Many freelancers just keep on working – I wish other companies would copy from them

When I talk to employees of large corporations and small companies lately, I have the feeling of living in an ivory tower. Mona Haug, who coaches me, even even pointed out to be careful not to hurt the feelings of third parties. The reason: my working life has not really changed. My added value and that of the Brinkhaus GmbH continues as before.

In fact, an important customer is about to go into a shutdown and may question his budget afterwards. But apart from that, everything is running relatively normally.

Meanwhile, many companies are simply going into shutdown. The remaining staff’s working time is spent in relevant parts on collecting government funds and managing the shutdown.

I urgently appeal to the “Sense of Urgency”: yes, I know that some people find this a hackneyed word. But please forget thoughts of Corona being over in four weeks. Please also invest some work in how your company will continue to operate in a few weeks despite Corona.

Why do I really want that? Because I find it cruel how so many people are only working on the shutdown, with businesses and consumers worldwide pulling each other down.

Even in the days of my last major corporation employer (KOMET), I was “special” in my own way in that corporation. Among other things, I was the “digital native” among the chippers. But also someone who could continue working in the ICE, at home and in the office without interruption. At that time it was a silent thought that others should cut slices from this way of working.

In the meantime I see a general need to spread parts of this idea with verve – now.

So the question is: why do Jan Brinkhaus and similar parts of his professional environment simply continue to work?

I started again as a freelancer at the end of 2018. This professional group can work from any location. It “sees” conversation partners mostly via video conference. They only travel from time to time. There have well-established processes with customers that focus on telecollaboration. The freelancer himself is often the know-how carrier about how to work well with in this way. He brings this into his client companies, so that afterwards a visible state is created in which everyone works well together.

In my view, people or companies that are set up in this way often continue to work as before – so far. In my current experience, the ability of structures organized in this way to create value remains intact.

Excursus “Set up as a freelancer”:

Being a freelancer from the end of 2018 onwards meant that a desk exists at home. The house has an internet line (wired) of 100MBit in download and 12MBit in upload. Internet is distributed via Mesh-WLAN in such a way that there is a certain reliability: even via WLAN video conferences are possible.

There is a local server, as well as a nightly concept for backups to the cloud for reasons of data security. There is a vault. There is a good camera for video telephony. I have an ANC headset, which ensures that I can talk even when the environment would normally not be suitable for it.

I talk to fellow participants 2-3h daily via Skype / Circuit / Phone. I talk to my colleagues and customers mostly via Skype or telephone.

In order to keep my ability to travel as high as possible, I bought a set of 20 washable breathing masks for 8€/piece. Meanwhile I own a small disinfectant sprayer which fits into the inside pocket of my jacket.

Sounds strange to you? Maybe. But my employee and I just keep on working like before. And still make (?) full turnovers.

Because the structures are suitable. Maybe you can only take over a part of it. However, I would like to suggest the idea of a certain mental flexibility to you

Main thesis: one can organize many areas of a company so that they function in a distributed manner

As a general manager in the KOMET Group, I have built up a development department in Bangalore. The headquarters of the KOMET group was in the south of Germany. My branch “KOMET Brinkhaus” was in the north of Germany. We provided our know-how for the rest of the group in the form of wikies, telephone support and service personnel travelling worldwide. Many people I contacted had most of their working contacts via video conference, telephone or mail. Our global travelers had special SIM cards that allowed them to answer emails in a taxi even in Shanghai.

Important here: with the appropriate mindset, a troop could be built up that did not necessarily have to see each other personally. Only 1/3 of the employees were in the office.

I was able to take over most of it seamlessly into my freelance life starting in 2019. So if, for example, a new monitoring system manufacturer for machine tools has been created in Germany within about 18 months, this is also due to the fact that I had no problem for the customer to lead an Indian in the Ruhr area, a German in Poland and a Bavarian (in Bavaria) as a development team. I took over a large part of the programming of the core software. At the same time I routinely took on a mixture of Scrum Master and Product Owner as a Scrum role. In the meantime the customer has successfully completed tests with machine manufacturers. Since a lot of things went into the product that reflect current customer wishes on the market, a market entry was successful despite Corona.

