How well equipped are German SMEs for the new working world of the future? How has it mastered the corona-induced home office obligation? Are there already innovative new concepts? And if so, what do they look like? These are precisely the questions the study, conducted by Kantar on behalf of the Haufe Group, was designed to answer.
New Work is far from being the New Normal
In April 2022, ten individual interviews were conducted with people with and without leadership roles, which provided a heterogeneous picture. The mindset in SMEs varies between companies that are still strongly characterised by classic hierarchies and those that are opening up to trust-based, decentralised organisational forms. Accordingly, the whole range of working models is present. From 100 per cent home office to back to presence culture.
The most important takeaways from the individual interviews:
- Home office suddenly went from exception to standard, challenging routines and beliefs. During the pandemic changeover, small and medium-sized businesses were able to make the most of their short decision-making paths. Many succeeded amazingly well and the acceptance of home office and remote work increased strongly.
- Hybrid collaboration after the pandemic has not yet been clearly defined. Technical prerequisites are in place. The big challenges are to solve organisational and cultural issues.
- Within their own team, the respondents feel they have influence on the change of work processes. Company-wide, they do not feel involved.
- Digitalisation is seen as a technological issue. Implications for new work processes and corporate culture are hardly in focus.
The mood among the ten respondents was mixed. The range of answers extended from "young bosses who let go of the reins and where everyone can organise their working hours themselves" to "We don't plan to accompany the transformation." More or less, the employers let the home office run as it was set up due to the pandemic. New concepts or preparation for the times after home office? Mostly absent.
"We had some training on how to use teams or work online. But there still has to be a holistic concept. We're still doing a mix of phone, teams and emailing files." Marketing project manager, 35 years old, 500 employees in the company
43 percent of the small and medium-sized enterprises surveyed sleeping?
The qualitative online survey of more than 1,000 people, including about 250 managers in May, superficially revealed a positive picture. 73 percent of all respondents - and these were only people who actually practised or theoretically could practise home office - saw the advantages and opportunities of home office as outweighing the disadvantages; among the managing directors even more than 80 percent. That the corona pandemic accelerated new ways of working is already known from other studies.
What is really exciting, however, is the finding that 43 percent of the SMEs surveyed have no answers to the urgent questions of the working world of the future. Although this also means that more than half of all companies have already dealt with the topic, the number of those who are unsure is undeniably high.
More than a quarter of the respondents state that concrete concepts are being implemented in their company. However, this does not at all mean that these companies are also focusing on the new forms of work. Some are reverting to compulsory presence, others are setting up rather arbitrary rules. At 45 percent, it is more a matter of luck, in consultation with the supervisor, how work is done in the home office. In four out of ten companies, no regulations have yet been made or communicated, or at best initial considerations exist.
Another exciting result: even managers were only able to influence new processes or help shape new concepts in 26 per cent of cases. Only 8 per cent of non-managerial employees had the opportunity to participate. Managers also benefit 8 percentage points more from the compatibility of family and work through home office than employees without management responsibility.
Equipping colleagues with laptops and Microsoft Teams was an easy exercise. 50 per cent of the respondents saw this as their employers' biggest investment. Training and development in teamwork and self-organisation was much less common. Only 12 percent could report investments by their company here.
The respondents saw the biggest hurdle in personal contact among colleagues (54 per cent) in hybrid working environments and in informal exchange among each other (52 per cent). There is a general lack of answers as to how both can be maintained or even intensified in mobile ways of working.
According to the study, the past few years have not brought any major changes in the understanding of leadership. For only 9 per cent of those surveyed, a cooperative style of leadership has prevailed. Traditional hierarchical structures have not been shaken. Only 6 percent saw a softening of existing structures. Only 5 per cent perceived a closer look at the workload. On the subject of trust, almost 30 per cent noticed a positive change in thinking.
Still a lot to for the new working world of the future
The more than three million small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany are facing major tasks. Finding answers to disruption, changing supply chains, processes, ways of working and cultures. Added to this are unforeseeable crises such as Corona or war in Europe. With their millions of employees, these companies, which are often family-owned, make a significant contribution to economic value creation. Medium-sized companies develop successfully when they change and yet remain true to themselves. This also means that they actively address innovation processes, including in work design. The upheaval in the world of work is striking. It is essential to drive the transformation itself in order to remain economically successful in the future.
About the study
In the study on the "Working World of the Future in Small and Medium-Sized Businesses", a nationwide survey was conducted from 3 to 16 May 2022 small and medium-sized businesses in Germany (50 - 10,000 employees) from the service, trade and production sectors. The employees surveyed had to have an occupation in which home office was (partially) possible or theoretically possible. The study consists of a qualitative preliminary study with individual explorations and a quantitative online survey. A total of 1,042 online interviews were conducted, 263 of them with managers. The focus was on questions about work in the home office, since home office serves as an umbrella term for all forms of mobile work and all companies surveyed were affected by the home office obligation.