Carsten Wendt, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean general manager and a Breakbulk NextGen winner, shares his experience working from home, juggling home-schooling, home-daycare, cook’s duties and work.
2020 started off kind of crazy with Australia on fire. For most of us, this had no or minimal impact on our daily life, not knowing that a different kind of fire would soon be spreading around world. So we thought at the end of 2019 that 2020 would turn out to be pretty much OK, as usual. We could have not been more wrong, because right now, the outcome of the pandemic is yet to be seen.
Some countries are struggling more than others, but what we have in common is that most people have been working from home for weeks now, trying to juggle work, home-schooling, home-daycare and household chores. We did not choose this, and we’re not fully prepared and neither were our companies.
It was a Friday in March about noon time in Germany when it was decided that schools and daycares would be closed until further notice as of the following Monday. Home office is not standard over here, and it sadly still carries the stigma of people not being productive working from out of office. Yet there it was with literally no time to immediately organize thousands of parents working from home. What was often labeled as “not possible” was suddenly the only way to keep the business going. Lucky were those equipped with laptops and headsets, knowing how to setup a VPN client to access the company’s network. All others had to quickly adapt. Load your desktop PC and monitor into your car or raid the IT storage for those outdated laptops IT kept for emergencies. Admittedly, it took a moment until all the VPN and bandwidth issues were solved, but much to all those doubters, surprise it does work. Are you as productive when you have to home-school, home-daycare, cook and work all at the same time? From my own experience entertaining a toddler while working, I can certainly negate this. But also, the boundaries between work and family became a lot more fluid. Instead of going on a one-hour lunch break with my colleague, I talk to my clients while whipping up lunch when my wife has to finish something urgent for her work.
Similar to the diesel scandal that accelerated development of electro mobility, the coronavirus crisis with all its tragic and sadness, brought our digital future to the next level at a speed that no one ever thought is possible. It truly functioned as an incubator for the digitalization in the business world. Without the diesel industry being discredited, the need for electro mobility would have not been recognized, and without Covid-19 digitalization would have continued at a slower pace.
What’s our takeaway from this situation? First of all, the human factor in business can never be digitalized. Personal contacts are essential and cannot entirely be replaced by video conferences. But we should certainly keep at least part of the flexibility we were forced to develop. Do we really have to travel cross country to attend a one-hour meeting? Wouldn’t it be much more efficient to do this by video call? Since home office proved to work, stop arguing about it and make it standard. Not all the time, but at a modest level. And stop worrying, your employees will be more than happy to finally send the kids back to school and daycare and trade the kitchen-table-office for their well-organized grown-up office.