"We shouldn’t withdraw into the virtual world"

Klaus Bengler investigates the consequences of the corona crisis on the working

Klaus Bengler investigates the consequences of the corona crisis on the working world. Image: U. Benz / TUM

The Corona crisis changed the working world in no time at all: Home office, web meetings and hygiene measures are now part of our everyday routine. Prof. Klaus Bengler of the Chair of Ergonomics at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) investigates what we can learn from these experiences.

Prof. Bengler, where do you see the greatest changes and problems in the working world?

The Corona crisis has greatly increased the amount of work we do at home. The rapid transition also made it impossible to follow certain basic labor science principles. Not everyone has a workplace at home that is as well-equipped as the workstation in office, for example in terms of lighting, desk height and a peaceful working atmosphere.

On the whole, monitor work has increased. The time needed to physically get to meetings or to the workplace has been saved. Meetings which used to gives us a break from work at the computer screen are now taking place as web meetings. As a result we gain valuable time, but this also means an increase in work done in front of the monitor. Now it’s much more a matter of the employees’ personal responsibility to organize themselves, take breaks from work and to optimize their workstations.

Then there are other problems, for example in many cases child care is not available, which creates a lot of stress. And in areas of work which require physical presence like production, caregiving or making foodstuffs, hygiene measures have made work even more time-consuming. This means that the entire system, which was under time pressure in the first place, has been additionally slowed down.

Has the Digital Transformation been accelerated?

The Corona crisis has an extremely intensifying effect. Companies where mobile working and telecommuting were already established options were able to increase these activities. The regulations and the technical equipment are present and there are experienced colleagues who can help others. But the crisis has also had very negative reinforcements. Companies that were still unfamiliar with these mobile working tools had a much more difficult time getting started or even experienced serious setbacks.
These companies should have the opportunity to learn from the others as quickly as possible. However there are specific best practices spread throughout all the economic sectors, no generalizations can be made here. For example, in some cases farmers are better networked than some service companies. We should learn from these experiences as quickly as possible. This is also the objective of our federally funded project "Using Good Solutions for the Future - COVID-19 Lessons Learned".

How do you intend to consolidate all these experiences?

In coordination with our partners at the RWTH Aachen University and Technische Universität Dresden (TUD) we will conduct cross-regional surveys on how the working situation was before the crisis, how the transition process has gone and what the situation looks like now. Which practices have proven useful, what agreements have been made, were they temporary or have they become permanent? Crises trigger change processes as well as learning processes. We also want to establish clarity about the areas in which companies from different industry sectors can learn from one another: For example, the use of remote monitoring in maintenance could be increased, or web meetings could replace physical meetings. We’re also talking about approaches to helping solve time and space problems in many home offices on a long-term basis.

But another very important point is that we continue to ask whether or not these measures will continue to be viable for a good working situation in the future. I don’t think we can or should permanently fade away into the virtual world. Our personal networks would continuously grow weaker. The goal is to be able to make recommendations on how to conduct this type of transformation process and to learn how to once again move in terms of organization in a newly emerging situation where the current restrictions have been further relaxed.

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