Home-Office: Beware of the Cliff Ahead

Beware of the Cliff Ahead

shortened version

Why the conversion on home offices is more complicated than it first appears

The pandemic has taught us a lot. For one thing, it refutes the old wives’ tale that home office employees don’t do anything. On the other hand, we firms have begun to see teleworking as an enticing, cost-effective alternative to expensive office spaces.

Win:Win, right?

But no, it’s not. After 9 months of pandemic, many managers are still not fully aware of the risks associated with the quick, so-called switch, to home-offices. We don’t yet know the actual long-term effects of a change from in-office to home-offices. We don’t know yet whether employees will be able to continue to work productively and efficiently once the shock of the pandemic has subsided.

We don’t know.

To believe that after a few months of operation outside the usual office structures, we understand everything there is to know for successful restructuring is an act of sheer hubris that is nonetheless tripping up many entrepreneurs. MagnoliaTree has spent years dealing with digital management. We know that it takes much more than equipping employees with ergonomic office furniture and eye-saving monitors. The real key words are communication, structure, culture, and performance. But more about that later.

Now is the time for some critical reasoning

The Gallup Institute has asked remote workers about their preferences on how to conduct business after the pandemic: 49% of all respondents would still prefer to work from home. In many companies known to us, the verdict is even clearer: over 90% of the workforce would like to work from home permanently. At this point, entrepreneurs and strategy decision-makers should reflect on why the majority of employees do not want to be physically present in the company. Is it really only because they want to save themselves a long commute and thus money and time; or because of a bad working climate; the working conditions, the management and/or the prevailing structures?

In short: is there a problem with the atmosphere at your office?

Four things to keep in mind when transitioning to working from home

The pandemic may have shown entrepreneurs that teleworking is an effective contingency plan to ensure productivity, business continuity and job retention. But it has not taught us how to actually make the transition successful in the long run. Virtual work requires a shared responsibility and commitment from both employer and employee. This may work after a test phase of several months in companies with well thought-out and well-oiled structures, but companies with potential for improvement in terms of working conditions and leadership qualities should intensively address the improvement of entrenched deficiencies before implementing such a demanding model as teleworking. Our tip: Before you get carried away with a complete switch to virtual working, consider a model with voluntary rather than mandatory remote working. Offer employees who would like to work from home an opportunity to do so, but don’t force them to move out of familiar office structures. After all, the second half of the respondents mentioned at the beginning of the survey prefer to work in a classic office setting.

All, however, you create structures that minimize already known risks of remote working and that engage and motivate your employees. Grant your employees a say in shaping a new way of working together, because there is not a single sustainably successful corporate change that has not relied on participative co-creation. Because success in remote working spaces begins where we succeed in creating a connecting virtual community across physical borders.

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Separate the wheat from the chaff

A wise guide to effective leadership in uncertain times

by Sabine Gromer

shortened version

The pandemic took us all by surprise. Worldwide, governments have responded to COVID-19 with various forms of defensive strategies such as isolation and withdrawal. In doing so, politicians rely on the cooperation of their citizens, the adaptability of the economy, and the pharmaceutical industry to quickly develop a vaccination.

For entrepreneurs and leaders defence and withdrawal are an ill-advised answer. Simply put, we must act with the exact opposite approach: utilise offense and proactively face new challenges with high impact countermeasures. Now is the time to separate the wheat from the chaff in our companies and in our leadership. Like a magnifying glass, this crisis allows us to see a layer more clearly of that was not easily visible before. We can now see more clearly what is wheat and what is chaff. This article can help you achieve this in a practical and effective way.

5 Guideposts to effectively lead your company through crises

1. When stressed, our brain only functions to a limited extent. Stay informed, creative and alert!

Crises narrow our fields of vision. They reinforce our prejudices and selective perceptions of the world. In order to be able to emotionally deal with the crisis, our brain tries to simplify as much as possible, while our scope for action becomes smaller. Neuroscientist Dean Mobbs calls this effect “predator anxiety”: the less we feel threatened, the more space we have to weigh out scenarios and act strategically. The more threatened we feel, the more restricted our cognitive abilities become. Without our active involvement, we react reflexively and are less creative in finding solutions to problems than under normal circumstances. We construct explanations of the world, which, while they may be less truthful, are simpler and reflect what we want to see.

2. The outcome is in your hands!

All players within the same industry sectors have been similarly affected by the pandemic, but the degree of impact among individual competitors is already visibly very different. Viktor Frankl aptly gave a reason for this discrepancy:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.

3. Become more selective!

There are factors you can simply not change, nor impact. Don’t waste your energy on fighting windmills. Focus your attention on things that you can influence instead. Use this serenity verse as a guide and decision-making basis for your actions and perspective.

Remember the 20%:80% rule of Pareto. The law of Pareto posits that 20% of your customers will make up 80% of your profit. Likewise, 20% of your actions make up 80% of your success. So be selective in the choice of your actions, but consistent in their implementation.

4. Avoid Management Mistakes in the virtual work environment

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That leads us to the last guidepost.


Stay visible and approachable in the virtual work environment and above all: COMMUNICATE! Verbally and non-verbally!

Feel free to share if something is uncertain or still in the decision-making process. Your employees want to know what to expect and it is reassuring to know that you are actively dealing with problems. An “I don’t have an answer yet, but I’ll give you feedback as soon as I have it” builds more confidence than beating around the bush. Also address your concerns and fears: what is negative, what is interesting, what are the situational benefits?

In order to keep your team together and motivated use the full range of virtual tools. You can find an excellent and comprehensive overview of virtual tools here.

The coronavirus has infected many entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries. The symptoms vary from absolute lethargy and severe depressions to new powers and visions, concentrated energy and an unbreakable optimism. It is not the virus that controls the symptoms, you decide where this rocky path leads you, whether you stumble over every stone or combine your strengths and jump over big obstacles. It’s up to you. You have the antidote in your hands.

Special thanks to Daniela Luschin for editing this article and her excellent support.

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