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Sef.Talk Remote Work – Company culture and community management 

In the second Sef.Talk episode on April 30th, everything revolved around corporate culture and community management in the home office.
How can a corporate culture also be established via digital channels?
What role does personal contact play?
How does the home office affect your own well-being?

The panel included Michaela Christian Gartmann (PwC Switzerland), Dr. Gianina Viglino-Caviezel (Hamilton Bonaduz AG) and Daniel Aebersold (Nexplore AG). As always, the event was hosted by Cleverclip founder and CEO Carlo Badini.

Would you prefer to be live at the next Sef.Talk? Then secure your place here. If you missed the last episode, you can watch it again here.

Carlo Badini: And we’re live. Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Carlo Badini. I am the founder and CEO of Cleverclip and I would like to welcome you to the second edition of SEF.Talk. Today’s topic is Remote Culture and Community Management. I would like to welcome Gianina Viglino, Michaela Christian Gartmann and Daniel Aebersold. Gianina is Director HR and Sustainability at Hamilton, Michaela is Head of Human Capital at PWC, and Daniel Aebersold is CEO at Nexplore. Like last time, we will discuss for about 30 to 45 minutes. Feel free to ask questions at any time in the chat. We will also answer them ad hoc if it is convenient. Otherwise we will come back to this at the end of the discussion. But before we start, I would like to address my three guests so that they can introduce themselves quickly. Michaela would you like to start right away?

Michaela Christian Gartmann: Yes with pleasure. Good afternoon, I am very happy to be here. My name is Michaela Christian Gartmann. I’m the HR manager of PWC Switzerland. We employ about 3400 people in Switzerland and together with my team I am responsible for all HR matters, from strategy to implementation. I am an HR professional with a passion. I have been working in this field for more than 20 years in various roles and responsibilities, and now since December 2012 in the current role for PWC Switzerland. I am very much looking forward to this exchange in the area of remote work and culture, these are all topics that naturally occupy me very much and I am looking forward to this talk.

Carlo Badini: Thank you. Great. Gianina would you like to continue?

Dr. Gianina Viglino-Caviezel: Yes thank you very much. Welcome also from my side. I am also very happy to talk to my colleagues about Remote Work. As Carlo said, I work at Hamilton as Director HR and Sustainability. Hamilton is a lifestyle and medical technology company. It certainly has a very strong media presence at the moment with, among other things, products from us, as we manufacture ventilators, but also robotics in diagnostics and testing, which is a big issue at the time of Corona. Hamilton is an internationally active company with around 3000 people. We are very American in character, thanks to our founder and the owner family, but we are very strongly represented internationally and are definitely a part of the alliance. One of our two main locations, the largest, is in Bondauz in the Grisons. And I and my team are responsible for the entire HR processes, also very strongly in this connection with the whole / communications, which is certainly a current topic and the whole cultural work, which is a very present topic at Hamilton, because we started a big project last year, we are also allowed to do that, our company.

Carlo Badini: Super. Dänu would you also like to tell something about yourself?

Daniel Aebersold: Yes, very much. Also from my side: Welcome. My name is Dänu Aebersol, I work for the company Nexplore. Perhaps not everyone knows the Nexplore company yet. We are a software company. We are about 70 people.  We make solutions, individual developments, CRM solutions, but also collaboration platforms, which at the moment one or the other has a little demand. A little bit faster than he might have thought. We’ve been on the road for about four or five years and have changed our organizational form a little. We have moved from the classic form of organization to the holocracy. We have now also noticed that now in the current time this is something that has helped us a lot, where we are also amazed that it helps us and yes I am curious about this conversation and look forward to it.

Carlo Badini: Super. Then I would say, let’s start right away. You start once in Denmark. You already said in the preliminary talk that you were able to work from anywhere.  You earn your money with software development and implementation. How has Covid-19 influenced you now? What has happened since the whole topic became relevant?

