“I just brought the ‘sweet’ moments home”

© Fraunhofer IAO, Portraitzeichnung: Bernd Schifferdecker
Anja Krüger, Teamleitung Personal- und Reiseverwaltung

Anja Krüger is pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the shift to working from home went.  

I am still fascinated by how fast the entire institute was able to shift to working from home without any lead time, and how well it’s working in all divisions. In the beginning, it was an immense challenge for my team and I to get ourselves set up in these changed circumstances and to coordinate our work via new tools. But everyone was immediately ready to adapt to the new situation, and everyone pulled together. Despite the switch, we have achieved so much: We have recruited new staff and, together with various stakeholders, we have worked on developing new digital processes. We can now carry out a lot of the formalities relating to new hires and employee departures from the institute online. That makes me proud, especially because, despite all the organizational and technical hurdles, we have been able to fulfill all our tasks and services for employees at all times.

The switch also worked wonderfully for me personally. Working from home improved my quality of life, making some things possible that would have been unthinkable before. As a member of the Coronavirus Task Force at Fraunhofer IAO, and as both joint project manager and lead key user for the personnel administration division in the implementation of SAP, my remit has extended into exciting new areas. However, that was often very challenging, because it involved many meetings that sometimes even took place simultaneously. That would never have worked so effectively during a normal day in the office.

However, I did realize how important it is to me to be able to see everyone involved. So any call where we have our cameras switched on always makes me very happy – it makes it easier to communicate in a more personal way. Before the coronavirus, I knew nearly every face at the institute, either through the onboarding process or through friendly, casual encounters on campus. Even if it was just that, for example, the drawer of nibbles in my office was empty and I met my coworkers on the way to the vending machine or in the canteen, these “short and sweet” encounters always made me very happy. So, I put a small tin of treats beside my laptop at home and just brought the “short and sweet” moments home. And there are also times when I need a little sugar to de-stress, so that I can refuel and keep working at full throttle.

"Sometimes, I need a little sugar to de-stress."
Working from home goes a lot better with this “energetic” support.

“The feeling of achieving something really important put me in a ‘can-do’ attitude.”

© Fraunhofer IAO, Portraitzeichnung: Bernd Schifferdecker
Carsten Schmidt, Business Performance Management

Carsten Schmidt co-supervised the rollout of Office 365 across the entire Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. 

I think the Fraunhofer motto, “We made it work!”, is an accurate reflection of the atmosphere that has characterized my life in the course of the last year. The coronavirus crisis has affected me professionally as well as privately in many ways – and in a positive sense too! The lockdown in the middle of March brought my family closer together. We moved into my father’s house for over three months before we were able to move into our new home. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to balance work, care responsibilities and building a house. While my wife and I worked side by side in the big study wearing noise-canceling headphones, my father looked after our four-year-old daughter – and she looked after him. We were able to eat together, see our daughter walking through the garden in rain boots and jumping on the trampoline, and help each other and arrange things at any time.

In my work, I co-supervised the launch of a Fraunhofer-wide system for virtual collaboration. That was very exciting for me, because I was called on to play a kind of special role due to my scientific work in the area of virtual collaboration, and suddenly I was very involved in operational issues. I was the skeptic on the team at first, pushing rather to continue delaying the implementation, but then as use of applications such as Webex and TeamViewer increased rapidly, I became aware that without the new system, we would no longer be able to operate – practically all employees were working from home. So we in the project team decided quite spontaneously to implement the rollout within a few days. We dropped everything else and, with a kind of “we can do it” attitude, we launched the system within a few days. The number of users exploded. The response and gratitude was enormous. I had previously worked with external and internal partners on a mostly online basis before this project, but I had never before experienced such commitment to reaching a common goal. The feeling of implementing something really important and useful spurred myself and the whole team on. 

With his father keeping his daughter busy (and vice versa) Carsten Schmidt can concentrate on his work.

“Now or never!”

