Home office is dead - long live the home office?


The pandemic home office is over. What's the next step for companies now? Andreas Plaul, CIO of the Haufe Group, approaches the topic in five theses.

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On 20 March 2022, the pandemic-related home office obligation ended in Germany. In the Haufe Group, we have been working intensively over the past few months on the question of what our working world could look like "afterwards". The following five theses are the result of our discussions with our employees and management. At the same time, they outline our common path to the working world of the future.

Thesis 1: Accepting reality

From discussions with managers, I know that many of them would like to see employees back in the office for at least a large part of their working hours. The motto here is often "back to the future." Interestingly, according to a study commissioned by Cisco in March 2022, only 16 percent of all employees want this - a clear mismatch. I am certain: There will be no return to the working world before Corona. Companies that try to enforce this will be able to see the reaction to this decision at the latest in the fluctuation. This is because employees will find acceptance of the new working world in many other companies. According to the Digital Work Index study, around half of employees are even prepared to change jobs if they cannot flexibly choose their place of work. So managers have only one choice: to accept the so-called new normal and actively shape it together with their team. At the Haufe Group, we know from our own experience that this is not always easy. We too, first had to embark on our own learning journey in management. But there is no alternative to this path.

Thesis 2: Don't forget middle management

The C-level has largely accepted the new requirements of the post-corona working world and is entering the working world of the future with momentum? Unfortunately, this is not enough. This is because middle management is often neglected. Numerous studies show that this is precisely where a high braking or accelerating effect for changes in the company lies. In fact, permanent leadership at a distance often means that team and department managers have to redefine their role: relinquish control and build trust in the employees' personal responsibility. This requires a new mindset and, above all, the continuous development of one's own leadership personality. To support managers on this journey, we have had good experience with personnel or team development measures that helped to orchestrate management buy-in at all levels.  

Thesis 3: Power to the people

At Haufe Group, we decided at the end of 2021 that, from now on, employees will decide in their teams and in their respective work contexts how they want to work together - without the veto power of the team lead. After all, the teams are the nucleus of every company. They know best how to work most productively. This was also shown to us by the evaluation of a survey of all our employees, who voted by a large majority that they wanted to be able to freely determine their choice of workplace in the future. In fact, this is the only way we can meet the heterogeneous needs of the individual teams. While some have since come together on certain days each week to hold "sprint planning" or "retros" meetings, for example, others work purely remotely - mainly because of the still high incidence of corona. Still others work mainly in the office because they need continuous, personal exchange or because their daily work routine requires it. We have thus found a way that allows us the greatest possible flexibility and freedom, while at the same time taking into account the actual requirements and challenges of our colleagues.

Thesis 4: Supporting the teams

Autonomy and personal responsibility are important for making quick decisions. Just like middle management, teams must not be left alone with the new form of collaboration. HR can and must support this transformation with activities in the form of personnel and team development measures that the individual teams can again use as an offer rather than a constraint. And that is exactly what we are currently doing in the Haufe Group with a large number of teams. This does not have to remain with "soft" offers, but can also include the establishment of rituals, gladly with software support. At the same time, the decision about future collaboration is of course not set in stone. Each team can adapt it at any time. In the summer, we organize a company-wide "Pulse Check" to find out whether the current concept continues to suit us in its way or whether adjustments need to be made somewhere.

Thesis 5: Doing your homework

After just the first two months of flexible collaboration in teams, we can already see a clear pattern: Our sites will become collaboration sites in the future. For us, this means that we have to do our homework and create the appropriate framework conditions. While we continue to support employees in equipping their workplaces at home, based on the chosen presence model, we are converting large parts of the company to so-called shared desk models. In the process, we are also increasingly using tools such as Teampact, which can be used to check "team health". The following information can be queried: Are the colleagues in close communication, even at a distance? Is everyone satisfied with the way they work together and is there clarity about team goals?

Conclusion on the home office

Even in a digital (working) world, it's all about people. At Haufe Group, constant transformation has been part of our DNA for several decades - and we are excited to see where the current journey will take us. One thing is clear, however: There is no way back to old structures. The future of the working world will be hybrid and the employees are the all-important factor in this.  

"In the future, our locations will become collaboration sites," says Andreas Plaul, CIO of Haufe Group

About the author:

Andreas Plaul represents a new generation of IT leaders and is CIO of the Haufe Group, where he and his team are redefining the role of IT. With his column "IT as a zoo", as well as with prefaces and articles on topics such as the working worlds of tomorrow, everyday life in IT or business-driven IT, Andreas Plaul shapes the discussion on the modern task of the CIO. He comes up with new ideas while bouldering.

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