Daniel Aebersold:

Yes, as I said, we have actually been doing this for a long time, so that people can work where it suits them, if they want to work for us on a trip around the world or at home, on the road, wherever. We have a location in Bern and one in Thun. So we are used to our meetings often being remote and not all of them being in the same room, which is nothing new. What is certainly new now is that it is prescribed, so we work at home now. This is actually going very well at the moment. But what you notice of course, the cultural aspect, the cohesion, which is actually a very important factor for us, sometimes gets a little lost. I can’t go around the company very quickly any more, you see each other over coffee, maybe you just have to look each other in the eyes and then you know that he’s a little less well and then you see that you can exchange a few words with him. This is a little bit more difficult at the moment, because you always have to be very conscious to meet for this exchange. Sure we have / established, yes, then we will come to the point, what you can do, that you can compensate a little bit. On the other hand, we have noticed that with our structure and the meeting forms that come with the Holacracy, we have a huge advantage here, namely that we have already established all these vessels. We are used to having a very structured meeting once a week within the circle.  That works very well, even if there are 30 or 40 people in the group, where you might have to get the feeling at the online meetings. I was astonished because I realized, actually only now, that this has a huge benefit for us. And yet, one must say that we miss each other.

Carlo Badini: Michaela (incomprehensible 0:07:04)?

Michaela Christian Gartmann: Ia I could sympathize a little bit for me right now, because what the Dane told me is also very much reality for me. And there are also things that I miss of course. With us, as a consulting firm, we are already very used to working everywhere. Nevertheless, since the Corona crisis, it is now a new setting for us where we all work from home. And that was also something that had to be implemented very quickly. This means that we have now also faced one or two challenges in HR, for example. For example, we had to conduct all the interviews, which we normally do face-to-face, virtually.  We had to adapt our training. And from that point of view, this is now a new situation for us as well. We primarily work with Google Hangout, i.e. from the point of view of where you see yourself. But I still think there’s a difference, so if I look at my everyday life, for example, I’m usually in meetings during the day, see people and now it’s all virtual. And it’s also like that, especially the informal exchange, I think you really have to cultivate it consciously. I think that is also something very important for the solidarity in this situation. And I solve it, for example, by simply making a virtual coffee from time to time. Or now also at a meeting, where you just tell a little bit about what’s going on in your life for the first few minutes. From this point of view, I can understand what Dänu says very well, even though we’re in very different settings, and I’m looking forward to seeing more face-to-face again.

Carlo Badini: Gianina, at Hamilton, I assume, I mean they make diagnostic tools and if the product works, someone will certainly be on site. How did you do it now? You already said business-wise you could certainly profit, profit is the wrong word, but for you it is an exciting time. How do you deal with it?

Dr. Gianina Viglino-Caviezel: So it certainly went very differently with us than with the two colleagues. We also sent some of the people to the home office who can really work at home, including my team in HR. This is new for us, so we as an industrial company work on site at our company. It is a rarity that we work in a home office. But on the other hand, we have been able to drive up from these ventilators, which we manufacture and which have to be brought up relatively quickly, because of this demand. Number of employees, production lines, we had to switch to different shifts in order to meet this extreme demand. On the other hand, we also had to ensure the safety of the employees. We have introduced enormously fast, enormously high safety measures. From fever measurements to maintaining these social distances and all the hygiene measures. We set up a corona hotline very quickly with a doctor who vouched for us, so that we could give our employees a feeling of security on site, with the aim that the workplace at Hamilton is at least as safe as you can work at home. But have in our situation, could work very strongly in the culture in this context and benefit from it. As I said at the beginning, we started a big cultural project last year and presented it for Christmas, among other things with the vision the / and / to improve people’s lives. And that’s what we’re actually doing now, so this situation really allowed us to prove it. This is also a certain (?sense of purpose) for the employees and a motivation. In our company, people work an enormous amount of overtime and really go a little bit over the limit, because they have to and can contribute to the survival of other people in such difficult situations. And then we had two or three experiences that of course underpin this a little bit. When suddenly Mr. Berset and Mr. Koch come to see the company at such times to take a look at the production. Or when the Superpumas suddenly land next to the company building and come to pick up these ventilators. That makes you extremely proud and that is of course very beneficial because of all this cultural work.  (incomprehensible 0:11:48)

