How the Crisis is Forcing Companies to Finally Go Digital

Digital tools and flexible working environments are nothing new to Uwe Reuter and his team at Porsche. He explains why the crisis pushes companies to digitize their processes and what he and his team have learned during the last weeks.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper via Unsplash

The outbreak of COVID-19 has presented all of us with new challenges –organizations, individuals and politicians alike. The current crisis is new territory for us all. Nobody has experience with anything like this. There are no emergency plans in place or recommendations for action. For companies like Porsche, this means major changes. Agility and flexibility are more in demand than ever before.

At Porsche, we established a central innovation management system in Research and Development more than three years ago. As the Director of Resources and Innovation in the Chassis department, I have been focusing for some time now on agile workflows, flexible working environments, modern tools, and their potential. Now more than ever, we need to demonstrate how the innovations we have initiated can help us to overcome the crisis. I am convinced that if we use this crisis as an opportunity for new learning, we can emerge from it stronger.

For this reason, I would like to present five learnings on remote working during the crisis and show why this time is so crucial for our future working world.

1. The early introduction of digital working methods and online tools pays off quickly

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

The essential information exchange between departments, locations and suppliers in automotive development has led us to be an early adopter of digital information systems in recent years. These include the widespread use of smartphones and wireless headsets and the introduction of the digital collaboration tool Microsoft Teams. Thanks to early piloting, even before the crisis, all employees already had a broad basic knowledge of digital tools, so that working together from home was no longer a major challenge for us. Here, we had a real advantage.

I think that even after the crisis, location-independent online communication can, will and should replace (at least some) business trips and will enable many ad-hoc meetings across locations. Digital tools such as Microsoft Teams can offer a simple alternative to face-to-face meetings and bring more flexibility to our everyday work in a post-Corona era.

2. The decision for remote work or office work should be made on a case-by-case basis

“About 40 percent of German workplaces are basically suitable for home offices. Before the crisis, working from home was actually common practice for only twelve percent. That will change radically,” writes the work experts Andreas Herde and Oliver Burauen in an article for W&V. The current crisis is driving change in the world of work. It is becoming more virtual, flexible and digital, and — finally — proves that the much-vaunted digital work processes are actually working.

I can only speak for our department, but here, we are realizing more than ever many of our work-related tasks can just as easily be performed from home. Of course, some basic requirements are necessary for this, such as a stable internet connection and a suitable workplace. In our department, however, the operational activities that require a physical presence in the office are constantly decreasing. Documents that used to require an in-person signature can now be signed virtually thanks to the introduction of the digital signature. This especially saves time for documents that need to be signed by multiple people. Information transfer through paper circulation is virtually non-existent, and documents are stored digitally in document management systems.

However, personal exchange is still important, especially for the communicative component of cooperation. I personally prefer to conduct personnel or feedback interviews face-to-face, as I believe this shows my appreciation for the employee when I take the time to meet them in person. Internal strategy meetings and “lessons learned” meetings at the end of a project are also situations that highlight the advantages of working in an office. The interpersonal exchange of ideas works much more smoothly, more topics can be discussed, and emotions are easier to capture. But then, of course, there are still activities that simply require presence in the office, such as important documents which have to be signed in-person and on paper.

Team Collaboration at Porsche
When things were still “normal” and we were able to in the office with my colleagues.

Our new office space concept here in Weissach already supports the communication aspect by providing fewer static desks and more opportunities for short meetings at bar tables, ad hoc meetings in so-called “focus rooms,” and collaboration in a workshop-like atmosphere. The introduction of desk sharing allows us to optimize the office area for this new style of work while still meeting the current security requirements.

To summarize: There are some jobs that we can easily do from home, but others require direct cooperation and in-person exchange within the team.

Every employee, every team and every organization must find their own balance between office and remote work.

I welcome the fact that the crisis is forcing many companies to question the assumption that work must be done at the office and to fully explore the potential of remote working.

Workplace at Home, Uwe Reuter
My workplace at home. Photo: Uwe Reuter

3. Contemporary management culture is a strength, especially in times of crisis

Of course, the changes also have an impact on the management culture. The crisis shows that managers can trust their employees. By now, at the latest, it is clear that flexible, self-determined and remote working works — without a doubt.

