A rather different kind of beginning

A few weeks ago, my colleague Silke Riedl wrote about collaboration at Krones using Microsoft Teams and explained the options it provides, especially for staff who are not working at the same workplace. A few short weeks ago, this became the temporary norm in my department – which meant that the beginning of my internship turned out a bit differently to what was originally planned.

Can an internship of this kind also succeed as a virtual experience? It will take a bit of time to find out. But today I’d like to tell you about some initial impressions – perhaps some of you have similar experiences?

At first, everything went according to plan: early in March, I began my internship in the Social Media Department at Krones, and in the first two weeks, with a helping hand from my predecessor, I familiarised myself with my new remit and the company. But when I then (thanks to my predecessor) felt optimally prepared for the internship, everything changed again. Because then it was decided that with immediate effect we would be working from home, so as to avoid coronavirus infections.

At first, of course, you find it difficult to alter again a routine you’ve only just familiarised yourself with – this was certainly true for the vast majority of my colleagues. As we all know, people are creatures of habit. But I managed to adapt faster than I originally expected. And after all, despite all the challenges and changes, I’m also able to enjoy some of the advantages of mobile working: what was gratifying right from the start was not having to commute, which meant more sleep. For a few days, too, I had already been taking my notebook home with me and so I could get started straight away on the first day – still wearing pyjamas, mind you. Fortunately, our mentors had also shown us in the previous week how to log into Krones VPN, so I was immediately able to access all important directories and programs. So first of all, from a technical viewpoint everything had been clarified.

But the technology isn’t everything. In the very first days and weeks of my familiarisation period, I had seen how much in the Social Media team was discussed directly in the open-plan office – in personal conversations, over a shared lunch, and perhaps sometimes shouted over three desks. But no longer. In order to enable regular mutual feedback to be maintained, my team at first ‘met’ every day for a morning update in Microsoft Teams. Here, questions were asked and answered, tasks allocated, or we simply discussed how things were going. And since urgent questions and tasks can also be effectively communicated through the chat function in Teams, and all of us are actually communicating continually in writing anyway, there weren’t enough items for a daily agenda, so we reduced the rhythm of the meeting to two days a week. In addition, we had a Teams meeting with the entire department, including a round of questions, at which intra-company news from the management level was passed on to us.

What’s more, thanks to Teams you have a pretty good overview of who can currently be reached, or who’s in a meeting and would prefer not to be disturbed. We also log off every day in the Teams chat function. So everybody in the team knows who’s working at the moment and can handle an urgent task at need, and (just like in a physical office) you know who has clocked off for the day and should be left in peace.

Meanwhile I’ve really settled into my home office routine. In the morning, I go from the bathroom – sometimes, admittedly, still in my pyjamas – my briefcase in my hand, to my workplace (aka my kitchen table). Over a cup of tea, I check the first messages, and prepare for my working day, which then quite soon takes its customary course. So far I’ve had no shortage of tasks, and for some of them, like writing this blog article, I can even concentrate better at home than in the office. I get distracted sometimes, of course, – this pan from yesterday still not washed up, staring at me accusingly from the cooker, simply has to be washed up right now. Conversely, I can schedule my breaks for convenient flexibility – and shorten the lunch break if necessary by the 10 minutes it took to wash up the pan. And when the time has come to finish for the day, I log off in Teams, enter my work hours, and pack my briefcase again, so that later on I can use my kitchen table for dinner.

Sure, one or two technical problems have cropped up occasionally, now and then a few programs or links went on strike due to overloading. But through good collaboration most of the tasks involved have nonetheless been successfully completed so far. My work and my remit have hardly changed at all due to the change in workplace, and the internship is just as much fun in its virtual incarnation. The whole thing has one fly in the ointment, however: although home-cooked lunch may taste better, the conversations in the breaks with my colleagues can unfortunately not be replaced by Teams.