Carlo Badini: How do you do it? Well, we are set up similarly to Dänu, we have an office here in Bern, which functions as an internal co-working space. The employees who work in Switzerland around Bern are welcome to come here, but they don’t have to. And we do have employees who have always been forced to work from home in this sense. And for us it has always been a challenge, and still is a challenge, that there are not two cultures. That there is not one culture of the people who meet and see each other here, and that there is a second culture of the people who don’t meet each other. And that you somehow manage to do it, especially when it is so divided into two, that some people have to or can be on site and the others can’t, that you somehow try to reach everyone inclusive. How did you solve this with Hamilton? You said your department for example is now working from home. Did you do anything to make them feel proud when the Super Puma comes to pick up the ventilators?

Dr. Gianina Viglino-Caviezel: So it has to be said that a lot has changed for the local people as well. Because this safety aspect for our employees is very important to us. It is very difficult to get together and have a coffee on site. We don’t allow groups of more than two people. In our canteen, right now we have set up a second tent, because they are spread so much apart that these two metres are really kept. We really don’t make any compromises there either. This is a major concern for us in order to be able to guarantee this safety, because especially in times of insecurity, safety is all the more important, the need for safety. And that is certainly also a very strong and important management task. One of our very central values is: We communicate actively. And we have really communicated intensively, we have regularly picked up our employees, shared stories with them, introduced a Corona blog, so that people are really always up to date. Whether it’s with the panels in the company who work with a laptop or those who are at home. And of course the classic tricks that the others probably did as well. You meet virtually for coffee, have a beer at the end of the day, pick up the phone once again instead of the chat function and take this time to talk about things. An example: In our HR department we made a whatsapp-group; at the very beginning all the remote workstations were presented (incomprehensible 0:12:28). We had to make sure that the people were well prepared, because it’s not standard for us to work at home and where these Superpumas flew to, some of them saw it from their home and put the photos into our chat. I believe that these sub-teams, who work together very strongly, and of course the leaders are also needed, who promote this and create this exchange with the people.

Carlo Badini: What have you introduced at PWC to promote the community management culture, even though not everyone is in the office?

Michaela Christian Gartmann: It’s a good thing that our normal everyday life is such that most of our employees are on site at the customers’ premises, and that’s why we have to work with the vessels wherever we see each other again and again. And what we have done now during the crisis is on the one hand, we have webcasts with our CEO, where he regularly gives updates and where employees can ask questions. We also have regular communications from our crisis manager about the whole crisis situation, about all the precautions we are taking. And we have also chosen different communication methods, which we have now tried out again. For example, we have launched a new internal platform for our communications. This was the plan before the crisis, but it is now worth its weight in gold, because it allows us to talk to people much more interactively, and that helps us in this crisis to understand things well: What are people’s needs? What do they need? And that is really great.

Carlo Badini: The internal platform, is it used by the employees?

Michaela Christian Gartmann: Yes. Yes. And you also have the opportunity to work as communities, and right now we have a program in the context of health: be well, work well. And we have now been able to adapt all activities based on the feedback from the people there, right now via this platform. And we have also been testing different things there now. What is it that people need, what they support. And we have weekly sessions there for example on topics that people want to see and so we can now of course very specifically offer added value for people in this situation.

Carlo Badini: Dänu how do you do it? Do you also have Whatsapp, or do you have Slack? Well, I assume you have already somehow-.

