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The “Work From Home”-Revolution: From Crisis Management to Proactive Solutions

The “Work From Home”-Revolution: The Corona crisis has had far-reaching impact for every business, not least amongst them is that it has forced employers and employees make an impromptu shift to remote working. Whilst ‘flatten the curve’ will have its time, this event will have implications on ways of working long to come. Of course, working remotely is not possible for any job. Still, in this article we outline the chances and — more important — present the IT tools and methods we have found to support us in our day-to-day remote work.Authors: Johannes Niemann, Timo Knackstedt, Philipp Sandner

Who’d have thought that a single event could create such a fundamental shift in the way we work? Like it or not, the COVID-19 crisis has mandated that those employees who can work from home do so. Whilst remote working is something many organizations have been slowly introducing, the nature of this event has meant the move has for some organizations been a shock, and for others been the much-needed push to make flexible working an offering to employees.

Regardless whether the organization has jumped or been pushed into remote working, it has significant challenges. Remote working is more than just working from another place physically; it implies significant changes in team operation, client service, and corporate culture. Some of the major barriers corporations will need to hurdle to establish smooth remote working set-ups include:

  • Process and Communication: Constant communication and fluid information sharing becomes more important with remote working and is one of the most important obstacles that need to be overcome. We know face-to-face beats all forms of communication, but when that’s not possible, how do we make sure everyone’s on the same page and feels involved?
  • Technology: Remote working puts our IT systems to the ultimate stress-test. Not only are existing security systems or process tools impacted, but the integration of new tools and applications into the established information technology (IT) landscape is a highly complex process. And even more fundamental — employees need access to this infrastructure.
  • Culture: Work/life balance, business culture and business relationships are all harder to foster when employees are not physically present. Think about going to a music concert of your favorite band vs listening on your headphones. With one, there’s a buzz in the atmosphere, others to pick up the cues of if you’re singing too loud, and at some point, you’ll get kicked out. With the other, you’re listening with no time limit, alone, and being disrupted by hungry children. Remote, it’s going to take more time and resources to achieve the same spirit and communicate wellbeing policies to employees.

What are the benefits of remote working?

However, if you can overcome these challenges as an organization, the benefits of remote working can be significant:

  • Low cost of operation: Remote work saves general and administrative expenses in various ways: office supplies, furniture, equipment, coffee and janitorial services to name a few. All this improves the company’s bottom-line performance immediately. Experts have calculated that Your average medium sized business of 500 employees in an office setting could save up to several thousand euros/year.
  • Improving productivity: This might be counter-intuitive to those of you who think home office equals working in pyjamas with Netflix on in the background. However, numerous studies and employee surveys show the potential for increasing productivity through remote working. A flexible schedule and the possibility to work from any location are the most important drivers for increased productivity. Student consultancies (e.g. www.fs-sc.de) face this issue since project teams mainly consist of up to five students from different classes and hence a flexible schedule is very important. However, the project leader must spend extra efforts to manage the balancing act between freedom and the completion of tasks. This will be increasingly important, if the teams work from different locations and possibly, different time zones. Here, appropriate tools can help to overcome this problem.
  • Saving time and reducing stress of commuting: Remote work helps to eliminate commuting stress. This allows employees to channel their time to other productive events like extra morning sleep, exercising or an extended breakfast that can help boost productivity.

How do we overcome the challenges of remote working to reap the benefits it offers?

  • Appropriate tools: Digital tools help every company in maintaining an efficient remote working set-up. Tools can be categorized in three broad areas: file sharing, communication and project management.
  • Remote working friendly culture: Without the buy-in of employees the most appropriate tools and best infrastructure will not work. Hence, business leaders need to focus on communicating effectively with the team even when they are not around in the office.

How do you implement a remote working policy?

Company leaders need to derive a strategy and approach towards remote working. We cluster the implementation in four steps:

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1. Analyzing the status quo: First, every company needs to analyze the status quo and what has already been done to foster remote working. It is crucial to apply a 360°-perspective and to cover all aspects incl. technical and cultural fit of existing tools and processes.

2. Defining the vision: Following the analysis of the status quo, the definition of a target image is the next step. This describes which functions a global remote working policy should contain and contains a roadmap that describes the process on large scale.

