Post-COVID working: back to the office, work-from-home or hybrid?

Author: Manon Dubreuil

Can you imagine that, just a year ago, face-to-face work was almost never an option? Since then, a whole lot of new practices have been put in place to make remote work easier, such as ‘work-from-home’ (WFH) and hybrid working. Is the return to normal life a step backwards? Not at all, says Mark Kaslatter, Managing Director of Emakina.AT. This leader is fully committed to the post-Covid world.

On May 4th, Mark Kaslatter participated in “Zurück ins Büro – Sind Sie sicher?” (“Back to the office: are we so sure about it?”) an online roundtable organised by Salesforce. He gave valuable advice on how to meet the expectations of teams and customers while facing this major change.

Interview with Mark Kaslatter

Is a return to the office likely? We asked the Managing Director of the Vienna branch of the Emakina Group.

What has fundamentally changed with the pandemic?

Companies around the world had to change the way they operate overnight to overcome the crisis and reconfigure their way of working. For Emakina, a digital company, the transition was more natural. Nevertheless, we had to deal with this switch, send our employees home and notify our clients. We constantly observed, discussed, raised awareness and sometimes improvised.

Were you apprehensive about this transition?

Let’s be honest, we had to rethink and learn at the same time. Everything that used to be done in the office or in meeting rooms (meetings, sprints) was migrated to video conferencing. It was a huge change, but the transition was natural. Even workshops had to be held online, sometimes with dozens of participants. I won’t lie, there was some apprehension, but with a bit of discipline, everything went well. For our teams as well as for clients. There was no slackening of pace. Today, our teams are gradually returning to the office and what we see are mosaics of faces on the screens.

The world has changed, but is it for the best?

Despite the setbacks and casualties of this pandemic, I feel quite positive about this aspect. Let’s take my personal case. Yesterday I had meetings until 4pm. I left the office and immediately joined my loved ones for a birthday party. Why? Because I was at home. I must admit that I never imagined that I would be able to spend a whole working day teleworking. And yet! I think this pandemic has brought people and families closer together. Some people have moved to the countryside. And this is good, it’s all healthy! Those who suffered were generally more isolated people.

What did you do for them?

Our duty. We checked on them, but also allowed them to come to the office, which was useful for people who lacked space in their homes. For those who switched to home working, we soon noticed that there was a great risk of not disconnecting at all. To be unable to say stop.

Did you set time limits, as you would in the office, or did you rearrange workloads?

We provided best practices, because not disconnecting from work is a risk. Our main advice was to set rules, so that your stress levels don’t increase considerably. Get up, have breakfast, wait before checking your work notifications. Do all this – including your jog, walking the dog, napping, resting – as little rituals.

“The face of business will change. We will no longer talk about workplaces, but about work spaces.”

Have you tried to control what is done outside the office?

Are you talking about the virtual badge, the screen control? Certainly not. We chose to trust our colleagues. In any case, if you don’t work, sooner or later someone will notice. But this wasn’t the case. On the contrary: productivity has increased. An American study explained last summer that 16% of employees wanted a return to normality and 34% asked for a flexible working environment. So here we are.

What will change then?

I am a great advocate of freedom and flexibility, so I am convinced that our work environment will change. We will no longer talk about workplaces, but about work spaces. The idea is to come to the office, with optimal working conditions, when interactions with teams or clients are necessary. Do you need silence to concentrate? No problem – stay at home or use a quiet room at the office.

What are your prognosis: work from home (WFH), office, or both?

A hybrid model, combining remote and office work, at a pace that suits each individual. We’re going to build a more relaxed, more humane working environment. It’s a 10-year project, I would say, and we’re already committed to it. To tell you the truth, we are currently looking for new offices to make this model happen in Vienna.

Some companies don’t think like you and encourage returning to the office!

Yes, that’s true. I don’t understand the point. Even Salesforce and Microsoft now seem to encourage their teams to work from wherever they want, as long as the result is there. It’s true that Google and Apple are trying to get their people back to the office (perhaps a trust issue?), but the return to the old world seems a bit strange to me.

Do we hire differently in the post COVID-19 world?

It seems like it. When WFH was introduced here at Emakina, we provided budget for office chairs and large screens. Things that seem trivial, but which are essential to create optimal working conditions. It is by creating these conditions that we will be able to attract the best talents to join our team.

“I’m convinced that the workplace no longer matters in the new normal.”

Does social responsibility also play a role?

Yes, it does. Today it’s no longer possible to evolve without a genuine commitment to the issues of the day: the planet, the climate, human well-being, ethics, transparency. I used to travel a lot but I am now paying more attention to the impact I have and only do so if I’m convinced of the need do to so. Professional travel will never be the same. And that’s good. We will travel differently.

Does this new commitment apply to all employees and freelancers?

Without exception. One of my employees recently told me that he had to follow his spouse to another country and that he had to resign. And I answered that he doesn’t need to resign: we now have all the tools to facilitate remote working. I encouraged him to move and continue working for us. I’m convinced that the workplace no longer matters in the new normal… for the prosperity of our teams and our business.

Interview by Cédric Godart

Want to know more on how to make remote working actually work on the long run? This guide dives into what your business should consider in the new normal.

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