A great place to work

Even before the pandemic, the home office was in vogue. Working at home then offered a quick solution in the crisis. But now it is becoming particularly clear where the shortcomings of this concept lie. Professional office providers can offer a bridging solution – and thus become an important building block of a modular office strategy in the long term. After all, flexible offerings will be indispensable in the future.

We need staying power

We should not fool ourselves: This crisis will continue for quite some time. We therefore need to take a serious and intensive look at how we can continue to run our companies, our professional lives, our businesses despite the pandemic. Companies whose solution models can only be sustained for a few more weeks, where people hope that everything will soon go back to business as usual, will have major problems.

The crisis accelerates change

Covid-19 is changing the (working) world at a radical pace. Home office, digitalization, video conferencing as an alternative to meetings and business travel: The further a company had already progressed along this path, the better it could now adapt to the changing situation.

Open-plan offices are a problem

However, another trend from recent years is now causing additional problems: group and individual offices have increasingly been replaced by open-plan offices. In many companies, this was hoped to provide impetus for new-work models, cost savings and greater efficiency. The disadvantages of this development have gradually become apparent: Such an environment is not exactly conducive to concentration. Many people find these offices too noisy, too crowded, mentally stressful. People miss the private sphere. Some are bothered by drafts; others find it too cold or too warm … Promising professionals may be put off by the prospect of such a workplace. Sickness rates are already higher in large rooms – now an additional risk of contagion is intolerable. Shift patterns and greater spacing offer only partial solutions. And: the space and the infrastructure kept ready continue to cause costs – day after day.

The solution: the home office

Working in a home office has many advantages – for the company and the employees (among other things: respite from the large space). But now, suddenly, entire departments are sitting at home at the kitchen table, in the basement or in the hallway corner. Because now things had to move quickly. Often, the conditions are not exactly ideal. Even if a laptop and internet connection are available in your own workroom: Home office has almost always been an alternative for single days. If you only work like this occasionally, it usually works out quite well. Maybe you are alone and undisturbed (partner in the office, children at school or in care), or you can organize your work accordingly, e.g., do more complicated things when the children are asleep. You can schedule activities that are difficult to do in the home office on office days.

If you are in your home office (almost) all the time, the equipment/connection is often inadequate: the data line is too slow. There is a lack of security measures for more sensitive tasks – from professional virus protection to data protection. Services such as mail and courier services are not available …

This isn‘t an office. This is my home!

If the apartment becomes an office, private life and family suffer. And it‘s getting harder and harder to achieve full performance.

The children demand their rights. They make noise, want to play, chatter during telephone conversations and video conferences, need support with schoolwork, want to be comforted, and want to tell you something. And they often don‘t understand that their parents can‘t give them attention, even though they‘re at home. Can you expect children to completely put themselves aside and understand themselves? It‘s just difficult enough for them as it is.

Both partners work. One is in a telephone or video conference, the other must concentrate on solving a task. Who gets the study, who must go to the kitchen table? Who takes care of meals, cleanliness, and order despite having a job – and who just „overlooks“ everything again, even though they should have noticed on the way from the kitchen to the desk that…? Who takes care of the children and prevents them from getting stupid ideas? Whose job is more important? This source of conflict can quickly lead the partnership into very stormy waters. This doesn‘t exactly promote productivity either.

City & Countryside. In rural areas you usually have more space in your home office – but there is a poor data connection. In an expensive, cramped city apartment, your nerves quickly wear out when you‘re constantly on your toes both privately and professionally – even without children creatively rearranging your documents. And even if you have a lot of square meters and possibly a garden: it‘s difficult.

Professional background. Who really wants to use their private rooms for video conferences? These books, these pictures, these clothes still have to go out of sight. Lena – be quiet now! No, you can‘t go through here now! Please turn off the washing machine, you can hear the spin cycle!

Peace and concentration… The man is already conducting the third telephone conference while she needs silence to formulate her words. The neighbor is hammering and drilling, children are playing in the apartment above, the leaf blower is roaring in the garden, Netflix is tempting you with the next episodes of your favorite series, the laundry basket is full – and there is no communication or structure at all. People who live alone also find it difficult to concentrate when working in their apartment. Especially now that contacts at work and after work are essentially eliminated. Without a change of scenery, things will be particularly difficult for them.

