Organizing your home office correctly: The corporate culture must fit


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Everyone is talking about home office and digital, virtual ways of working, but it is far from being possible and feasible for every organization. A question of corporate culture!

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisherGerman Top20 blogger and Consultant for HR communication.

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A trend that is spreading

Home Office - a trend that is spreading. At first it was only big ones Company like Coca Cola or Microsoft, today more and more companies, who want to appear hip and cool in the course of employer branding, advertise their employees free choice of place and time. Sounds good - but the home office must also fit into the corporate culture and the management must be geared to it. Otherwise, the shot with the great freedom quickly backfires - also for the employees.

First of all, a few facts: A study by RW3 CultureWizard, a company consultancy under 30.000 employees, shows that digital work across locations and national borders is already part of everyday life. 87% of the management and 50% of the employees of multinational corporations do their work at least partly virtual. 75 percent of respondents said it is difficult to develop trust in virtual teams. 79 percent lamented too little time for the relationship building and 71 percent too little interest.

At 33 percent, half of the team members did not live in their own country, so different time zones made communication difficult. And 70 percent disrupts cultural differences in conflict management, especially since 41 percent never met their virtual colleagues personally. A study conducted by CHRIS at the University of Bamberg, together with the job market Monster, also shows that 7.040 participants in the home office have fewer social contacts with their colleagues and thus run the risk of being cut off from informal communication. And 43,8 percent fear even reduced career chances.

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The psychological experiences of the home office

After many years in the home office, I know from my own experience which psychological challenges the home office can pose to employees: The lack of social contact can lead to loneliness. A lack of feedback, especially when it comes to small things, can make you unsure. It is not for nothing that coworking spaces are very popular among freelancers, which simulate exactly the office feeling and provide opportunities for regular exchange and networking.

In addition, you have to discipline yourself in the home office, so as not to be distracted by family, neighbors, household or the nice weather. Conversely, you have to force yourself to take breaks, sports and a healthy diet - things you might be able to do automatically in the office. Who can freely decide, when and how much he works, usually works more and often until self-exploitation.

Home office from a business perspective

Some time ago I interviewed Nadine Ziese, Personnel Director at Coca-Cola Germany. Ziese was promoted to this position in 2012 at the age of 31 and has made a significant contribution to ensuring that the company leaves its employees free to choose where they want to work.

Previously, the employees had six days a year to work in the home office. Since this year you can take advantage of the opportunity as often as you want. "We don't offer teleworking jobs, but flexible work opportunities," says Ziese. In discussions with employees, she found that opinions on the topic of home office are quite divided: "Some find the flexibility, the compatibility with the family great, the others lack the floor radio."

The employees are free to choose

It is important to the HR Director that employees have free choice and are not subject to additional controls: “Those who work independently are more productive and motivated. We want to measure our employees by the results and no longer by how many hours they worked. This is the only way we can shape a culture of self-determination and flexibility. ”

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But this also means that the employees themselves assume responsibility: “The home office is not a panacea. You also have to deal with the needs of your colleagues. Everyone has to see when their presence is required, but at the same time allow themselves enough breaks and free time. ” Ziese knows that this is a difficult and lengthy learning process. By the way, she doesn't count her working hours either: “It is important to me that I have finished my tasks at the end of the week, but also that I can say on Sunday evenings that I have spent a fulfilled time with the family.”

Self-responsibility with Beigeschmack

For me, however, it always has a bad taste when managers assume personal responsibility among their employees and leave them with seemingly free choice of working time and place of work. If you listen more closely to sentences like: "Of course, everyone has to know for themselves how often they can be missing when there are managerial tasks or team decisions", which quickly put pressure on employees. In fact, I think management can do a lot to make the home office experiment a success.

Exactly this aspect has so far been neglected in many discussions: the question of what advantages and experience companies have made with home office regulations and whether the employees actually work more productively as a result. And whether that translates into figures and profits in the end - regardless of the question that companies could save pure office space through the home office.

The bare numbers

Now Coca-Cola probably has good reasons for such measures - for example, that future employees of younger generations value flexible working hours and the company wants to remain attractive for these high potentials. What I lack with all commitment, however, are verifiable facts and figures that allow a statement as to whether and how flexible working hours actually pay off on the productivity of the employees and thus on the company's profit. Probably that cannot be said in such a short time - and moreover: How did you want to put this in relation?

However, reference should be made at this point to the analysis by Prognos AG, which was published in 2005: It calculates a return on investment of 25 percent for family-friendly personnel measures from the controlling figures of companies. The potential savings of the participating medium-sized companies amounted to several 100.000 euros each.

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Why do companies struggle with new working time models?

This shows that it is an advantage for many companies if they allow their employees flexibility and freedom of choice - especially when it comes to reconciling work and family life. The employees will thank them with increased motivation and productivity. In many companies, however, there are traditional structures: the boss wants to see and check that his employees are also doing something.

My research has shown that medium-sized companies in particular find it difficult to work with new working time models: There is also increasing demand for flexible working here, for example when there are children. The companies then also offer more family-friendly working hours, during which the employees have to be in the office three days a week, it is better to open a company kindergarten or similar. This shows that the path to a completely free division of working hours can obviously only be done in small steps. A question of corporate culture that will only slowly open up according to the motto “We always did it this way”.

Increased organizational effort

Another problem is undeniably the increased organizational effort: How to reach colleague X if he prefers to work at night or in a different time zone? I experience again and again that employees want to grab the phone quickly. Here, rethinking and new technical tools are required: away from the dialogical, including the eMail involves towards the collective virtual work.

Instead of talking about a project, colleagues can work together to develop documents together, such as via Etherpads or project management tools such as Slack. Everyone knows what the other has contributed. And it saves time, because you do not have to wait for someone else to work on you, or you do not know exactly which version of a document is the newest one. Chat forums, wikis and digital boards also help all team members to keep track of project status and results, anytime, anywhere.

Networked with the iPad

For example, at the American photography agency Shutterstock, small teams usually work on projects over long distances and in different time zones. Are used here eMail, Skype, Google Hangout, and cloud-based collaboration tools like Google Drive. But it also simulates the normal office situation, including a foothold, many product developers work in different locations while working constantly talking about iPads together.

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This shows that the particular challenge is to virtually weld a team despite the physical separation and to enable a trusting collaboration. This is a task with which more and more companies have to deal with increasing global networking.

Team virtual together

When it comes to keeping teams virtually together, the informal communication, the Flurfunk, must also be taken into account. Sounds difficult because digital communication is usually purposeful and leaves little space for random encounters.

But here, too, remedies can be made, for example through the virtual coffee bar or the virtual lunch, regular virtual meetings and also personal meetings, in which the whole team can meet. If such new forms of work have not yet arrived in the corporate culture and the home office is only grafted once, because it all do so, I actually see black for this experiment.


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