COVID-19 Lessons LearnedCopyright: © Martin Braun
Using Good Solutions for the Future
- 01.06.2020 to 31.12.2021
- Research Area:
- Occupational Health and Safety in the Context of the Coronavirus Pandemic
With the aim of making long-term use of the experience companies have gained in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the COVID-19 Lessons Learned (COVID19LL) research project is identifying best-practice solutions for improving work processes and working conditions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about profound changes in our society in a short period of time. These are clearly noticeable in our working world: Many employees were sent to work from home with only a few days to prepare. Company events have been canceled at short notice, internal and external communications have been switched to digital channels, working time regulations have been revised, and work processes, supply chains and products have been rethought. Companies in all industries and economic sectors are faced with the challenge of adapting their operating structures and processes to the current situation due to the dynamic changes in the health situation and the associated regulations in force. Companies that were already highly digitized before the crisis started are better able to meet these challenges than those that are now being forced to make a digital turnaround on the fly.
While these developments represent an enormous burden for many companies in Germany, they also offer great potential for innovation. New ways of working and technical tools have to be implemented and tested in the shortest possible time, setting in motion not only processes of change but also, and above all, forward-looking learning processes. In order to systematically record these learning processes and make them usable both in the long term and across industries, the BMBF quickly launched the research project "Gute Lösungen für die Zukunft nutzen – COVID-19 Lessons Learned” (Using Good Solutions for the Future – COVID-19 Lessons Learned – COVID19LL). As part of this project, the IAW – Institut für Arbeitswissenschaft (Institute of Industrial Engineering and Ergonomics) at RWTH Aachen University – together with partners at the Technical University of Munich and the Technical University of Dresden – is conducting a systematic and cross-regional analysis of the effects of the crisis on the work carried out in companies. In a first period of the project, the aim is to identify particularly effective responses resulting from the current challenges that can lead to long-term improvements in work processes and working conditions even after the pandemic has been contained. In a second period of the project, the previous gained findings will be validated to ensure their practical relevance.
Project Phase 1:
Based on previous research done in occupational science, key aspects have been identified that need to be taken into account when analyzing how companies are dealing with the pandemic. In an initial survey phase, these will be validated in interviews with employers' and employees' associations in order to secure the main topics selected for the subsequent main round. For this purpose, IAW held talks with contacts at the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB) NRW, Unternehmer NRW and Vereinigten Unternehmerverbänden Aachen e.V. (VUV). In the main phase of scientific data collection, interviews will be conducted with employees from 33 companies to examine in detail the measures implemented there. The interviews will be conducted with companies in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Saxony. The measures identified in the companies will then be analyzed and evaluated in terms of their potential as part of possible best practice solutions. This evaluation incorporates both the companies' experience reports and the results from digital workshops in which the findings are discussed from a scientific and a business perspective.
Project Phase 2:
In the second phase, the measures obtained in the interviews of the previous period are prepared in the form of 17 projections, which are systematically validated with the help of representatives from companies, employers' and employees' associations and science. The validation of the identified measures is based on a procedure similar to the Delphi method, which aims to establish consensus within a group of experts through an iterative process. The study uses the multi-round Delphi approach, in which participants are asked to complete the online survey asynchronously and anonymously in several rounds – here in two. A total of 21 experts participated in the Delphi study. In a first round, the participants first evaluated the projections referring to their meaningfulness and implementation in their own company with regard to two scenarios, both quantitatively and qualitatively: (1) coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and (2) a working world outside a crisis situation. In a second round, the participants were asked to view the responses of all the experts and, based on these, to modify or adapt their own judgment if necessary.
Project Phase 1:
Based on the interviews conducted, the results can be distinguished, particularly with regard to the type of work performed (location dependent, location independent and partially location based).
In all three sectors of the economy, there are areas of the company where the physical presence of employees is indispensable. The new measures introduced in these companies relate primarily to compliance with hygiene regulations, which implies the use of personal protective equipment (e.g. FFP2 masks, disinfectant dispensers, ventilation systems and partition walls), work organizational measures to separate company areas and, in the case of larger companies, the implementation of their own testing and vaccination centers.
By contrast, there are large areas, especially in the service sector, that allow employees to work entirely from their home offices. To ensure a smooth transition, it is crucial that employees are equipped with the necessary tools and that communication structures within the company are adapted to the changed processes. Both professional and informal exchange must be maintained. In addition, it is getting more important to respond to the individual needs of employees. For example, double burdens, such as those of parents, and an onboarding process that is more attuned to the new employees should be considered.
In some parts of the companies, the presence of employees is required for certain while others can be done from home. This is where the benefits of making working hours and the place of work more flexible become most apparent, without these being diminished by aspects such as a lack of contact among colleagues, hurdles in work processes due to constant working at a distance and an increasing dissolution of the boundaries between work and private life. The great benefit of flexibilization in this context is the improved compatibility of work and private life.
A detailed presentation of the results was developed in the form of narrative best practice scenarios and published in the Open Science Framework.
Project Phase 2:
The results of the Delphi study show that not all the measures introduced can be transferred on a one-to-one basis to a time outside a crisis situation. Both for coping with the pandemic and for a future working environment outside of a crisis situation, aspects of making working hours and work locations more flexible and the associated consequences with regard to digital leadership, hybrid forms of work and a reduction in business trips are considered to be particularly useful. In addition, extended hygiene protection, the introduction of a crisis management team and the transparency of attendance and room occupancy plans for employees were considered particularly useful for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures that were seen as adding value outside of a crisis situation included new workplace concepts based on cooperation and the hiring of non-local employees. Working exclusively in fixed teams was not found to be useful for both scenarios.
A detailed presentation of the 17 measures and the experts' reasoned assessments was published in the Open Science Framework.
The project COVID19LL (funding code: 02L18A700) is funded by the BMBF in the context of the “Zukunft der Arbeit” (The future of work) program and is supervised by the project management agency PTKA.
|Chair of Ergonomics, TU München|
|Friedrich Schiedel Chair of Sociology of Science, TU München|
|Chair of European and Global Governance, TU München|
|Chair of Labour Engineering, TU Dresden|