This is only threatened in the medium term by the shutdown of customers or their customers. This is also currently threatened by the higher proportion of working hours in the presence of children.

Here, too, the value-added capability of structures organised in this way remains largely intact even with Corona.

I have had (partly) single children in the house since the end of 2018. So I was adapted to it.

My partner works. Her children are 50% with us. I work. My children are about 2/3 with us. We have five boys between the ages of 3 and 8.

This required regular PDCO cycles 🙂 . We never got “finished” here either. Organizationally speaking: the PDCO cycles continue to run continuously 🙂 .

This part has changed suddenly. We were just better prepared than others, but not adequately prepared. Since the topic would go much too far here, I am placing it in a separate article. The core of this other article: try to keep working on solutions instead of organizing the shutdown because of problems!

What I would like to give you as a stimulation:

  • You currently have the great opportunity that your employees are more willing to change than average. Every employee wants to continue working. The companies have a need for value-added chains that can be run despite Corona.

    You have the great opportunity to have created more efficient, more location-independent, family-friendly company structures afterwards.
  • Let your employees keep distance instead of sending them home. Hang up posters for employees and visitors. For example, explain that people do not shake hands or hug each other. “Smiling is the new greeting.”
  • Ensure internal acceptance of videoconferencing instead of face-to-face meetings. Move meetings to video conferencing. Write guidelines for such conferences and stick to them yourself. Adjust the guidelines. Make sure that one person sits in front of each computer and that everyone has a headset so that everyone can communicate symmetrically and properly.
  • Build up networks with which you can work in structures where there is less direct contact. Both employees of suppliers and customers may not want to meet in person. But they want to continue working with you. If you do it well, everyone can have the added value in the end with less travel time than before.

    Support your suppliers in this. Make sure that obstructive aspects in their company are found and consistently changed. Let the customers and suppliers enter your company electronically.
  • Let external service technicians contribute their know-how by guiding your internal maintenance staff via Skype / AR glasses. Let external service providers selectively access areas of your company network via VPN wherever possible.
  • Divide offices in such a way that employees of one know-how group no longer sit together in one office. For example, if two controllers and engineers were previously sitting in one office with controllers and engineers respectively, you can temporarily mix the offices.

    If a controller/engineer then falls ill, you consequently send his office colleague home. In this case, one engineer is missing in addition to the controller. However, it would need the second – parallel occurring – case of illness at the earliest for you to no longer have a controller or engineer in the company.
  • Remove 50% of the chairs in the canteen. Specify that the employees may only sit diagonally from each other and keep a virtual seat free next to each other. Only serve packaged food in the canteen or take other measures to keep it open. Financially, this is better than sending everyone home.

    Buy your employees breathing masks from the non-medical sector. Organise to continue working with them. For example, this could involve buying 5-10 masks for each employee and giving them to the employees as a gift. Come to work with a mask yourself. And then you (all) continue working.

  • Development processes can to a large extent continue if one looks for solutions in the world of Scrum methodology, instead of accepting that Corona is presenting the company with too many problems. I know that it may seem strange sometimes when consultants carry Scrum elements like a bible in front of them. It does not have to be your bible! Think of it as a pool of ideas, but do what you think is helpful from that pool.
  • Likewise, many other processes can be redesigned to become more independent of where the work is done.

    Now is the time to adjust processes and use the organizational work that is necessary anyway as an opportunity.
  • There are a lot of people in Germany who have the right mindset to transfer your running processes to corona times in a functioning and ISO9001 compliant manner. Take advantage of this! Yes, then you may pay consultants. A shutdown is more expensive in comparison.

    Coach your employees to set up proper structures at home. Coach them to set themselves apart if necessary AND offer the children a nice home. Ensure that a certain seriousness and quality of work awareness is maintained through ideas such as “we don’t sit in our bathrobes at work”.

Additional measures will always be necessary. For me, the above is not about a complete list of measures for a company, but a mindset.

My main point: many freelancers can currently simply continue working. Find your ways to bring this mindset into your company. Under aspects of mental mobility and the possibilities of working without direct contact.

Especially if you would otherwise have to put work into shutting down the company, please put this work into how to continue, where possible.

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