Location-independent work

How can location-independent work be implemented for employees throughout the company? Together, Dirk Ramhorst, CDO and CIO in the chemical industry, and Eric Schott, CEO of Campana & Schott, discuss which steps are necessary.

Location-independent work is a topic with many facets. What do you think companies need to do now?

Dirk Ramhorst: I think the technical readiness can now almost be ticked off. Therefore, the topic of organization is currently the focus in order to ensure smooth processes even after the pandemic. This includes, above all, the preparation for hybrid work. Employees must be able to use their office and home office equipment flexibly. This is to be properly organised, dimensioned and, if necessary, formalized with company agreements.

Eric Schott: I can only agree. Companies have proven in the past that working from home can be implemented technologically. But the previous polarization between office and home office has to be overcome and a real seamless office has to be implemented. It’s less about the question of where employees work from and more about how each individual can optimally fulfill the respective tasks. For example, you start a meeting on the PC in the office, put it on your cell phone to continue participating on the go, and then seamlessly continue working on the presentation you started at home. This increases efficiency, productivity and employee satisfaction, as previous media breaks are avoided. However, this requires a strategy for what the future of work should look like.

As it sounds, the way we work together is changing significantly. How does it make itself noticeable?

Eric Schott: We are currently seeing that the relationship between employer and employee is turning around. So far, the focus has been on how the employee can keep the company running. Today the question is: How can the company provide an employee-centric environment, i.e. improve the employee experience?

This starts with the equipment and then relates above all to the way of thinking that the employee’s environment should be shaped less by the company’s specifications and more by his needs. But it goes even further: the first companies are already applying to the applicants on their own initiative.

Dirk Ramhorst: I can confirm that. Working from home is always an issue in job interviews. The basic possibility is already self-evident. It’s now about how a company supports it: with equipment, light, microphone, camera, collaboration applications. Applicants also formulate corresponding expectations here.

If you open too many construction sites at the same time, you often get bogged down in the various projects and don’t make any progress.

Eric Schott, CEO, Campana & Schott

There are still many areas of the company in which employees cannot simply be sent to the home office. So does hybrid work end at the desk?

Eric Schott: No, hybrid work not only requires an adaptation of the workplaces of information workers, who mainly work at the desk, but also of frontline workers. This includes more than 80 percent of the workforce, such as technicians on production lines, nursing staff in clinics, drivers, security and cleaning staff, checkout or sales staff. Companies have to think about how to integrate them into the increasingly digital workplace.

Dirk Ramhorst: Definitely. I was able to accompany the Working World 4.0 initiative in Bavaria for the last two years. It wasn’t just about home office, but also about how digitization can change the world of work in general. A major concern was that working from home should not divide society – into those who can use it and those who have to be there. To do this, you have to think about how digitization can help frontline workers.

For example, the topic of digital twins has made a major contribution. This enabled us to monitor and control an entire chemical plant remotely to a certain extent. Commissioning in Korea could be carried out via video conference. All sensor data was displayed in the digital twin in Germany. This enabled the German engineers to tell their colleagues in Korea exactly which settings they had to adjust and how.

What is the main thing to keep in mind with the so-called frontline workers?

Eric Schott: We have seen time and again with our customers that, for example, employees in production use WhatsApp groups to organize shift changes. Sometimes they even exchange documents. Here, IT must recognize the opportunity to increase security via a solution centrally provided by the company. So when thinking about digital workplaces, keep frontline workers in mind. For me, this is also a form of sustainable work, because it promotes a new sense of togetherness. The technological integration of frontline workers really brings everyone in the company closer together again. For me it is also a social task.

Dirk Ramhorst: I also have an example of this, the “Digital Program for All” project. Production employees do not have a computer workstation and therefore no intranet. With this project, we gave employees access to certain intranet services, from HR to ordering snacks, via an app on their private smartphone or kiosk PC. This enabled us to achieve connectivity in terms of digitizing the workplace for these employees. Many previously paper-based processes have also been digitized. That was incredibly well received.

The “one size fits all” solution does not exist. This applies to digitization in general and to New Work in particular.

Dirk Ramhorst, CDO and CIO of the chemical industry

How can companies specifically approach the digital workplace?

Eric Schott: Based on the experiences of the past few years, many companies have wishful thinking about how the implementation of the digital workplace can look like and would ideally like to tackle everything immediately. But if you open too many construction sites at the same time, you often get bogged down in the various projects and don’t make any progress. Therefore, it makes sense to look at each company individually. What wishes do the employees have and which do the managers have? What obstacles stand in the way? What implementations are needed immediately and what do you still have some time for? The introduction of a digital workplace should be strategically planned and supplemented with the appropriate organizational processes. This includes modern corporate communications, an up-to-date security culture and architecture, and increased employee agility. Changing direction and trying things out along the way is part of it. After all, developing the one ideal solution directly is an illusion. The basic strategy and roadmap are crucial.

Dirk Ramhorst: The “one size fits all” solution does not exist. This applies to digitization in general and to New Work in particular. There are different cultures, organizations, generations and technical awareness. You have to go into this specifically and analyze where I stand, where do I come from, which services are already established. On this basis, companies can go their individual way.

Mr. Ramhorst, Mr. Schott, thank you for this interview.

Eric Schott, CEO, Campana & Schott

Dirk Ramhorst, CDO and CIO in the chemical industry