Daniel Aebersold: Well, we use / in our company and of course we have the individual channels that fit our circle structure, which we have already lived very strongly with chats, with data storage, but also with telephone, video conferencing and so on. That works. Well, I would say that the operative exchange in our company is no different than usual. We didn’t have to change much, because we had already lived this way before and we could simply move on. But what you quickly noticed is that you have to think about it: How do we manage to feel this cohesion in spite of it? That you can exchange information not only operationally, but also informally as a company. And that’s where we brought some things to life quite quickly. For example, we simply have a continuous appointment for all employees, called a coffee corner. That is always. If someone joins in this coffee corner, which is simply a virtual room, then everyone can see it. If you see ah now the / has just latched in or whoever, I want to talk to him quickly, then he also goes quickly into this coffee. Then there is a certain exchange, as a small compensation of the whole thing, which is very simple, what you didn’t have to manage, you just stand there.

Carlo Badini: (incomprehensible 0:18:50) this feature?

Daniel Aebersold: Sorry, I didn’t understand you.

Carlo Badini: How consequently is this feature used? Now the coffee corner for example.

Daniel Aebersold: All day long. Again and again you see somebody going in, two or three go in, and then there’s a little discussion for ten minutes. And then nobody is there any more. Well, that’s very good and it’s used very actively. That is something that sweeps. Which we later put on the legs, because the cultural workers, comedians and so on, they don’t have much opportunity at the moment to earn something or to show themselves on a stage. Every Thursday evening we make a call like that, we invite someone and then there is a pick-me-up for half an hour, that’s what we told them. There we have a comedian or some artist who entertains us a little. Just again, that we were able to work on something, besides the operative stuff, that just runs and gives a little variety. Or a few days ago, a photo challenge from the home office came up, someone started taking photos of themselves and then the team developed such a dynamic and everyone took photos of themselves in the home office and we put it together. Such things were created, it sweeps, because I have the feeling that everyone thinks a little bit about how we can manage it, that we can still maintain such a cohesion even now in all this time.

Carlo Badini: At PWC, are the channels or the intranet that you have set up also used for private or not only business-related discussions? Because we had difficulties in the beginning to bring up such funny topics, because whenever you meet in a meeting, the business is always the first thing that comes to the fore. And it’s the same with us. We have an intranet, a communication platform, where the business is always the first topic in the foreground. Then we have tried to build up a community feeling over the last few years. For example, what we do and what works very well is that once a week everyone gets a question: What inspired you this week? And then you can post a video or a blog article that you’ve read or something and then people can respond. That works very well for example. But other than that, we’ve always had a bit of a problem with these formal channels being used for fun once in a while. How is that with you?

Michaela Christian Gartmann: Yes, that is also my experience. So what I see now, is that especially in these communities, there is of course an exchange about these topics. For example this mentioned “be well, work well” community, there you exchange for example. What are the tips to be able to work well in the home office. And of course there are also personal comments. But now like this, I say as an informal channel, this platform is not yet suitable for that, maybe it will develop. And there I see that we now work more with special vessels. For example, I and my team have breakfast once a month and I hold it virtually and that’s where the informal exchange really takes place. I also find it very exciting, or now you look home to everyone, and from that point of view it gives a different closeness. And then someone who also lives in the household walks through, or children come to the screen. And that gives us another closeness and that is more relaxed. I also notice that through this, just now also simply in this exchange, and because there is much less separation between the professional everyday life and life, that it flows even more into each other. That it then takes up more space. And I think that’s a nice development.

Carlo Badini: That’s right, I never thought about it, video chats, maybe not if you have an artificial background, are actually very intimate. You look into the living room or into the study.

Michaela Christian Gartmann: Right.

Carlo Badini: That’s right.

Michaela Christian Gartmann: And there are always exciting newcomers and I think that the informal part has become stronger through the way we work. I also find it exciting, I have people in my team who are at different locations. And most employees are in Zurich. And these people at other locations say that they feel much more integrated now because they actually see people much more often than before. Because before that it was actually like that, you met face-to-face and the others joined in, but it wasn’t the same. And I found it a very exciting development that these people now feel more connected, because the situation is the same for everyone. You dial in, you look at each other in the living room or in the office and you get a much better idea of what life is like for the individual colleagues.

