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ECDF Industry Forum: Changing working world

How far has the transformation to digital processes in companies already progressed? What advantages and disadvantages result from this and, above all, what additional challenges do we have to face in everyday work as a result of the Corona Pandemic? These questions were the focus of the first online edition of the ECDF Industry Forum on 18 June 2020 with around 35 participants.


"You won't believe us, but we have been planning the topic of today's Industry Forum since last year," Prof. Dr. Odej Kao, Speaker of the Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF), emphasized while welcoming the participants to the fifth edition of the ECDF Industry Forum. However, the fact that the Corona Pandemic would make this the first online edition of the forum resulted rather short-term. It was therefore all the more pleasing to see how open and lively the participants - inspired by the exciting contributions, including those from Cornelsen Verlag and Roche Pharma - exchanged experiences and ideas on the switch to digital processes.


The short talks were opened by Christian Meske, ECDF Professor for "Digital Transformation and Strategic Information Management" (FU Berlin) and Philipp Staab, ECDF Professor for "Sociology of the Future of Work" (HU Berlin), who dealt with "Advantages and disadvantages of changed forms of work and digital networking". "Crises - especially economic crises - act as boosters for digitalization. From the mid-1990s to 2000, there was an extremely high level of investment in this field and in the commercial Internet, e.g. through the expansion of infrastructure in the form of submarine cables," said Staab. In the current situation, the systemic relevance of this digital infrastructure, which allows a certain autonomy of work, is evident. However, this is reaching its limits when it comes to networking in the working environment. "The informal aspects of work, such as chance encounters in the tea kitchen, for example, are being eliminated," said Staab.

Short Talks

Christian Meske also addressed the aspect of autonomy: "The greater the perceived autonomy in the working environment, the higher the performance." The increasing autonomy or self-determination through the home office could, however, without a perceived "connection" with colleagues and superiors, in the long-term lead to one's own isolation. Communication and collaboration technologies such as Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) therefore play a decisive role in this context. These allow staff to simplify onboarding processes, overcome bureaucratic hurdles or maintain contacts across hierarchies and departments.

Corporate perspective

The thematic classification of digital transformation processes in the world of work from a research perspective was followed by two exciting reports on experiences in business practice. First, Sven Haedecke, Public Affairs Manager at Cornelsen Verlag, gave "Insights into the digitalization of schools and learning at home". He underlined that the current restrictions on social life have led to major challenges, especially in the education sector, due to the short-term need to switch to learning at home. Only a few schools were prepared for this transformation and it became clear that for both students and teaching staff, both the lack of digital equipment and the loss of personal contact opportunities are considerable touchstones. "We all recognized how important the school itself is in its function as a social space," Haedecke emphasized. At Cornelsen, on the other hand, the conversion to digital processes has worked out well. "We quickly made information and materials such as eBooks, interactive exercises, worksheets and learning aids available on our website, most of them free of charge. As a result, we had high access rates and great interest," says Haedecke.

Under the title "Working during the Corona Pandemic: A lot to do. Nobody in the office." Thomas Hugendubel, head of the Berlin office of Roche Pharma AG, subsequently reported from the perspective of a pharmaceutical company that had to master difficult tasks not only by switching to digital processes but also by being actively involved in containing the spread of SARS CoV-2. "Our colleagues in the Diagnostics Division have developed tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection or the presence of antibodies in record time. Of course, there was a lot to do," says Hugendubel. Nevertheless, the switch to home office has worked surprisingly well, whether in terms of online assessment centers for job recruitment or online team events where employees can exchange information on non-official topics. "We can stay in the home office as long as necessary. This has proven to be a good idea for us, as the quality of the work continues to be high," Hugendubel summed up.  

Research project "Digital Agility"

After these insights from the corporate perspective, Daniel Fürstenau, ECDF Professor for "Digital Transformation and IT Infrastructures" and Barbaros Erönü, Master's student in the Working Group on Business Informatics in the area of Digital Transformation and IT Infrastructures at Freie Universität Berlin, presented their current research project "Digital Agility". It examines the connection between the maturity level of a company's technological resources, internal agility factors and the company's digital agility - understood as the ability to quickly and easily create high-quality digital products. Also designed well before the pandemic, the research project has gained even more importance due to current developments. In his concluding statement, Daniel Fürstenau also addressed the company representatives directly: "We would be pleased if you participate in the survey to analyze the state of digitalization in your company - especially in times of Corona." You can find the link to the survey here.

The committed participation in the discussion and the open exchange following the short presentations showed that the format of the ECDF Industry Forum also works as an online edition - "although we of course hope to welcome you back personally to the Einstein Center Digital Future as soon as possible," as moderator Tim Kawalun emphasized at the end of the event.