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Bertelsmann : Combining The Best Of The Old And New Worlds Of Work

05/19/2021 | 05:04am EDT

News | Gütersloh, 05/17/2021

Combining The Best Of The Old And New Worlds Of Work

Covid will permanently change the world of work. Chief Human Resources Officer Immanuel Hermreck outlines how we will work at Bertelsmann going forward. He identifies four action areas: flexible working, a changed management culture, transparent and targeted communication, and extensive cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration.

Flexible working, a changed management culture, transparent and targeted communication, and extensive cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration - these are the four key action areas for the development of new forms of work at Bertelsmann. In an interview, Chief Human Resources Officer Immanuel Hermreck explains how he envisages the future of work at Bertelsmann and the framework conditions he sets for it.

Mr. Hermreck, there is currently a lot of discussion about what long-term effects the pandemic will have on our lives and society. Do you expect that Covid will have consequences for the world of work, too?

Absolutely. Covid is fundamentally changing the world of work, permanently and everywhere. Of course, this is also true for Bertelsmann, across all divisions and companies, at various levels, but to different degrees. Under the impact of the pandemic, Bertelsmann has already introduced and expanded new forms of work and initiatives in recent months and put them to the test. We had already been thinking about this before Covid. However, the pandemic has now enormously accelerated this process, like so many other things. From one day to the next, work was done in a way that had previously been considered unthinkable or undesirable. But this new, flexible form of working has worked. In fact, at Bertelsmann it worked very well, which is why we were able to close 2020 so successfully.

What were the main reasons and conditions for the overnight success of new forms of work?

Perhaps because they did not happen 'overnight' for us and we were not unprepared for them. At Bertelsmann, we had created the technical and, above all, cultural conditions almost everywhere to rethink our working world. Technically, we benefited from the digitalization of many processes, without which, for example, the widespread working from home that we have been practicing worldwide for over a year would have been unthinkable. And culturally, it is the values of creativity and entrepreneurship that make us strong in such an exceptional situation: Only those who are able to respond creatively and entrepreneurially to a challenge of this magnitude can master it.

... and this is to apply for the introduction of new forms of work in the long term as well?

Of course. Wherever it is possible and makes sense, we want to enable employees to work even more effectively, creatively and innovatively, while at the same time taking more account of their personal interests and needs. The idea now is to develop hybrid forms of work that combine the best of the old and new worlds.

How exactly is this going to happen?

Based on the experience of recent months, the Executive Board and Group Management Committee have discussed a basic shared approach to New Work at Bertelsmann. In addition to the value and necessity of new, flexible forms of work, New Work extends across various action areas. In this way, the Executive Board and the GMC are making clear their commitment to shaping change. We are aware of our responsibility to constantly and critically review and, if necessary, redesign our working environment in order to best meet our employees' needs, regardless of how - and where - they work.

You mention specific action areas. What are they?

There are four of them: flexible working; a management culture to match it; transparent and targeted communication; and extensive cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration. Fleshing out these action areas is now the responsibility of the individual businesses, whose working environments and opportunities are sometimes far apart and for which specific solutions must be found in each case. Mutual trust between employees and managers is essential in the subsequent implementation, regardless of where the work is performed.

What do you mean by flexible working, to start with this action area?

Based on the experience of the past few months, many colleagues are working just as effectively at home or out and about as they do in the office. For many, what began as working exclusively from home has now become a flexible alternation between working at the office and from home. We will certainly not regress from this form of flexibility again.

But this isn't just about working from home any more, is it?

Of course not. After all, there are many areas at Bertelsmann where days spent working from home cannot be the means of choice when introducing new forms of work. This is where it becomes important to develop other models for making work more flexible. And we must be careful not to lose sight of the value of personal interaction among colleagues or with supervisors despite all the flexibilization. As the pandemic continues, many people are becoming more aware of this. Personal interaction is also an important part of our corporate culture. It not only promotes contact between employees and therefore team spirit, but also contributes to a sense of being part of the company. Interaction must therefore remain part of a new working world. The challenge of simultaneously meeting employees' wishes for hybrid forms of work while enabling personal collaboration is one that we must examine in depth so that we can find the right balance.

Leadership is becoming a decisive criterion for success in this...

For me, that is beyond question. A management culture that reflects the particularities of the new working world is indispensable. Managers must serve as role models and create an environment in which employees are motivated and can develop. Flexibility, openness, and reliability should be ensured in equal measure. The task of management is to create an employee-centric working environment based on trust. In turn, communication - as the third action area - plays an essential role. It must remain an integral element of New Work at Bertelsmann and convey transparent and comprehensible messages across the many different formats available. From this type of communication, it's only a small step to the fourth action area of New Work at Bertelsmann: increased collaboration.

What do you mean by that?

Specifically, I am thinking of even more collaboration across hierarchical levels and business units, strengthening our alliances and the Bertelsmann Collaboration Platform, pooling competencies and capacities, building interdisciplinary and diverse teams, and networking businesses. All of this must become even more natural in Bertelsmann's day-to-day work. Fortunately, we have been on a really good path here for a few years already, with many projects and alliances.

Are there already examples of new forms of work at Bertelsmann?

Yes, in all four action areas. For example, Fremantle is running a trial where it allows its employees to schedule their working pattern between working from home and in the office according to professional and personal requirements. Gruner + Jahr wants to make new forms of management in a hybrid working environment a core component of its leadership training for managers. In the action area of communications, Arvato Systems has introduced 'brown bag sessions' and digital forms of exchange with management to keep employees abreast of business developments. And Bertelsmann Corporate has created the basis for an international, cross-divisional exchange of knowledge with 'Your Campus' and other formats. These are just a few of the many examples and pilot projects on our path to a new working world at Bertelsmann. And I'm pleased to see that the topic is also being intensively discussed and promoted in Group-wide bodies. At the beginning of May, for example, the Creativity Advisory Board once again provided important food for thought and impetus for the global introduction of new forms of work, focusing in particular on the question of what form of working optimally supports creativity.

How will Bertelsmann support this topic going forward?

At the beginning of the year, a Group-wide, international exchange platform was set up to share experience and best practices and to learn from each other. Also, the Executive Board will receive regular reports from the divisions on the progress of New Work projects at Strategic Business Committee meetings.

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Bertelsmann SE & Co KGaA published this content on 17 May 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 19 May 2021 09:03:01 UTC.

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