Have courage for new working models

Founders should not spend a lot of time debating the pros and cons of home offices and the like, but simply go for it, writes Eric Demuth in his guest article.

Everyone back to the office, or not? The topic is polarizing - arguably more so than ever in the cautiously approaching post-pandemic times. Remote, in-office, or hybrid: we've been talking about the pros and cons of each for over 18 months. And of course, this debate is an incredible privilege, shutting out significant parts of the local economy: manufacturing, hospitality, retail, the tourist trade, and many more.

Well, since then, opinions have roughly divided into two camps: some people don't want to miss home office - especially the freedom and flexibility gained - while others just find it tedious. Criticism of the home office has come from them in droves: central factors for collaboration, communication and productivity would often come up short within one's own four walls. These discussions are simply tiresome, because there is no one solution for everyone. The fact is: some people work better in the office. Some are more focused and productive at home. And many of us find that we are most effective when we have options.

Transition times have always been challenging times. For Bitpanda and other tech companies, the necessary transition to 100 percent remote was certainly a bit easier than for traditional companies. Nevertheless, we had to organize this transition in March 2020, at that time with just under 200 employees*. We observed, communicated and sensitized - and sometimes improvised. As we all know, habits can be the shackles of progress. The pandemic further accelerated the transformation that is characteristic of a scale-up in the hypergrowth phase: across (national) borders, colleagues now see themselves as one team, regardless of where they work from and where each other is located. Today, our team comprises three times as many people.

For many employees around the world, autumn marks the end of the remote experiment and the beginning of the return to the office. We should be clear about this: If you're too hasty in ordering your employees back and insisting on attendance, you run the risk of losing some of your most talented employees. According to a survey by the Bloomberg news agency, nearly 40 percent of employees would consider quitting if their company did not maintain a flexible home office policy. Among young talent, those born after 1980, the opinion is even clearer: for 49 percent, a return to less flexible work models would be a reason to quit. The picture is similar in an EY survey: According to the studies, young employees are more likely to want to return to the office precisely because it is an important part of their social life and many felt isolated in the lockdown. At the same time, they demand flexible models and would even quit if there was no home office. All this shows: The pandemic has broken through cultural and technological barriers that have prevented remote work in the past - setting in motion a structural change in the world of work, at least for some people. Good thing.

We shouldn't spend too much time debating the pros and cons of each model and instead have the courage to implement truly new working models. Finally create innovative solutions for the increasingly diverse needs of workforces. Solutions that fit both the company and the team. Above all, many employers should finally see their employees for what they are: Adult human beings who are competent and responsible. Feigned control over employees through attendance is the work philosophy of the last century. And if you don't want to be outdated, you should also evolve as a boss on this topic and not just expect this from your employees.

In this context, I am inspired by an idea of the author Benjamin Laker, according to which workplaces are passé. Instead, workspaces form a new focus. To better illustrate this, Laker uses a well-known example: central corporate office buildings should become hubs, such as Frankfurt Airport, Paris' CDG or Amsterdam's Schiphol. They retain their function as a communal place, but mainly serve to connect smaller hubs where the majority of employees mostly work. These hubs are located in cities or districts.

We made a conscious decision to build an 8,000 square foot new headquarters in Vienna for our team, which will open in a few weeks and fill with the usual bustle. In addition, there will be smaller Bitpanda Hubs in ten European cities for the time being, as well as adapted guidelines that follow the hybrid idea: 50 percent of the working time is to be spent at the HQ or a Hub, the remaining 50 percent at home. In addition, we have said arrivederci to core working hours in order to maintain the greatest possible and desired degree of flexibility. And as an extra benefit, there are 60 days of "work from anywhere" on top. In other words, we give our employees the freedom to work where they can do so best, wherever that may be.

I repeat: there is no universal solution. And there is no need for one. Anything goes, nothing has to - the main thing is that it fits 100 percent with the employees and the company.

Eric Demuth, 34, was born in northern Germany, lives in Vienna and founded Bitpanda there in 2014. Every two months, he shares his views on current topics from the start-up world.

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