at Continental’s administrative locations it is 70 percent, as is the case with the Vonovia real estate group.
Large companies such as TUI and Vodafone are now giving their employees the freedom to choose where they work from. The model was Google. The tech company is now struggling to get its employees back into the office.
In Germany, too, many executives now see working from home as ambiguous. There is often a lack of experienced staff in the office who would pass on their knowledge and corporate culture to the next generation, says Bain consultant Ebong. “The companies have the feeling that they are not doing their training job justice,” he says. At the same time, however, it is difficult to force employees who work very efficiently from home to come back to the office.
And then again, according to Ebong, he keeps hearing sentences like this from managers: “I’m not really sure whether this employee really works at home. I never reach him during the day, but only in the early morning or evening. ”The fact that many people increasingly shift their core working hours into the evening hours and sometimes sit behind their laptops until 11 p.m. annoys some managers. “They want access to their workforce,” says consultant Ebong.
As long as the employees are doing their job, that may sound like a minor matter. But for many activities you need to consult with the team. However, if only part of the team is in the office and the others are virtually connected or not available at all, that doesn’t work, companies complain.
In addition: “Innovations arise from chance encounters during the coffee break – not in the regular video conference,” says Julia Sperling from the management consultancy McKinsey. It sounds similar at the chip manufacturer Infineon. The company has had positive experiences with the home office, but: “When it comes to creativity, innovative solutions or the training of new employees, personal interaction is also required.” However, Sperling believes that this can also be done using special virtual formats can solve.
The fact is: Not every employee is suitable for the home office. “That has a lot to do with the personal circumstances, but also with the high level of self-discipline that employees have to muster at home,” says Oliver Stettes from the Cologne Institute of German Economy (IW). The superiors know this and, before the pandemic, repeatedly refused to allow certain employees to work from home.
They often cited operational reasons as the reason. According to the IW economist, this applies to every fifth employee. He is referring to a survey by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training. “These reasons are likely to have been undermined in many cases by the protection against infection.” That should be difficult to reverse.
Jens Jahn from the management consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG) expects every second employee to want to work from home in the long term. Those who are the first to return to the office are likely to include those who want to make a career and show themselves to their boss. But above all: “Networking, in other words direct contact with colleagues, is a key driver of going back to the office,” says Jahn.
According to the experiences of the past few months, the continued distance ensures that the loyalty of employees to their company is waning and their willingness to switch increases. The analysts at Deutsche Bank also point to risks to the mental health of employees and the susceptibility to cyber attacks in the home office.
How hard the companies try to lure their employees into the office despite positive experience with the home office is illustrated by Deutsche Telekom: For this month, it has prepared campaigns at many locations that are intended to make people want to go to the office. This includes speeches on strategic topics through to “cultural events” and mindfulness training.