“The home office is just an interim step in the current pandemic”

Interview with Dr. Eric Schott on the challenges of the post-COVID era.

The year 2020, which was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, was also characterized by many far-reaching changes. What has been your personal experience? 

There are two items I would like to focus on. First: In 2020, we made great progress with regard to our team work. Overall, we now have both more and more intensive forms of collaboration. We have been working on a remote basis for a long time already, but we have added many new variants such as virtual workshops and creative sessions. And most of all: Team work and team spirit have been greatly strengthened. By that, I am also referring to the great new forms of collaboration with our customers. For me, the same principles apply everywhere: Technology must make team work possible. This resulted in the idea of the Seamless Office. 

Another personal insight for 2021 is that resilience is a part of efficiency. Or vice versa: Resilience and efficiency must be brought into balance. If we focus too much on efficiency, the ice on which we stand becomes thinner and thinner. That also applies to other companies, for example: Shifting supply chains to save more money is done at the expense of stability. Risks increase. When a supplier is not available and the supply chain is interrupted, the damages will far outweigh the savings. When it comes to our own company, I now think differently, for example: How susceptible is our current project portfolio to disruptions? How can we re-design our portfolio to significantly reduce the magnitude of external shocks? In that sense, I see resilience as the ability to resist. Interestingly, for us that also means that we focus even more on innovation - because innovation increases resilience.

Certainly, many feel that the home office was one of the biggest changes in 2020. Can we check that off now, or is there more? 

The campaign surrounding #MachtBuerosZu (Close Offices) demonstrates: Not everyone has been able to or wants to convert to a home office. That is not enough. Particularly in the current pandemic, companies must recognize their responsibility and protect their employees! 

The first step is from the home office to the Seamless Office: The home office is just an interim step in the current pandemic It is great that Zoom and particularly Teams work so well now. One of my favorite features shows the way forward: I start a video conference from my home. After half an hour, I have to drive to the day care. Teams recognizes that I want to change devices, and I can transfer the current session to my cell phone with one click. The next stage is the Seamless Office, which is the technology that supports different forms of work and the transition from one to the next. 

From the Seamless Office, we move onto New Work: We have to use the opportunities that resulted from the experience and the investments that were made in 2020: What new types of collaboration do we need? What new forms of work do we want? For me, New Work is like a reference guide for effective work, which focuses on people's work and personal environment: How do we design a job environment for people that is a good fit with their life, their environment, their families and their personal development perspectives? We have to think ahead.

Digitization is more than using video conferencing tools. What do companies have to do in 2021? 

This is clearly an issue in addition to New Work: We need better security! Cyber attacks could become the next global pandemic. Attacks are increasing both in terms of frequency and severity. I believe companies have a lot of work to do in this regard. In my opinion, it is not even about purely technical measures but rather about the higher-level security strategy. At this time, I mostly see deficits in terms of the organization, hence with regard to bundled responsibilities and prioritization, and also with regard to qualifications: Awareness at the management level as well as skilled and diligent communication with all employees (e.g. with regard to suspicious but hard-to-detect phishing e-mails) must be qualified quickly. 

IT security will become a key issue this year. What else is required? 

At this time, many companies are in a sort of holding position. Now, as vaccination campaigns are progressing, companies cannot lose any time and should get ready for the post-COVID era. The acceleration of process digitization and digital strategies - those are the issues of the day. In other words, it is time to put the foot on the gas pedal. 

Process digitization, for example, offers a number of savings opportunities that can be implemented relatively quickly. One example: Many companies have shifted their big systems (e.g. mail and communication) into the Cloud. At the same time, those same companies still operate many old applications in their own data centers. In this situation, we advise that these in-house programs are also rigorously moved into the Cloud. We refer to this as the “Second Wave Cloud”. And while you are in the process of moving applications, it might also be a good time to have a closer look at them and improve them, or to combine or even remove them completely. 

In the case of digital strategies, we have to pick up where we left off and focus on reinventing business models, also in combination with “local” digital strategies. Many companies would be well advised not to spend all their time looking for a global digital strategy, but instead start several different, more product-related digital strategies. This approach reduces complexity. Which results in speed. Therefore, when the COVID-era comes to an end, the focus will once again be on new and innovative business models. My suggestion: If you are looking for innovation drivers, promote sustainability projects!

Speaking of sustainability: What are the challenges that companies will face with regard to a more sustainable future?

Let us start with the business models: New business models should become both digital and sustainable. Those who are able to combine digitization with sustainability will be particularly successful. Our customers are under enormous pressure to become more sustainable. This pressure initially comes from investors, capital markets and legislators - this means that companies will have to act quickly. Sustainability reports will become a part of annual reports, and supply chains must be transparent and from sustainable sources. These are just two current examples: Increasingly, the pressure will also come from end customers - with their wallets! Increasingly, customers will demand more sustainable products and services. Therefore, my forecast is as follows: The sustainability transformation will be bigger than the digital transformation. We will prepare our customers for this transformation. And we will use the insights gained from the digital transformation for the sustainability transformation. 

The interview was conducted by Morvyn Lipinski, Communication Manager at Campana & Schott with Dr. Eric Schott .