"We won't be getting back to normal, not now nor in the future."
November • 2nd, 2020
by the Expat in the City Team
Interview with Andreas Erbe, lecturer of 'Rethinking design of international work environments for the new normal'
On 8 December Andreas Erbe, professor at IE Business School, will be hosting the masterclass 'rethinking design of international work environments for the new normal'. An IE professor, innovation consultant and coach specialized in work environments, Andreas Erbe has lots of experience on the topic of organisational transformation. During this masterclass he will share his thoughts on the impact of the corona crisis on work environments.
We've asked him a few questions to find out more about his take on this very relevant and interesting topic for anyone who is an international employer or employee in Germany.
How did you become interested in organisational transformation?
"Due to my background in HR and organisational development I was always interested in organisational transformation I got particularly interested when I worked for Swisscom when we had to introduce the idea of brand experience to the entire organisation I learned then that you cannot convey to the outside a certain brand without actually transforming the inside of your organisation accordingly."
What do you think has been the impact of 'the new normal' on international work environments so far?
"First of all we won't be getting back to normal. Not now and not in the mid- or longterm. It’s reasonable to assume that attitudes towards sustainability mindfulness and digitalisation have evolved to a point where we will see a lasting change in the way we work. However, this doesn't mean we will be doing everything online. Creative collaboration for instance depends on you being physically present and engaging all your senses and remote work also isn't the solution if you struggle with the notion of being lonely."
Should offices all be closed?
"No, we also shouldn't be getting rid of our offices. An organisation needs places to meet, like a village needs a square. People are social beings and need to not only just belong to a community but actually be with them from time to time. The new normal also doesn't mean that we will be doing everything in an agile way from now on. If you need to deliver quicker, learn faster and stay more adaptable to change in client needs you are always better off with an agile approach. If however you know exactly what the outcome has to be and you know exactly how to get there then by all means work with traditional robust approaches.
Is management still needed now that we are all working virtually?
Yes, a tempting idea might be to think, 'let's work without management'. That's not going to happen. Leaders create conditions for you even if they are not part of your self-organising virtual team. For teams to work autonomously someone working not just in the system but on the system needs to provide meaningful guidance and create an enabling organisational context."
What are your words of advice to companies looking to rethink the design of their workplace to fit the needs of international employees?
"Think of your spaces as the forgotten lever of transformation. Try to think of your spaces as more than just a place or a building. Think of spaces as a mental physical and virtual concept that has to become more meaningful and more adaptable to change. the key is to begin with users and their needs - their problem is the main way for what you do. And under the current circumstances learning and applying agile approaches is more likely to generate the kind of adaptability the new normal demands."
Alternatively, what can employees do to make the most of this new 'digital' workplace?
"From our work with international knowledge workers there seem to be five categories of principles emerging. One the preconditions, two the purpose, three the people, four the place and five the process. In other words the must haves, the frame, the mindset, the location and the interaction. We are beginning to see some new behavioural principles.
Can you give an example?
"I'll share a specific example from each category; as a precondition it is becoming more important than ever to build trust within the team as soon as possible. Concerning the purpose we need to learn how to create a shared understanding of where the boundaries between personal and professional space are. When it comes to people we need to ensure as far as possible that everyone is familiar with the tools and the technology in use. Concerning the place we are working in it is crucial - regardless of whether this is a digital space or a physical space - to build in options for people to retreat and reflect without distractions. And last but not least concerning the way we interact it is, for instance, crucial to make non-verbal implicit feedback as visible as possible."
What will people learn during the masterclass on 8 December?
"The masterclass will provide them with food for thought on whether their spaces make sense. Particularly in these turbulent times. We will be looking at the emotional side and the functional side of workspace design as well as the value their spaces create and what they communicate."
Thank you Mr. Erbe for your time!