Home Office or On-Site Work?

Interview with George Macdonald about the new home office rules at MACD

Constanze Lenzen - 20. January 2022

Before Corona, our default way of working was in the offices. Home office was only used occassionally and had to be approved in advance.

Due to the Corona pandemic the entire MACD Team went quickly and successfully into home office mode in March 2020 - luckily most team members had laptops. The offices remained open for anyone who preferred to work in the office - of course always following the relevant hygiene and health and safety regulations. Since November 2021, staff must have been vaccinated or recovered in order to work in our offices in Aachen and Urdorf.

We all know, that the last two years were exceptional. The majority of the team is already vaccinated, so our management had to decide: should we now keep the very relaxed home office arrangement or return to the office?

In this interview, George Macdonald, CEO reviews the home office experience so far and answers questions about when and how the MACD team will return to the office.

What problems arose because of the Home Office situation during the last 2 years

'The inter-personal communication and team building at MACD suffered during this time. We tried to counter this by organising digital events, quizzes, and lunch events. But these were still not a good substitution for meeting in person.'

How did you personally experience your time in the home office?

'From a personal point of view I found it positive. It gave me the flexibility to work from England, staying with my parents for extended periods of time. And the reduction in travel was a big bonus - normally I have a 1 hour commute to the office. What I missed most was the social contact, for example having lunch with the team and visiting the customers.'

What are the pros and cons from your perspective as a CEO?

'The advantages include: flexibility (for example it is easier to get the early support hours covered) and employee motivation - our team gave us strong feedback that they mostly preferred working in home office. The disadvantages include: lack of nuanced communication, particularly when a mis-understanding occurs, and lack of contact with the whole team.'

How was the new regulation developed at MACD?

'We wanted to find a mode which contained the best of both worlds. We started by getting feedback from the team in an anonymous employee survey. After evaluation of the results we discussed in several management sessions the pros and cons of home office and the aspects to be considered (working methods, legal, tax, health etc) and followed this up with sessions with our team leaders. Finally we documented the new rules and actions needed to be taken to achieve these. At our Company Meeting in October, I presented the new rules to the team.'

What is the home office arrangement at MACD starting in 2022?

'In its core, we have 1 office day per week, with the exact details decided on a team by team basis - we wanted the team leaders to have some flexibility to define a method of working that is best suited to their team. This is because some teams require more verbal communication and, indeed, there can be times where a team needs to be in the office more regularly - for example when bringing onboard a new team member.'

Has there been any feedback from employees?

'The new rules were generally greeted positively. The key for the next few months will be to ensure that everyone has the right equipment to move seamlessly between home and office. It is essential that the team has the right tools to carry out their work. For this, we regularly gather feedback from the team leaders.'

The current corona situation is drastic and the incidences are high:  Would you still recommend the teams to work in the office once a week from now on? 

'In Switzerland and Germany, the home office obligation currently applies, so the teams naturally do not have to implement the weekly on-site day. The situation is much better than it has been in the past, and I am optimistic for the future. We will continue to work in home office until the situation improves sufficiently, so that we can be confident that going back into the office is the right thing to do.'

What are the challenges of virtual collaboration at MACD?

'Such a flexible home office arrangement can only work because we trust each other. A balanced degree of freedom and responsibility is important. However, private life should still be organised around work life and not reversed.

The difficulty could be to make sure that the employees do not forget to take breaks, move enough and that the social interaction and the team spirit is not neglected.

We pay attention to strengthening the mental health of everyone in the company - in the autumn, about 1/3 of the staff was participating in resilience training. We have developed guidelines on what time people are allowed to work or send e-mails in order to avoid burnout.

All team leaders are required to hold regular one-on-one meetings with their employees in order to identify potential problems early and to find a solution together.'

What is especially important to you?

'We will review the situation in Q3 2022, so that we can learn from our new experience and continually evolve. We are living in dynamic times, in which the way we work is changing rapidly. It is our job to adapt and, together with our team, find the best way of working. It is my aim to give everyone in the team the freedom to deliver their best work.'