The current crisis is finally driving forward the digitisation of working life. However, new problems are emerging in the sudden change.
Finally working at the kitchen table in sweatpants. No more meetings that could be an e-mail. No traffic jams, no crowded regional express on the way to work. The crisis is finally bringing the uncharted territory of the Internet into our everyday working lives. After a few days or even weeks of working from home, however, many people quickly realise that their home office is getting tired.
Challenges for many
The crisis over the corona virus has catapulted us into a new era. Numerous companies and corporations are sending their employees to home offices. What used to be a privilege for higher earners has now become a reality for many ordinary office workers. The change has been so rapid that IT collaboration platforms collapsed under the unaccustomed load on Monday.
But also the employees start sweating. Parents, for example, face particular challenges when they have to look after their children around the clock because of closed schools and kindergartens. Individual workers at home will also have problems adjusting to the new situation. If several people suddenly have to set up their home office in one apartment, chaos is inevitable.
The IT is not well informed
Anyone who is used to a 27-inch monitor and a keyboard with an ergonomic palm rest in the office will find that a laptop is not an equivalent work tool, but in the long run an electronically operated back pain generator. Those who have a free desk, an ergonomic work chair and all necessary adaptors to upgrade the company laptop with monitor and keyboard to a work computer are lucky. On the sofa you can still use the laptop – just not all the time.
In the home office a lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the employees, which is taken away from them in the office by the employer or colleagues. It’s not just a question of working hours and workload, but also, for example, of maintaining the technical infrastructure. A system update can sometimes block a machine for a few hours. This is not a substantial problem in private use – after all, Netflix can also be viewed on a mobile phone – and can quickly become an obstacle with enormous potential for frustration for the remote worker.
Likewise, you have to make sure that a link recommended in the family WhatsApp channel does not even compromise the company IT or even your colleagues’ private computers. First scammers and other criminals are already trying to take advantage of the crisis. If you are in a new environment and under stress, you tend to click the wrong link.
No patent advice
So IT administrators have their hands full enabling remote work while not completely compromising security. Where even Silicon Valley has problems, the small midsize company cannot suddenly present the sample solution. The proverbial “sneaker admin”, who prefers to take over all maintenance work quickly in the office instead of explaining it to all employees, now has to find other ways to fulfil his tasks.
At the moment, the place is teeming with advisers to help him adjust to the new situation. Especially if you depend on the cooperation of colleagues, it is essential to agree on a common approach. And here it is sometimes more important that a decision is made first than that it is necessarily the right one. Superiors also work in unfamiliar territory. Wrong decisions can still be corrected.
The smart way is to try
The adaptation phase in particular requires tolerance. Anyone who is used to slick employees will now tend to have to reckon with an overnight face with dirty dishes piling up in the background during video conferences, because the lack of separation between work and private life puts many people out of rhythm. But perhaps the video connection will not work if the employees live in an area that is not yet connected to the fibre optics. Or who have chosen a bandwidth for their private connection that cannot necessarily be linked to professional requirements.
It is important to understand that our jobs and situations are too different for one recipe to work for everyone. One task requires constant telephone calls, negotiations and coordination. Other tasks can also be done alone at four in the morning in two hours. And the laptop on the kitchen table is a completely different situation from a fully equipped home office. Only when requirements and working conditions have levelled off can productive work really get going again.
The social coffee machine
As always, the following applies: The omission of the supposedly self-evident hits us hardest. The coffee machine in the office may not produce the best coffee, but as a social construct it is hard to replace. Where else can you find out who is currently overworked, where you can get the best lunch or what the childcare situation is like? The company canteen performs similar tasks and saves employees the time to prepare a meal and clean up the kitchens again. So companies are faced with a decision: should they also open up communication channels that allow informal exchange? And is the customary lunch break really appropriate to the new circumstances?
The right to a home office is a popular demand. However, as many are finding out these days, a right to an office, to regulated work processes and cooperation is not to be sneezed at either. Employers will have to face both after the crisis: On the one hand, they can no longer refuse the debate on the home office across the board. On the one hand, they can no longer refuse to discuss the home office debate across the board, but at the same time, they must also recognise that they have other duties of care than giving a laptop to an employee and wishing them the best.
Out of the fax age
Ultimately, there is more behind the slogan of the “right to home office” than just the desire to work at the kitchen table in sweatpants. It is rather a demand for a better working world that is more bearable for the individual and more sustainable for all. It is time to put an end to the fax age, in which digital work processes are supposed to simulate almost exclusively what has been practised before. The corona virus crisis requires painful adjustments. Let us also adapt to the new digital times at the same time.