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Help, I'm supposed to go back to the office! - Key Learnings from the Expert Talk & Panel Discussion

Above the roofs of Vienna, Prof. Wolfgang Güttel, Dean of the TU Wien Academy, discussed the topic of "flexible working" in a panel discussion with five HR specialists from well-known Austrian companies on June 29. The crucial question was how we can find new ways of working when the ideal concepts of the future of work diverge widely.

[Translate to English:] Expert Talk & Podiumsdiskussion

The key insights of the introductory keynote speech, in which Prof. Güttel presented strategic guidelines for successful collaboration in challenging situations, are summarized below:

  • New norms of cooperation need rules, trust and a strategy.
  • First, you should be asked the question: Why not more like before and why different? In the future we can think creatively: Where are we going and what do we envision? Companies can provide guidelines for this, but it should be jointly determined how the team can and wants to work together.
  • With so-called "simple rules", new ways can be found to harmonize different ideas and practices. Specifically, this involves setting four to seven core rules that are simple and specific, well-defined and as concrete as possible (with practical instructions) and with comprehensible justification.


The panel then provided an opportunity to discuss these issues based on five different company sizes. The discussion started with the question of so far made experiences in the transition to the "new normal."

  • 3-model system: Dipl.-Ing. Britta Schindler heads the People & Change department at A1 Telekom Austria AG and reported on the establishment of a new company agreement with the central question: How do we want to work in the future? While about one third of the workforce cannot switch to a home office, e.g. store employees, three models are available for the rest, each with different ratios of home office and office days per week. Even at Uniqa, as HR expert Thomas Fessl showed, not all needs and requirements can be covered by one package due to the existing job diversity. Especially in the beginning, this was a difficult situation for managers, because a lot of responsibility was given to them to choose the right model together with their teams. At the same time, more personal responsibility is implemented with employees, e.g. to reflect: what is my role, to what extent can I work mobile, what is my life situation, how does it work for us as a team?
  • A basis with a lot of flexibility: According to Mag. Christine Timmelmayer, Human Resources Manager at kraftwerk - Agentur für neue Kommunikation, the company was able to easily switch to the remote working model due to the inherently digital environment. With the idea of maintaining what was common - the internal culture - different packages were not chosen, but a basis was defined to make a lot of flexibility possible beyond that. For example, home office days can be collected and consumed in blocks or work abroad for longer periods of time. Austrian Airlines also does not have a model system, as HR Director Markus Christl reported. All employees can choose the optimal number of home office days in consultation with their respective managers. In addition to local flexibility, working hours have also been significantly expanded. This was based on the experience that hybrid working is of little benefit to employees if they are restricted in terms of time. However, it is also important here that contact and loyalty to the company should not be lost.
  • Why have an office at all? One vision for DI Johann Schachner, CEO of Atos IT Solutions and Services GmbH in Austria, is to offer employees a very flexible working environment. In some areas of work, the question rightfully arises: Do we even need an office? Despite spatial freedom, "touch downs" are targeted on a voluntary basis at Atos, because: The physical office provides space for valuable personal exchange. For this purpose, for example, technologically supported work options are offered instead of just a desk in the classic sense.


Key challenges for workforce development in these times identified by the panel included the following:

  • How can we optimally develop young talent and give them the framework for good coaching when all experienced colleagues are in the home office? Currently, many new employees have to be integrated into companies and teams, which is why processes such as digital onboarding need to be consolidated. In addition, we must not lose sight of the big question - where is it all going? How do we bring together diverse and perhaps competing expectations? How do we create a work environment that is conducive to that? Because: the job market will increasingly evolve to meet individual needs.
  • Leaders faced particular challenges at the start of the covid pandemic, such as the rapid shift from physical to hybrid leadership. Leadership in this world centrally means managing change. Accordingly, the issue of education must also be sustained among leaders. We need leaders who can lead through trust, work in a results-oriented manner and learn from each other in exchange formats, for example on the point: How can we enable our teams to organize themselves and find new forms of collaboration?


Finally, the experts discussed what the work situation of the future will look like and what social changes will accompany it:

  • The entire panel agreed: the topic of flexible working is here to stay.
  • We are only at the beginning of this journey: While we are currently still discussing the question of how many days employees should be present in the office, this will give way to other topics in the future. We are still thinking relatively small at the moment. You see a future trend in the discussion about working hours: Are time models still the right measure to evaluate work, or should we think in a more results-oriented way?
  • This is where companies are needed, because in the future, businesses will no longer be able to afford to define a framework that is too narrow. But this must also be perceived as a social challenge, for example when it comes to balancing private and professional life.


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