Frank Verhage

Frank Verhage is a ‘company doctor’ and currently CEO of SALD.

22 September

We overcome Covid and then everything will go back to how it was before. That was largely the expectation during the pandemic. Today, we know better. Regardless of how long or how severely the virus will continue to haunt us, it will never be the same again.

Home office and remote work in particular have massively changed the working life for large parts of the population. Many have come to know and appreciate the convenience of working from home, and are no longer willing to torment themselves in the office five days a week. By now, it’s blatantly obvious that part of our professional activity can actually be managed regardless of where we are. A whole range of companies has geared their IT and their operational processes to the fact that not everyone has to be in the company to keep the shop running.

In addition, rapidly rising energy prices have left companies eager to save on heating costs by closing at least some of their premises. At home, people have to turn on the heater in autumn and winter anyway – so why not pay out an energy subsidy instead of keeping the offices warm? As it turns out, the pandemic is just one reason to continue working remotely.

The digital breakthrough that has been heralded for years, if not decades, has triumphed. But now we have to live with it. Attempts by companies to bring their employees back into the office after the end of the pandemic failed in many cases. “People are too lazy to come to the office,” bosses complain. But strictly speaking, “people” have only learned to use the advantages of digitization for themselves.

This presents a challenge for many companies. It may be possible to do a lot of work from home, but a company is more than a number of people completing tasks. Aspects that are essential for a company culture run the risk of falling by the wayside. This includes the creativity that arises from the group dynamics when team members meet in person, at the coffee machine, at lunch or at meetings.

This creativity is particularly essential for research and development activities. These days, technological progress depends on teamwork. It’s therefore a major challenge for company leaders to get teams back together. Mere appeals or a reference to the employment contract are only of limited use. Rather, it’s now up to the boss to be creative and set attractive incentives to fill the company premises with life again.

Companies are well advised to adapt to hybrid work in the long term. Each company has to find out what the best solution is for its situation. Most of the work may be done at home, but there are, say, two meeting days per week that all or at least most of the employees attend. At these live events, matters of general interest are announced, ideas are born, experiences are exchanged, new developments are discussed and, last but not least, gossip reigns supreme. These meeting days are good for professional and career development and team spirit. And they’re also fun.

However, for technological advances that generate competitiveness, these few days a week that a team gets together won’t be enough. Technologically sophisticated companies will wisely continue to rely on the group dynamics of on-site workers to achieve significant success.