Since the global pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, working from home has become established. Of course, working from home has long been known for individual employees. However, it was far from becoming standard. As recently as 2016, Marissa Mayer was still forcing Yahoo's staff to be present in the office - after all, as CEO of an internet icon, one should expect innovative, digitally supported work from her. The standard rule at many other companies, whether in the tech industry or not, was no different. At most, employees in the field or from parts of IT stayed away from the office as a rule.

From today's perspective, this is hardly comprehensible.

What began as an isolated form of organisation became a mass phenomenon of necessity during the crisis and has left its positive mark. Everywhere people have realised: it does work! The culture of presence is not always the decisive success factor for top creative performance or even for routine work. So everything is fine?

Not quite, because there is no doubt that the culture of presence also has its advantages. People get to know each other personally and share their everyday working lives over long distances. This inevitably creates a closeness that, ideally, significantly increases the productivity and innovativeness of a company. In the worst case, however, it harbours considerable potential for conflict, although the advantages are likely to outweigh the disadvantages.

In this culture of presence, the last major management trends have emerged, including in particular

  • Lean management
  • Resilience
  • Open plan office/open space
  • Agility

and their specialised derivatives derived from them. The advantages of these methods and schools of thought are now obvious and are no longer questioned. The home office, however, brings completely new challenges.

Thus, every company and every unit that wants to increasingly integrate working from home into its operational processes must ultimately build a hybrid organisation. Because even in the future, not all work will be able to be done in the home office. Moreover, not every employee will be permanently enthusiastic about working from home.

Home office means discipline and not everyone has that. After all, most management methods to date have been developed in a culture of presence and are supported by corresponding rituals. Typical is the daily in agile working. Hybrid organisations must therefore find their own and completely new solutions.

Organisational rules

  • Maintain uniform technical equipment

There is still often uncontrolled growth in IT, especially when some employees use their own devices. Only if everyone uses the same software is the highest efficiency and data security guaranteed. Also, make sure you have enough bandwidth and capacity wherever you can influence this.

  • Keep data and documents digitally available

Much is already standard here, but there are still media breaks. These must become the absolute exception, and even in indispensable individual cases (e.g. prototypes, visual objects, renderings, etc.) the visualisation must be made accessible to every team member in the best possible way.

  • Standardise digital storage locations

A hybrid organisation only works if all authorised persons can access the relevant data and information at the same time. The quick trip to the neighbouring office is no longer practicable. Digitally based knowledge management becomes a working condition

  • Introduce deadline discipline

In particular, highly interactive teams that work agilely with Scrum, for example, need to ritualise their digital interaction just like their presence in the office. When teams organise themselves, the use of a uniform software and organisational infrastructure becomes indispensable.


Requirements for the managers

  • Putting a lot of trust in employees

For suspicious managers, the hybrid organisation often brings discomfort. It is quite clear: home office usually means loss of control - but only in terms of presence, not in terms of work performance! Good managers find correspondingly resilient parameters to check the results of their employees also for the home office phases.

  • Check employees for inclination

Who is suitable for increased working from home and who is not? In case of doubt, managers must determine the appropriate inclinations and resilience of their team members through a professional evaluation, at best with the support of the HR department.

  • Taking on board the wishes of the employees

In addition to inclinations, the wishes of the team also play a decisive role. Those who see themselves as best equipped for the home office may in fact only be so under certain conditions. Time flexibility - which days are spent in presence and which at a distance - or spatial conditions would be typical factors here.

  • Optimise working conditions in the home office

The legislator has already made specifications in this regard. As a general rule, working permanently from the kitchen table or balcony rarely works.

  • Avoid work excesses

Some team members may work more, not less, in the home office. Managers should make it clear from the outset that permanent availability is not required (see also the point "Schedule discipline").

  • Explaining inequalities

In hybrid organisations, there are employees who are less flexible due to their area of responsibility and who may not be able to work from home at all. This harbours conflict potential that the manager must defuse through transparent explanations and possibly further compensatory measures.

  • Assess performance fairly and by outcome

In hybrid organisations, classic assessment parameters only work to a limited extent, because the emphasis is much more on the work results. Conclusions from attendance behaviour are only possible to a limited extent, sometimes not at all. A new understanding of assessment is needed here.

