2020 – a notably different year
I used the time between Christmas and the New Year to review the past year. 2020 will go down in history as a year unprecedented in our experience – with special challenges but also with new opportunities and chances. I would like to take you with me on my journey through last year and to share with you my personal experiences, my stumbling blocks, my rays of hope.
I spent the turn of the year 2019/2020 in Barcelona. For New Year’s Eve, I dressed up in a Twenties outfit and celebrated exuberantly, full of anticipation of the Golden Twenties. That the first year of this new decade would turn out anything but golden was something I hadn’t quite expected. At the time, I read the first reports about a virus outbreak (COVID-19) in China, but to be honest I did not pay too much attention to them. Back in the office, the issue was then already mentioned more and more often during lunch breaks – especially as an IT training for a Chinese colleague from our Taicang facility was scheduled for mid-February here in Neutraubling. However, we were more concerned back then with the question of whether he would be allowed to travel from China to Germany at all if the virus were to spread further in his home country. And then, in late January, the news from Webasto hit: there had been the first case of a coronavirus infection. A Chinese woman took part in a seminar at company headquarters in Stockdorf. She carried the COVID-19 virus and infected several employees with whom she was in contact during her stay. Viewed in retrospective, this course of events could just as well have happened here in our company. I give credit to Webasto’s management for their immediate, purposeful and prudent action in this situation. To close the plant down for a fortnight was back then a courageous but absolutely correct decision.
Our daily (work) routines are changing
From that moment on, the virus had my full attention. The number of infected persons kept on rising, and it became increasingly obvious that stringent measures had to be taken to control the virus. What nobody would have thought possible was suddenly looming: a complete lockdown as early as in March. Here in Information Management, preparations for it went full throttle. All Krones staff were called upon to check whether it was possible for them to work from home, to order any equipment they still needed for it, and to test whether logging in from home actually worked, so that if push came to shove everything would be up and ready. And then the day finally came: on 19 March I once more went to the office at Krones but for the next weeks I worked from home. By the way: in legal and official terms, we work on a mobile basis, which in my case (and probably most of the rest, too) means from a workplace at home, quite generally referred to as home office. For me, the change-over went without a hitch because I had previously already worked from home quite often. But it still felt somewhat different because now (almost) all of us were at home office. A new feeling of togetherness. Changes in normal work procedures were likewise implemented at breakneck speed, and accepted. For example, all of a sudden it was entirely normal to communicate via Microsoft Teams, instead of using landline phones (which would also have worked). But in Teams there’s the “Presence Status” display, whereas the “previously” so well-established online phone directory had lost its meaning since it was linked up to the attendance recorder and very many of us were working on a mobile basis, i.e. weren’t on the premises. In regard to digital cooperation, we took a major step forward within next to no time. In my view, this development is a gain we owe to the coronavirus crisis. And in future, too, working methods and collaboration platforms will be upgraded at an impressive speed.
In my opinion, interpersonal dealings and collaboration as such have acquired a greater depth of understanding. You simply know that your colleagues are working from home, have to look after their children, to monitor home schooling. So nobody minds when in the background a child is calling, a dog is barking, and therefore your colleagues cannot answer your call at once. The main thing is that they will see to my issue. Whether they do this immediately or a bit later is in most cases completely immaterial. This is also an important development towards a different organisation of working time in the future.
After 17 weeks in my home office (no exceptions!), the first day back in the office at Krones in summer felt rather strange, especially as it was not the office environment I was used to: due to the distancing rules, only one assistant at a time is permitted to be present in our assistant team. So it was a rather lonely day that I spent on my storey. On my way to the canteen, I realised what I have been missing in my home office and the new “office normalcy”: it’s the chance meetings. The colleagues you run into on the stairs on your way to the next meeting, the lady from HR whom you give a quick wave in the canteen, the fellow from Purchasing whom you meet in the café, and you tell him you will call him later because you need his help, or just someone whom you don’t know but smile at anyway. Microsoft Teams is a wonderful collaboration platform but it is lacking the opportunity for the above-mentioned situations since there is no room for chance meetings. And it’s precisely these moments that I’m missing.
All of the work done from home – is that possible?
I spent most of my working hours in subsequent weeks working from home, and on individual days in my office at Krones, alternating with my colleagues. A blatant contrast to previous years. I would never have expected anything like this. When I look at the work I do, there are only very few points where my home office and I are coming up against our limits. One example here is signing things. We are not using a digital-signature solution as yet. Since my notebook has no touch screen on which I can sign documents and I don’t have a scanner/printer at home, I cannot wriggle out by these means. Therefore, I have to schedule such things for my “Krones office day”. But attention has already been drawn to this shortfall, and there will hopefully be some remedy for it in the upcoming months.
Handling my incoming mail is another thing I cannot do from home. Fortunately, we have meanwhile been using a digital solution for invoice processing. This gets rid of quite a substantial stack of paper which I used to carry along the corridors before. But we still get a huge pile of advertising in paper form which is dumped in the wastepaper basket straight after opening it – this requires my presence in the Krones office, but is for me not counted among the highly value-adding activities in my remit anyway. Mail that is really important is hardly ever received only by letter these days. In most cases, the information it contains was sent by email in advance.
One last example I can think of are the receipts for travel expense accounting. My boss went to Hungary several times in 2020, so as to support the staff there in establishing our Debrecen plant. Here at Krones, it is still necessary to submit the original receipts and bills (hotel, restaurant, taxi, toll sticker, etc.). I can draw up the travel expense report in my home office at any time but then I must append the receipts and bills, etc. and send all of it to the Travel Expense Office. So, you see, there is still the odd activity that can only be completed in the Krones office.
Venture a glimpse into the future?
Speaking of travel bookings: that is something that’s undergone a drastic change in 2020. There were not so many trips by far but booking them has been gobbling up much more time, since thanks to the pandemic the regulations governing entry in other countries – and return to Germany – just keep on changing. What I used to complete with just a few mouse clicks meanwhile requires a meticulous examination beforehand, to find out what documents, tests, etc. are necessary. I presume that this will continue to be part of our daily work for a lengthy time to come.
At present, we are in the second lockdown – predicted to last until the end of January. With a view to the current situation and the future, I think the description of the VUCA world is definitely spot-on: this abbreviation stands for V = Volatility, U = Uncertainty, C = Complexity and A = Ambiguity. We are currently caught up amidst these conflicting facets, and it’s up to us to meet and master this exacting challenge, in both our professional and private lives. In this context, let me name yet another buzzword – resilience. Resilience describes the strength and courage to deal with changes, or to survive high-stress phases and crises – in order to emerge from them in best case even stronger than before. And that’s my heartfelt wish precisely: backed up by all the experience we’ve gained to emerge from the crisis even stronger than before.
Photo credits: Lolografie