In my personal experience, I have seen my team’s work results stay up to standard even in the crisis, and that we have been able to maintain workflows across the company. I have the feeling that during the current situation, my colleagues are actually more prepared to tackle challenges and drive projects forward. Our recent innovation efforts have helped to incorporate a modern management model based on trust into the corporate culture, in accordance with our Porsche Code.

In my perception, there is a strong sense of community within the company, a feeling of solidarity as we all face the challenges of the current situation, which we can only overcome together. Values such as cohesion, trust, flexibility and openness between all employees are more important than ever — and I am convinced that these values will remain long after the crisis ends.

4. Fixed appointments and routines help to organize the new workday

Fixed appointments help to organize your day / Jeshoots via Unsplash

The new situation and new environment also requires a certain flexibility of working hours. I’ve noticed that I receive more e-mails at unconventional times in my home office than before — not because my colleagues are working longer than usual, but because they organize their workday according to their daily routine. For example, if you have to look after children during the day, you may have to put in extra hours early in the morning or later in the evening to get all your work done. Nevertheless, it is important to create a separation between work and home life — for example, after you finish working in the evening. If an email comes in after my workday has come to a close, I simply take care of it the next day, during the regular working hours I have set up for myself.

What helps are routines. Whether online meetings with the team, a daily lunch break or a yoga class in between, fixed appointments can help us get into a routine. I start the day with a 30-minute check-in and set up a voluntary digital team meeting in the afternoon where private issues can also be discussed. I try to give each day a “face:” for example, one of my colleagues used to say “Monday is run day.” On Monday, I structure the work of the week. Tuesday is reserved for operational work. It’s okay to enter a reservation in the calendar for this and really allow yourself this time. On Wednesdays, I have multiple project meetings. Thursdays follow the classic linear structure of the Development department and ensure the supply of information. And Friday is for looking back.

5. Gather experience, form learnings, and keep developing

In an earlier article, I presented the four working methods that we developed in a workshop with our department: contemplation, concentration, collaboration and communication. In the past few weeks of remote working, we have already collected some exciting, practical insights into these areas:

  • Digital collaboration solutions allow us to work together in small teams without any problems. But it’s more difficult to moderate a digital meeting which has a large number of participants. One method which has been successful so far: announcing and moderating spoken contributions in parallel chat sessions, as well as digital breakout rooms in which separate chats are possible alongside the main session. Audience response systems and polling tools such as SliDo or Mentimeter help moderators, speakers and presenters to interact with a large number of participants, even in large sessions.
  • Concentration and contemplation require establishing new routines in home office. These include focus rooms and isolated workstations as well as regular breaks. 15 minutes per hour is a good measure to get up, get some fresh air and enjoy a drink or a healthy snack.
  • Communication is a challenge when working in a decentralized manner. Daily appointments with a fixed group of participants represent one opportunity for exchange. But informal discussions in the tea kitchen can also be replaced by virtual coffee corner meetings or relaxed breakout formats.
  • In the past few weeks, we’ve already learned a lot about working in times of social distancing — much of which will still be relevant after the crisis is over. Now, it is important to record the observations of the past months, to discuss them with the team, and to ask ourselves:

How can we use these learnings to develop new ways of working?

As terrible as the coronavirus pandemic is, it offers the working world an opportunity to pause for a moment and question our way of working. For the sake of our individual workday, our team, and our entire organization, we should not let this moment go to waste.

Uwe Reuter, Porsche
Uwe Reuter, Director of Resources and Innovation Chassis at Porsche

Uwe Reuter is Director of Resources and Innovation Chassis at Porsche

About this publication: Where innovation meets tradition. There’s more to Porsche than sports cars — we’re tackling new challenges, develop digital products and think digital with focus on the customer. On our Medium blog, we tell these stories. It’s about our #nextvisions, smart technologies and the people that drive our digital journey. Please follow us on Twitter (Porsche Digital, Next Visions), Instagram (Porsche Digital, Next Visions, Porsche Newsroom) and LinkedIn (Porsche AG, Porsche Digital) for more.

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