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Turning the crisis into an opportunity

Municipal companies are also feeling the effects of the corona pandemic. One key reason for this is that many of these companies are still in the early stages of digitalisation. In the past, cultural factors made this situation even more difficult. The pandemic has shown just how important these factors are. In this interview, Friederike Lauruschkus and Philipp Guttschuß give insights into the current developments.

How far had municipal companies come with digitalisation before the corona pandemic?

Philipp Guttschuß: In a survey that we conducted among 50 executives to coincide with our study ‘matters no.3’, the average degree of digitalisation maturity at public transportation companies was estimated to be 4.8 out of 10. Internal factors, such as the existing corporate culture or a lack of skills, are primarily cited to be the obstacles to digital transformation. Customers, on the other hand, are considered to be the strongest driver.
The corona pandemic in which many employees are required to work from home has in many ways hit companies hard and unexpectedly. Many of them had neither the IT systems nor technical infrastructure needed to enable staff to work permanently from home nor did they have the corresponding processes in place. In other words, they simply didn’t have what was needed.

What developments have you observed in recent weeks and months with regard to the digital transformation?

Philipp Guttschuß: Companies of general interest had to keep operations up and running at all costs. While other industries introduced short-time work for a large proportion of their employees, in other sectors electricity and water had to continue to flow, waste had to be disposed of and passengers had to be transported.
These completely changed working conditions have already led to changes in processes and infrastructure. Internal hurdles that had previously slowed down digital transformation for years were torn down at short notice. Video conferencing systems were purchased, approvals were given for private laptops and mobile phones, and management meetings were held remotely. Above all, however, there has been a change in attitude and people now believe that it is possible to work in different ways.

It remains to be seen how many companies will be able to take advantage of the momentum and digitise not only (customer) communication and document management but also their sales channels, corporate management or administrative processes.

In your study, the predominant corporate culture is named as the main obstacle to digitalisation. Do you expect the digitalisation boom to impact corporate culture too?

Friederike Lauruschkus: On a surface level, culture manifests itself in behaviour, and under the surface, in attitudes, norms and values. This is where we are seeing a change in discourse at municipal companies. While management culture in the pre-corona era was largely rooted in presence and thus often control, it has now very quickly become clear how important it is for each individual to assume personal responsibility and that trusting in this responsibility makes things work better than before. Leadership has an extremely important role to play in this change. It is about setting an example for a new attitude towards working together, sharing information and knowledge, and handing over responsibility and scope for decision-making. These cultural values are also a prerequisite for successful digitalisation, for innovation and for change.

How did your company address the crisis? What do you expect from your own corporate culture in the coming months and years?

Friederike Lauruschkus: As a relatively young company working in the consulting industry, we were already quite well positioned in terms of digital processes and infrastructure before the crisis struck. That is why the contact restrictions meant not just physical restrictions but led to a psychological rather than a digital change. The otherwise lively personal exchanges in our offices or on business trips, which our employees describe as an important part of civity’s corporate culture, were suddenly no more. But digital tools can also help here. Regular video conferences in large or small groups were initiated to exchange information about projects, internal and private matters. Communication had to be planned, yes, but it took place and still takes place more consciously. However, this state of affairs is not sustainable in the long term, neither at our company nor elsewhere. For a certain period of time, a crisis can in fact strengthen corporate culture because everyone is pursuing a common goal and there is a stronger focus. In the long term, however, it is obvious that personal interaction is also extremely important; it creates identity and a sense of belonging and that’s what people need in a good working environment.