Organic pitfalls and prerequisites

Since 2010, we have regularly conducted studies on the organic development of companies. This has resulted in a compendium of factors that significantly influence the functioning of a hybrid organisation. This is less about absolute truths and more about sensitivity for cultural-organisational factors and their ideal design for one's own company. The following factors and their guiding questions are presented here as examples:

Target management

-► Do we have clear, realistic and measurable

Objectives that are in line with our strategy? Allocation of responsibility -► Is responsibility clearly allocated in our company?

and is it accepted by those affected? Communication

-► Are our communication channels effective, is our personal as well as company-wide communication style positive and motivating? Trustworthiness

-► Do we give our employees enough freedom or do we control too much and demand too much reassurance? Customer involvement

-► Are we customer-oriented enough, do we recognise important customer suggestions and do we take them on board quickly?




The organic square

Differences between corporate groups and SMEs

The typical, well-managed and growing SME strives for a higher degree of organisation to hedge risks and increase efficiency, but wants to retain its lived cooperativeness.

The typical well-managed corporation, on the other hand, would like to break up its structures and regulations, which are perceived as too rigid, in many places and become more dynamic, more entrepreneurial. Both types of companies ultimately strive for the same ideal state, they aim for the organic ideal point in planning square 2.

The successful hybrid organisation must not endanger the organic ideal point, but on the contrary must support its achievement or maintenance. The integration of agile elements up to complete Scrum.

Hybrid organisations with a high digital share of communication and data exchange are subject to special data protection regulations. For example, working from home poses risks to the confidentiality, integrity and possibly also availability of personal data. In addition, the threat of data theft for industrial espionage is very real. This brings with it corresponding requirements for data management.

Therefore, in addition to clear labour law requirements for the home office, entrepreneurs must introduce data protection measures that are compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In the event of a breach of the data protection guidelines, the employer faces severe fines. These risks must be dealt with in accordance with Art. 32 of the GDPR, Art. 24(1) of the GDPR and Art. 5(1)(f) of the GDPR by taking technical and organisational measures to exclude or minimise these risks.

In order to prevent third parties from gaining access to personal data using company records, the company should also define the data protection agreement for work from home. At the latest with the introduction of the GDPR in May 2018, data protection in Europe was tightened and the high fines imposed in the same year show that governments are consistently enforcing data protection.

When planning the workplace at home, the data protection officer should therefore be involved at an early stage and the employee should be informed about the protective measures by means of a home office agreement.


Data protection requirements

What exactly is personal data?

The most important question is first whether personal data are processed at all in the workplace.

If no personal data are processed, the guidelines of the GDPR do not need to be taken into account. Art. 4 GDPR specifies when it is personal data and defines the term as follows: "Personal data means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person, or making an individual identifiable." Examples of personal data are name, address, telephone numbers, credit card numbers, car registration numbers, account details, personnel numbers, online data such as IP address or location data, nationality or religious affiliation.

In the case of a home office, the employer bears the responsibility under data protection law. Therefore, attention should be paid to the following points (not exhaustive). The following applies: the more sensitive and worthy of protection the personal data are, the stronger the protection must be:

  • The study should be separate and lockable.
  • Official documents should be kept in a lockable cabinet.
  • IT equipment provided for professional use should not be used for private purposes.
  • The hard disk of the PC / laptop should be encrypted, as should external data carriers such as USB sticks.
  • The operating system must be provided with a password.
  • Electronic data transmission (e.g. e-mail) shall be encrypted in accordance with the state of the art.
  • If spouses, children or third parties (such as in a shared apartment) live under the same roof, the computer should be locked even if left for a short time.
  • Professional e-mails are not to be forwarded to private e-mail boxes.
  • A concept for handling and destroying sensitive documents and printouts must be in place.
  • The employer and the competent data protection authority shall be granted access for control purposes in individual cases.

When processing special personal data, the legal consequences of § 42 a BDSG must always be considered when setting up the home office, which can be triggered by a loss of data and can lead, among other things, to a duty to inform the competent supervisory authority. If the above-mentioned and other individual requirements are taken into account when designing the home office, i.e. if a legally compliant concept is in place, then there are no concerns from a data protection perspective.


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