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From the pandemic home office to an integrated remote work approach

Like so many current topics, the view on the home office is polarizing. Recently, an author in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung even said that people should consider outsourcing jobs with tasks that people could entirely do from home. Such comments are a slap in the face for all those who have contributed to global innovations and value creation for years or decades: e.g., in the cultural sector, IT, international units of global organizations and companies, in consulting, or in research. In the end, such comments are an expression of the great ambivalence that decision-makers and power-oriented individuals have towards a way of working that supposedly allows for less control.

From the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, we offered our extensive experience from more than twenty years of coaching, (online) training, and consulting on virtual leadership, distributed teams, and teleworking to our clients' ad hoc Home Office situation. In doing so, we have compiled basic requirements, specifics, and recipes for successful working and leading from home in this forced pandemic Home Office in our Leading from Home series.

(c) Shutterstock

(c) Shutterstock

Why am I emphasizing this? - Because there is a difference between incorporating virtual leadership as a part of a standard curriculum for leadership development programs, since today's managers are increasingly affected working internationally and/or remotely for various reasons. Or whether I source external consultation and training to introduce teleworking, because e.g. a public or government office is growing and does not want to move parts of their staff into new buildings, but instead prefer to offer them the option of working from home. Or, more precisely, whether I make leading and working from home an issue because we are required to move everyone out of the office unprepared and involuntarily out of fear of a pandemic and to protect all employees, with all their family members at home. De facto, far too little has been said about precisely this multi-crisis situation with its up to now not experienced factors. It is an important characteristic of the current remote work experience. For the historical development of remote work, I recommend David Cook's essay "The global remote work experiment and the future of work."

For us, the multi-crisis situation continues to be one of the important issues under which to understand and manage current leading and working from home. For example, our Leading from Home event series from April 2020 to February 2021 included topics such as:

  • How to get started in leading and working from home
  • No quarantine for conflicts
  • Dealing fearlessly with crises
  • Balancing between caring and high performance

The last aspect is particularly important to us because the responsibility of managers to care about their employees is especially needed. Working from home, we less easily see and hear "between the lines". This makes it all the more vital that managers manage themselves mindfully and create extra space for regular 1 to 1 conversation, which otherwise happens informally in the office organically. Our current situation is not simply just an acceleration of the development of digital workplaces. It is that, but amid multiple crises and it has also created psychologically and mentally stressful work environments. This perhaps explains the somewhat odd title of a study on "Digital Resilience of the City and Region of Cologne'' recently conducted by the Fraunhofer Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik (FIT), TÜV Rheinland, the German ICT + media academy, and others. The survey, questioning around 100 ''top decision-makers'' yields a rather positive view on the home office situation of the interviewees.

GIMI e.V.: Digitale Resilienz in Köln und Region: Zusammenfassung der Studienergebnisse: Köln, 2021

GIMI e.V.: Digitale Resilienz in Köln und Region: Zusammenfassung der Studienergebnisse: Köln, 2021

"Home Office (HO) works well overall except for the known stress factors, e.g., with family/work" (quoted and translated statement in study p. 9, image above).

Statements like this make me sit up and take notice: No company management or executive should be satisfied with this.

At a closer look, however, the question is raised, how the digital workplace of tomorrow can be designed so that

  1. a shared understanding of what is meant by "digital workplace" can grow and it is clear what the assessment criteria for it are in each case.
  2. managers can shape digital collaboration in such a way that the mediocre results (see photo on p. 16) in the social dimension of the home office situation go from "going quite well" to a state of healthy work and innovativeness so that excellence can be achieved.

To us, it is clear: There is a lot of experience and knowledge about how distributed work can succeed, and even yielding high performance. A highly esteemed colleague and "veteran" of distributed work, and a driving force in our Leadership Dialogue event this past July, is Luis Suarez. You can read and hear more from him on his blog and as a guest in two podcast episodes on remote work.

One of the challenges of the pandemic is to already set the course for a new understanding of work. This needs a long-term perspective for a continuum of "employee experience" that ranges from primarily co-located work in the office, to hybrid office models (alternating between home and office), to primarily distributed work or work from anywhere, including home office. Post-pandemically, the reasons for leading and working from home will vary more than they do now, but the experiences we have now will shape our future. We should remain mindful, appreciative, curious, and innovative.

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