News / Press

03. March 2022

The new normal

How much did our workplaces change during the pandemic?

New perspective on the world of work: Jan Trommershausen, CEO of AEMtec © WISTA Management GmbH
A young entrepreneur thanks to digital teaching: MA student Marlene Schöbel © WISTA Management GmbH
Always keeps an eye on climate protection: BAM department head Knut Rurack © WISTA Management GmbH

Change is the only constant. During the pandemic, this wisdom saying received an additional dimension. How are Adlershof-based companies and institutes dealing with this new world of work? We asked around.

We see the fast-forward evolution of the world of work: The pandemic changed many things—above all, it showed us how flexible we can be in adjusting to new circumstances. “The previous year and a half has fundamentally changed my personal perspective on the world of work. Much more than I was prepared to admit at the beginning,” says Jan Trommershausen, CEO of AEMtec GmbH.

After the initial news of COVID-19 came up, the first thing he had to find out was how it would affect AEMtec. “This led me into three directions: How will the customers react, how do we uphold operations, and how will it affect our supply chains,” says Trommershausen. This was not easy: “At the beginning, the news covered a pretty broad range. It went from ‘the end of the world is near’ to ‘it’s a mild flu’.” There weren’t any ready-made solutions for this new situation. Nobody had them. It was and is down to each and every one to become active themselves: “We always tried to be ahead of policy-makers when devising internal measures,” says the head of AEMtec. Some things were a bit easier on the company since manufacturing required wearing masks anyways and the air in cleanrooms was purified with HEPA filters and kept in circulation. “Keeping the masks on when walking through the corridors was a bit odd,” says Trommershausen.

Then came the summer of 2021: “In the morning, we provided our staff with their second jab and made up for our cancelled Christmas party with a summer party in the evening,” says Trommershausen. That evening, something clicked in his head. It became clear to him, how beautiful and important it was to maintain social contacts, how challenging these times were for his staff, but also how well they were coping despite their private lives being turned upside down. “It led to conversations with my staff that I couldn’t have dreamed of having in the past,” says Trommershausen. “Lastly, we often talked about the when and where of completing certain tasks.” As a result, everybody was able to work much more flexibly since then. Trommershausen: "On the one hand, this resulted in a certain gratitude for the employer's flexibility and, on the other hand, on the employee side, in a significant increase in trust that tasks were being reliably completed.” The staff proved this impressively, making sure that this flexibility will stay after the pandemic: “We have already signed a company agreement expanding options for working from home in the future and made working hours much more flexible,” says the AEMtec CEO. “A culture of mutual trust has been growing continuously and we also made great strides regarding digital developments.”

Similar experiences were made at LLBB, Berlin-Brandenburg’s state laboratory. "We can have a motivating effect on staff if we pay even more attention to the personal situation of our employees and try to support them in the best possible way," reports Mike Neumann, head of the Environment and Radiation Protection department. It has made many even more focused and organised. A positive effect of an otherwise burdensome situation. “The few face-to-face events are valued. What was taken for granted before is now seen as an asset. It creates a sense of community,” says Neumann emphatically. To be sure, the effort put into organisation and coordination at an executive level increased, says Stefan Hinz, LLBB’s managing director.

However: “Efficiency and friction losses balance each other out.” Time spent travelling became obsolete and, instead, more time was spent juggling people, time, and rooms. This, too, came at a price: “Unfortunately, many personal contacts have disappeared, which I miss dearly,” says Gabriele Witt, head of the Residue Analysis, Cosmetics, Consumer Products, Tobacco, Animal Feed department. Nevertheless, videoconferencing enabled streamlined communication independent of location. "This will stay this way beyond the pandemic," says Witt. Which she sees as benefit—if the balance between face-to-face and digital contact can be maintained. In general, and that is something all three agree on, communication and time management will change. However, the majority of their work during the pandemic, namely, analysing samples, will continue to be done on location at the lab.

Digital, mobile, and sometimes tightly scheduled work is becoming the new normal. This can be a benefit, as shown by Marlene Schöbel. She is studying for her master’s degree in psychology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in Adlershof. She has had very little contact with her fellow students, except for group presentations or papers. But: “Students are organising meetings on their own accord. And I feel we’re old enough to actively take part in seminars, even when they’re online,” she says. Above all, hybrid studying opens new possibilities: “Personally, online university courses came in very handy because I was able to shorten my duration of study, work as a trainee on the side, and start my own company,” says Schöbel. “This wouldn’t have been possible with face-to-face seminars because the commute to Adlershof alone would have taken up a lot of time.”

Knut Rurack from the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) asks himself the following: Is that good or bad in the long run? Are we increasingly turning into lone fighters bent on optimising their every day? Is it making us less effective because written communication takes up more time? How will larger projects develop that are more dependant on interaction and exchange? “Direct personal contact is incredibly important and has acquired a new meaning,” says Rurack. “When people meet less often in hallways and can’t pop round to somebody through an open office door, regular appointments become more important. Workdays are much more planned out, especially for executives.”

Nevertheless, social interaction has taken a hit, which is why he still hopes for normalisation. At the same time, he has observed an increase mindfulness. If only because, during the pandemic, office and lab workspaces had to be booked based on attendance and need. The flipside: “In research, especially some of the more experimental projects, things can sometimes take longer than planned, so that occupancy plans for offices and laboratories must be renegotiated and rescheduled. Generally, the organisational effort is higher,” says Rurack. He is unsure whether this will continue after the pandemic. One thing is clear though: “If mobile work becomes the new normality, it makes sense to free up office space—lab space is a bit more difficult.” Having two of everything is not sensible from a sustainability point of view and with protecting the climate in mind. Rurack: “A new and forward-looking normality would have to include issues like sustainability and climate protection. Unfortunately, with the pandemic being omnipresent, climate protection issues are currently taking second stage.

Apart from all these changes and uncertainties, Jan Trommershausen now sees a lot of positive things in the new world of work, because of the way it promotes courage for flexibility, creativity, and trust. "Nevertheless, I think we would all like to finally see a phase of normality and predictability," says the AEMtec boss, expressing what many are feeling.

By Chris Löwer for Adlershof Journal