Our private apartment is a shelter. If the boundary between professional and private living space disappears completely, this has consequences for the psyche. For some, the laptop and the cell phone are a constant, silent reproach. You feel constantly under pressure and are heading towards burnout. Another loses focus when working alone, puts things off, dreams, tackles this or that, then gets stressed or makes mistakes when tired late at night…

What do employees need?

A few hours of retreat from the home office can be very useful. A quiet environment helps to complete tasks that require concentration. If the partners can take turns focusing solely on their job in a different location, this can ease the strain on the relationship and promote performance. Some people simply need this change of track: getting dressed for the job, leaving the apartment. In a professional environment you can often achieve more in two or three hours than in a day at home. A secure environment is ideal for meeting bosses and colleagues again – at a distance – and mentally pressing the reset button. After that, things can get better at home again.

Leadership, teamwork, customer contacts: everything remote?

The widespread, extremely accelerated switch to home office is causing hardship for many superiors: They were unable to adequately prepare for the new challenges. Not in every case, conversations with every person can be conducted trustingly and effectively via video conference. Managers no longer see their employees – and their colleagues – live. Contact by phone, email, video is less close, less personal. That carries risks. Understanding decreases, empathy is missing. The metacommunication – the trappings, the small gestures are missing. The risk of misunderstandings increases and conflicts can escalate. New employees are more difficult to integrate, guide and promote. You feel how valuable direct contact is as soon as you miss it: the quick solution, the help, the advice on call, the creative brainstorming… Customer contacts, at least initial contacts, often require a personal meeting. Apart from the hygiene precautions, you need a professional atmosphere: quickly get the clothes out of the study? At the kitchen table?

Companies need this now.

Some companies were already comparatively well prepared for the crisis because they had tackled the topic of digitalization and gained experience with home office work. Some of them were also surprised by the fact that (almost) everyone was suddenly supposed to work from home – but the technical requirements for this were not yet sufficiently developed. The capacity for remote access was only sufficient for part of the workforce. Even in normal times, small and medium-sized companies in particular, have problems providing capacity and expertise for technical infrastructure and administration. The corona crisis is therefore often particularly dramatic for them: the available spaces are too small to work safely. But how can you quickly implement a secure home office connection? How can the technical requirements be provided so that the actual work can continue under these difficult conditions without being slowed down by technical problems, disruptions, or missing requirements?

A bridging solution: Professional office space providers.

To quickly solve the problems of companies and their employees, a mix of home office, your own rooms and the services of a professional office space provider is recommended. This means that meetings, such as the weekly Jour Fix and meetings with customers, can be held – and it is also possible to temporarily move from the home office to an individual office to complete more complex tasks. However, these providers must meet high standards. Strict security precautions are currently crucially important. This ranges from a strict hygiene and disinfection plan to a clear concept of how the necessary distance can be always maintained during registration, meetings, etc., to contact-free solutions for coffee and beverage supply and sealed catering. There is also a powerful infrastructure – fast network, separate, secured networks for different companies, the option to set up a VPN, secretarial, postal and courier services and much more.

The office strategy of the future: Flexible and modular.

Even if there are greater relaxations, open-plan offices as they have been used so far will not be a good working environment. The requirements regarding distance and hygiene cannot be met in this way. People – and employers – will have gotten used to working from home: it is the new normal. The trend towards comprehensive digitalization will accelerate extremely due to external pressure. Processes are simplified, simply because you are practically experiencing that many things can be done differently, more flexibly and more directly. The cost pressure will become even tougher due to the expected economic crisis.

Companies will therefore be able and willing to maintain less of their own office space and infrastructure. You need solutions that offer the greatest possible flexibility in terms of both usage and costs. In order to work competitively, they need an infrastructure (IT / telecommunications, office equipment, services) at least at the level that they would provide themselves.

In my opinion, the interim solution “temporary office space” has the best chance of becoming an integral part of many companies’ business-planning in the future.

Maria Tsertsidis is the owner and managing director of the office service provider Prinzregenten 54 – representative office at Friedensengel. She has decades of experience managing large private medical practices.