Simply Work Online – The Status Quo of the Digital Transformation in Germany
Is it possible to run a conference completely online? Do we need the interaction of people, or can we have the same experience sitting in front of our screens? I wanted to try it out and attended EOA16, my first online conference. Let me share my experience with you.
First of all, I must say, I was impressed with the setup. You enter a website, provided by ubivent GmbH, and find a complete conference setup. You see all the exhibitor halls and the conference center for the sessions you can participate in. It feels like you’re sitting in the room. But let me start from the beginning.
The topics of the conference were around digital transformation, collaboration and communication, customer service and cloud. I was specifically interested in the sessions and discussions around digital transformation and collaboration.
There were two sessions running simultaneously, the expert discussions and vendor sessions. I kind of switched between the two (which is also an advantage of online participation) but found the expert discussions more appealing, as they were generic and about the whole economy while the vendor sessions were about their products.
The conference came with a strong focus on the German market, as it was organized by Germans and held in German. Being involved with many international markets, it was interesting for me to see and hear what the Germans thought about their own market and how it coped with the digital transformation. This is what I learned:
Germans are not really the pioneers when it comes to digital transformation and adopting new ways of doing business. They would be at the end of the list showing the leading markets in digital transformation. The reasons for this are that Germans don’t cope well with change (German Angst) and that there are too many regulations (privacy rights, data security) and lacks in network/Wifi coverage that have to be overcome. Politicians, trade organizations and businesses are aware of it, though and are taking steps to improve the situation.
One statement I really liked was, we need to stop planning and start doing. Germans like to plan but with the fast-changing market, after 3 years planning, our plan is already overhauled. Therefore, the advice was to start in small steps with a small group of people and adopt the new technology and the new way of doing things slowly in the whole corporation. Changes are easier in the SMB market, that is very big in Germany, as all decision makers can be easily gathered in one room. This is more complicated in bigger corporations (and a good reason to use modern collaboration solutions).
Talking about collaboration and true mobile, location-independent work, this was one of the big topics. Here, the main idea to make it work was to generate trust, trust between employer and employees and vice versa. Employers need to trust that their employees are doing their work, and they can measure it in results, and employees need to be able to trust that they are not abused by their employer, that they keep their private time and are not expected to reply to emails at 10pm. We need to learn and accept that work is what we do and not where we go!
In order to do so, we need a change in culture. We’ve learned to monitor employees and give them directives. Employees just came to the office and did their jobs. This, however, needs to change on both sides. The employers need to learn to trust and to give their employees freedom and goals. Employees need to embrace the chance of influence and the chance to be creative and to speak their ideas out loud. The change is very difficult for older generations as they learned, knowledge is power and they keep it to themselves. The mobile world, however, lives of sharing and collaborating. So, the older generation of managers need to understand to let go of these constraints and share their knowledge so that they can fully develop their team members’ potential.
The new generation, the digital natives, are growing up and are holding their first manager positions. They grew up with new technology, smartphones and the internet. They know how to chat with people all over the world and it is easy for them to use collaboration tools. The older generation still needs to learn how to cope with these tools. It is not undoable, though, as mostly they are intuitive and easy to learn.
The benefit of using collaboration tools is to shorten meetings, work with virtual teams all over the world and collect various input and to reduce the usage of email (that steels a lot of time).
At EOA16, I saw collaboration products from Cisco (the demo of the DX80 video conferencing tool was quite impressive), Avaya (another video collaboration solution), Wrike (social collaboration with chat) and others.
All in all, I really enjoyed attending my first online conference and will most likely attend another one. The vendors said, it was difficult to start chats, or even video chats, with the people. I guess they were shy like at a real conference. It was a nice setup. Every booth in the 4 halls that one could visit had 1-2 persons to speak to, 1-2 videos that explained the product or service and lots of material for download. So, you could walk around like at a real conference, visit the booths and check out what they did. If you found something interesting, you could start a chat.
I really recommend it (even though I definitely like the personal relationship). In my opinion, there could be a good mix of online and offline conferences. Such an online setup sets the right path into the digital age, but we should make sure we don’t forget about people, personal relationships and that there is an offline world, too.
I hope I could give you some good insight and perhaps, you will attend your first online conference soon, as well.
Have a great day!