Carlo Badini: Gianina, did you manage to have informal exchanges?

Dr. Gianina Viglino-Caviezel: Yes, that is more in our teams. It’s really like this, our tool doesn’t allow it at the moment, but we use the internet, so that people can really exchange. More in the lower teams you can see that it is a different kind of communication, of cohesion. What I noticed very strongly was the need for entertainment, especially for these people, I’m the ninth week in the home office, means I’ve been to a real meeting in the morning and then just went home again. That certain people just have this need for conversation. That a phone call might take a little longer than usual and you really feel that these colleagues are talking and need small talk and that has a lot to do with it. And on the other hand this whole aspect of giving security, especially with us in the team, the Corona Hotline, which we have set up. We noticed very, very strongly that you naturally have different characters in such a crisis. Some of them are very strong and can handle it very well, and for them it’s enough when they get information from the government in the afternoon in the press conferences. And then there are also other employees who were really afraid and needed security. Then it was also our job, and that was also part of the cultural building, to take this time to answer questions three or four or five times. Now I have said it a few times.  To really give this security and to convey to the people that you are not alone in this process, whether one person is alone in the home office and perhaps feels a little lonely, or the other person is working on site and perhaps is afraid of the journey to work. That you really try to pick up the people where they are and go through the crisis together. I see this very strongly as a task in crisis management from our side of the culture.

Carlo Badini: I noticed it in myself, I said that last time. I suddenly started calling people with no specific agenda. At some point, when you only have your four walls around you and no one to talk to, then you force the contact. And then I just started to call employees without a specific agenda. To ask how it works and what they do. And I also started very consistently, which has now proved to be a good idea, before all the meetings that we have, which are always very quickly business-related, to simply take five minutes of my time and ask how it is going, what they are doing. So to always postpone this Watercooler-Talk before the meetings. That we then simply always have a short break and to quickly exchange a little bit of information informally about how things are going at home. What do you miss, or where do you notice that personal exchange and personal contact in the corporate culture and development, what do you miss? What will be the first thing you do when you return to normality, what you introduce?

Michaela Christian Gartmann: So introduce, I am simply looking forward to the personal exchange again. For me this situation is a bit like learning a new language. When I go into a room, I see the group dynamics, I see how the people are doing. I see how people work together on a topic. And of course that is much more difficult now in a purely virtual set-up. Especially when several people are together in a video call, it’s just more difficult and I’m looking forward to that. But there are also a lot of things where I hope that you can really take them over. For example, I was very impressed with how you could make a change in such a short time and I think it’s something that really bonds you together. I also experience that people go absolutely extra miles and really get through this time together and that also welds you together. I think that’s something that is an incredible resource for later, even if you see how quickly you can find your way in a completely new situation. It’s an incredible resource when you see that.

Carlo Badini: What do you take with you, so there are concrete procedures or tools or rituals that you would take with you into the new world now, when things go back to normal, concretely?

Michaela Christian Gartmann: Well, I think one thing is really virtual collaboration. At the moment everything is virtual. This will certainly give you new opportunities to find the vessel where you might have had the impression before that it wouldn’t work. That’s why I believe it will generate a new mindset in terms of flexibility and mobility. I think that is certainly an important thing to take with you. I think now, especially for these people who do not work in the same place as my team, which I explained briefly before, that you really have to look there, that you have this regular exchange wherever you see yourself. And there I can imagine very well that these vessels that we have, Google Hangout now in our case, is working on these topics, that this will continue to exist. I also think so, and I wish I could, the personal connection, because you simply see much more of each other. Children suddenly get a face, etc., I think that’s something that gives a stronger connection, something that you absolutely have to keep. But in the case of vessels, for me it’s more in the area of virtual collaboration, because we now also work together on projects, for example, where otherwise our everyday life is already, but now because everyone is in the home office simply has a different form.

Carlo Badini: Dänu, I assume you said you were already more or less the same setup technically.