3. Evaluating tools: After defining the vision, it is necessary to evaluate the tools available on the market to assess which are most suitable for your industry, business structure, and culture. Not only the functionalities but also the integration into the existing IT landscape should be evaluated. Based on our experience we can categorize the offered tools in three dimensions:

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  • File sharing is inevitable for teams working remotely but sending files via email is rarely an ideal scenario. Often, companies use a server solution to share files and documents. This service is offered by nearly every hosting server infrastructure provider. The main difference lies in the usability and here Google Drive and Dropbox stick out.
  • Communication is key, as we’ve already mentioned, and it’s the most challenging part of implementing remote working. Since there is no natural “coffee machine chat” anymore, companies need to foster communication and culture with appropriate tools. These enable employees to stay in touch with colleagues and/or team members and communicate much quicker and more conveniently. However, there are several tools with slightly different functionalities and use cases. The most frequently used tool is Slack. This tool is very useful in managing larger teams with several workstreams.
  • As in every project, project management is crucial for the outcome since people, budgets, and deadlines need to be coordinated effectively and kept on track for a project to meet with success. Therefore, the use of the project management software such as Trello, based on the proven Kanban methodology is recommendable to manage projects as efficiently as possible.

4. Set responsibilities: After deciding on tools that will be used, the next step is to set responsibilities for the implementation of the remote working policy. This can be based on business lines and needs or functional perspective (e.g., HR together with IT) since it affects nearly every department in your company. Advocates should also be established on a peer-to-peer level, as support for employees that the tools work for everyone.

Follow-on training and trouble-shooting: The initial implementation process goes hand in hand with follow-up trainings. This ensures smooth implementations, allows employees to trouble-shoot concerns and share best practices amongst each other. It also helps maintain a friendly remote-working culture so employees feel this is an opportunity they are involved in, rather than a ‘top-down’ mandated policy.

We’re in the midst of an evolution-gone-revolution. And the implications stretch far beyond benefiting employees and productivity. Once we’re comfortable working with our teams virtually, networking and communicating with customers and clients can also benefit.

To increase sales and visibility, online panel discussions can be set up and be delivered via online platforms like Zoom. One example is the Disrupt Network which connects startups, enterprises, and enthusiasts for tech-driven areas to facilitate rapid knowledge transfer. Online panels also offer immense opportunity in hiring tech-driven talent. For example, the recent panel discussion “Digital Euro for Smart Contracts in the Industry” included more than 200 participants. If you are interested in this topic, feel free to reach out.

Furthermore, video sales increases sales efficiency significantly since it eliminates travel cost and time. Hence, you can spend the time you win approaching more potential clients. However, sometimes an in-person meeting cannot be replaced.

Networking through WhatsApp groups can be a great idea. This gives you the opportunity to connect likeminded people in these times and share relevant information. Hence, you create automatic visibility and people might reward useful hints. Just be careful not to bombard people’s private WhatsApp, and use it rather as an initial platform to connect people, and share more information using other platforms.

Now is the time to evaluate how remote business is working for your teams and clients, identify the pain points and develop optimized policies and practices for the future. Don’t be afraid to bring in experts and set optimal policies in place now, which last and bring the best of flexibility and productivity to your business. This also allows time to focus on operational business. FS-SC and other student consultancies are pooling best practices during this time and can offer learnings to your organization, with recommendations tailored to your industry and culture.

Remarks

If you like this article, we would be happy if you forward it to your colleagues or share it on social networks. If you are an expert in the field and want to criticize or endorse the article or some of its parts, feel free to leave a private note here or contextually and we will respond or address.

Do you want to learn more about how blockchain will change our world?

  • Blockchain knowledge: We wrote a Medium article on how to acquire the necessary blockchain knowledge within a workload of 10 working days.
  • Our two blockchain books: We have edited two books on how blockchain will change our society (Amazon link) in general and the everything related to finance (Amazon link) in particular. Both books are available in print and for Kindle — currently in German and soon in English. The authors have been more than 20 well-known blockchain experts in startups, corporations and the government from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein — all contributing their expertise to these two books.
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Our two books: the first one on blockchain and the society and the second one on blockchain and finance

Johannes Niemann is Managing Director of FS-SC GmbH (www.fs-sc.de), the consulting boutique for digital transformation mainly staffed with students and alumni of Frankfurt School. You can contact him via mail (johannes.niemann@fs-sc.de) or via LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/johannes-niemann/).

Timo Knackstedt is Head of Project Office of FS-SC GmbH (www.fs-sc.de), the consulting boutique for digital transformation mainly staffed with students and alumni of Frankfurt School. You can contact him via mail (timo.knackstedt@fs-sc.de) or via LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/timoknackstedt/).

Prof. Dr. Philipp Sandner has founded the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center (FSBC). In 2018 and in 2019, he was ranked as one of the “top 30” economists by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a major newspaper in Germany. Further, he belonged to the “Top 40 under 40” — a ranking by the German business magazine Capital. Since 2017, he is member of the FinTech Council of the Federal Ministry of Finance in Germany. The expertise of Prof. Sandner includes blockchain technology in general, crypto assets such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, the digital programmable Euro, tokenization of assets and rights and digital identity. You can contact him via mail (email@philipp-sandner.de) via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@philippsandner).

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Professor | Lecturer | Author | Investor | Frankfurt School Blockchain Center

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