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Corona Crisis Gives Stronger Impulses for Digitization Than It Does for Sustainability

A special survey recently conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the TUM Campus Heilbronn and the MÜNCHNER KREIS set out to trace the impact of the Covid19 pandemic on the world of work. More than 200 experts were interviewed for the survey, and agree that the digital transformation within companies has been accelerated by the crisis. Furthermore, they expect lasting changes for specific industries and operating procedures, whereas current trends towards greater sustainability are expected to be temporary in nature.

Less travel, more remote work: the corona crisis has forced employees to become more sustainable in their everyday work. Economic and scientific experts doubt however, that this will continue in the long term. This is the conclusion of a survey on the impact of the Covid19 pandemic on the world of work recently conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the TUM Campus Heilbronn and the MÜNCHNER KREIS. Only 17% of the 211 experts surveyed expect that people will continue to follow a more sustainable lifestyle after the crisis is overcome. Only 13% of respondents expect traffic volumes to remain low, and only 9% think exodus from the city will remain a persistent phenomenon. Similarly, deceleration and solidarity are seen as temporary phenomena by 22% and 30% respectively. The same applies to state interventions: Despite the massive economic stimulus measures of the federal government, only about one quarter of respondents forecast a higher long-term regulation by the state. A minority of 23% believes in a changed economic order due to the crisis.

Ole Wintermann, labor expert at the Bertelsmann Foundation, had this to say: “It is noticeable that the respondents classify the corona-induced developments towards more sustainability in day-to-day work rather as a flash in the pan than an ongoing change in thinking. Much will depend on whether economic and political decision-makers have recognized the potential of digital working for sustainable development and will thus promote corresponding initiatives in the future or not.”

 

Remote Work: Norm Rather than Exception

Digital applications implemented or expanded in the course of the crisis are here to stay, agree the surveyed experts. 92% of respondents are certain: the Covid19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation within companies. In particular, they believe that digital services and customer communication channels as well as work models outside of the office will continue to be used more intensively even after the pandemic. Up to 85% of respondents expect remote work and virtual conferences to become the norm rather than the exception. Not only does the exercise of the profession now occur digitally, but also more flexible in terms of time and location, says the majority of surveyed experts. In addition, at 41%, they are predominantly of the opinion that more work is done working from home rather than in the office.

Prof. Dr. Helmut Krcmar, Founding Dean and Delegate Officer of the President – TUM Campus Heilbronn and co-author of the study, appeals to companies to set the course for post-Corona already: “Many tendencies that we are currently witnessing within companies will continue to exist even after this acute crisis situation has subsided. Above all, the trend towards working outside of the office will significantly change the future organization of work processes. This means a huge change, e.g. when it comes to leadership, especially for traditional and hierarchically structured companies.”

Ole Wintermann adds: “The success factor of digitization is becoming even more important, in the current situation and beyond. In many organizations, we are going to see completely new and diverse concepts in which attendance times and remote working seamlessly intertwine. Companies that had not yet established a digital work and trust culture before the crisis are now threatening to fall further behind.” According to the expert, especially the non-manufacturing industries are currently facing major challenges, having to digitize work processes within a very short time frame.

 

Winners and Losers of the Crisis

A fairly clear picture emerges when assessing which economic sectors will benefit in the long term from the crisis. 98% of the experts see the telecommunications and IT sectors as the clear winners. With 94%, the respondents almost unanimously hypothesize positive effects of the pandemic on the health care sector and the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. The long-term losers, they reckon, include tourism, gastronomy and aviation as well as the automotive industry. Opinions regarding the prospects of banks, insurance companies and the transport business are divided. With regard to the situation of her own employer, more than half of the respondents expect their respective organizations to deal with and overcome the consequences of the pandemic by the end of 2021.

Despite the widespread agreement that digital technologies and virtual working methods will shape day-to-day work in many professions in the future, doubts prevail about the fundamental willingness of organizations and actors to change. Almost one third of those surveyed believe that people will fall back into old habits once the pandemic is overcome. 27% are convinced of the opposite. “Business, politics and society are called upon to make use of this time of upheaval. The positive changes for the world of work triggered and accelerated due to the crisis should be maintained and consolidated. In view of the changing work environment it is becoming increasingly important to strike a balance between the needs of employees and the economic interests of the company”, summarizes Helmut Krcmar.

 

Methodology

From mid- to end-April 2020, 211 German experts in digitization, technology and artificial intelligence took part in the online survey on the effects of the Covid19 pandemic on the world of work. Just over half of them work in organizations and companies with more than 1,000 employees. The industries represented the most among respondents are IT/telecommunications, business-related services and the automotive industry. Respondents were among the 513 international participants who had previously given their assessment of 53 future theses as part of the study “Leben, Arbeit, Bildung 2035+” (Life, Work, Education 2035+) conducted by the MÜNCHNER KREIS and the Bertelsmann Stiftung. The Delphi method used was again applied in the special survey. The special study on the effects of the Corona pandemic was headed by a team of experts of the Bertelsmann Foundation and the TUM Campus Heilbronn of the Technical University of Munich (TUM). ITM Beratungsgesellschaft mbH in Munich supported the project.

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