Daniel Aebersold: Yes, of course but of course there are differences. For example, at the moment we are working together with the customers, we work completely differently. In the past, we always saw each other and were together in the same room whenever possible. Today, many meetings are also held virtually so that we can work together with the customer. We have hired at the moment when they said, even before the meeting was over, they wanted someone to see this person and that this person might have seen the empty office before they could be hired. Some things have changed. I hope that we take away from this time, that we think more specifically: What do we choose? Which channel do we choose? Is a trip through Switzerland now the way to discuss an hour? Or does it make more sense at the moment if we do it virtually, now that we have seen that it works. But then also in those areas where you notice that having a beer together after work is simply nicer if you are in the same room and if you can really toast each other, stand by the people and look them in the eye without a camera. It’s just nicer and I hope that we can take the good things from this time, which has forced us to take a step forward and keep it. And not just go back to zero.

Carlo Badini: Yes, it’s funny that you say that, that’s our hope, what we have discussed internally. With us, remote work has always stopped at the customer’s site, because the customer has usually sought a physical collaboration. Now all of a sudden it worked without any problems and suddenly everyone realized that it works well to hold a meeting online, especially if it is only business-oriented. And our hope is that in the future we will be able to do more of our customer work digitally, which would be great, of course. It’s certainly the case with us, we have a retreat once a year where the whole company goes somewhere for a week. That would have been the case again in June or July. Then we would have all gone to Croatia, which of course has now also fallen into the water. I am very much looking forward to that again. This is always an incredibly important time for us to get to know each other better in private. It always brings us closer together. I believe that the whole crisis has shown us, especially for the Swiss employees who have seen each other regularly, although they don’t necessarily have to, that it has put us in a better position, as Michaela said, of those who are not in the office. I think the digital culture has basically promoted it, because everyone is in the same boat and you had to see that you care a little about each other. Gianina what are you taking with you?

Dr. Gianina Viglino-Caviezel: With us it is a little bit divided. Individual departments, a large part of our company, will not be able to work remotely in the future either. There it is simply not an issue. I can agree with what you said. We are all looking forward to seeing each other again and to returning to work. It’s also about making the digital work and taking it with you. That you also think about which tool is the right one in the future. Which in our specific case is certainly a topic through which we are currently in a cultural transformation, which in 2020 would actually have been under the title “Workshop from the state and the anchoring of these values throughout Europe, once as an objective for this year. Of course it fell into the water, but we could actually prove that we can live and show certain of these values, as a vision, but also that we communicate actively.  The sustainability aspect, that we do not hand over our ventilators where we get the most money, but where there has been the most need. This positive upturn, we will certainly take it with us in the HR team, in order to continue this work of anchoring the values. And to say, hey we did not do what we wanted this year, but we have a lot in the culture and what we are, our identity, and culture is nothing else than identity, character, the DNA of a company, we could work very strong positive on it. I would very much like to see this upturn, if we could take it with us, along with all the other positive aspects, and push forward to Corona in the near future.

Carlo Badini: Super I think this is a very nice ending. I looked in the chat, in the question-answer chat, not much came in this time, or rather nothing at all, otherwise we would have taken it up. That is of course also completely okay. I think at this point I would like to thank you three very much. Merci many times for this very exciting discussion. I would also like to thank the audience for switching it on and now, this time, especially for listening. If you want to watch the live stream again, you can do so on the SEF.Talk website. If you want to know more about remote work, you can download our remote work guide at cleverclipstudios.com/remoteworkguideforunternehmen. It’s a little long. The next SEF.Talk will take place in a week at the same time again. So you can already sign up again and reserve your slot, on the topic of leadership with the Remote-Workforce. We will be there: Dr. Felix Graf, CEO of the NZZ, Beat Bühlmann, Head of SME Swisscom, Dr. Christian Keller, CEO IBM Switzerland. So look forward to another very exciting exchange of ideas, until then I wish you all the best, stay healthy and say goodbye to each other.


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