© Fraunhofer IAO, Portraitzeichnung: Bernd Schifferdecker
Sonja Stöffler, Mobility Ecosystems

Sonja Stöffler takes online lessons from a three-time dancing world champion from Peru

The start of 2020 was anything but good for me. I had no less than four serious illnesses one after the other, any of which could have ended badly. Of course, I still have to contend with the long-term effects, but I have come through everything well. It changed my outlook on things and on life as a whole. I became aware of what is really important, and so I decided to do things that I have always wanted to do.

When I was planning a trip to my native country of Peru for a CityLab project, I found out that my favorite dancer, Gisela Gonzales – three-time world champion in the Peruvian national dance, “Marinera” – was running a dance school in my family’s hometown. So I thought: Now or never! Now I’ll fulfill my childhood dream and take dance lessons! But then the coronavirus and the lockdown came along, so the trip had to be canceled. 

Luckily, the dance school shifted to digital lessons. So I contacted them and since then, I have been taking private lessons: live classes from Peru in my own home. Because there isn’t enough space in my living room, my curious neighbors get free weekly dance performances in the hallway. For “Marinera”, what you need is a lot of room to move. The dance tells the story of two people falling in love, and is divided into three parts. The first begins with a kind of stroll, during which the couple get to know each other and draw closer. For this dance, the women wear very big skirts and hold a handkerchief that lends more energy to their gestures. Actually, you use a special embroidered cloth for that. But in Peru, people often dance in restaurants and at family celebrations, and then the women sometimes just grab serviettes.

Dance gives me strength – mental as well as physical. The pandemic made that possible for me, not just in terms of the digital lessons, but also thanks to flexible hours offered when working from home.

World champion Gisela Gonzales demonstrates the dance moves in her studio in Peru.
Sonja Stöffler tries out the exercises she has been shown, and her teacher can watch and correct her.
“Because there isn’t enough space in my living room, now my curious neighbors get free weekly dance performances in the hallway.”

“Jogging pants, my ‘casual’ companion when working from home.”

Dr. Christoph Sebald, Urban Data and Resilience

Christoph Sebald works as a geographic information system administrator and has developed a data hub for Baden-Württemberg.  

When the pandemic kicked off in the middle of March, on the one hand, I was happy that not only could I work from home, but I had to. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to balance work and family life at all, because my wife had to undergo regular medical treatment at that time and we had a baby and a school-age kid to look after. Working from home, you are always reachable, for family as well as online for your employers. This dual role brought me right to my limit and showed me that the people around me suffer if I don’t look after myself. Sometimes, I didn’t even get to slip out of my jogging pants and into a fancier pair of trousers.

I have learned in this especially challenging time to take better care of myself, establish boundaries, set priorities and stand up for my own interests more consistently. So, for example, I decline some meetings, I let emails unanswered for a little while longer once in a while, and I don’t react immediately to every notification that pops up on my many different communication channels. I prefer to sort out the essential issues in a few, well-structured meetings, instead of discussing the same things again and again. That is also something for me to be mindful of while collaborating with others, especially in the current unusual circumstances. And at 7:00 p.m., pure family time begins: we put the kids to bed in peace and quiet and turn off everything else.

Between changing meetings and changing diapers: There’s never a dull moment at home.

“I always knew that would come in handy again”

© Fraunhofer IAO, Portraitzeichnung: Bernd Schifferdecker
Carolina Sachs, Mobility Ecosystems

Between kids’ discos and customer acquisition meetings, Carolina Sachs has to manage a new kind of family life.

The last year completely changed our family life. Almost everything actually happened at home. At first, when the kids were still able to go to school, it was just my husband and I at home. We were able to split up well in the house, but we sometimes went the whole day without seeing each other because of that. So we arranged joint coffee breaks through our smartphones, and we regularly went walking together in the evening. When the schools closed, the two kids also needed quiet places for video calls, and in the beginning, they needed extra help using the technology. That created another organizational issue at home: Who has a meeting online, and when? Who needs a headset? Who needs help, who looks after the kids? Who can cook and what will we even eat today?

I noticed that the long stretches spent at home can be a real burden over time, especially for the kids. If swimming, dancing, hockey, and meeting friends is suddenly all canceled, you have to come up with other things. One thing we do is regularly organize discos at home – sometimes we link up with friends online for them as well. My whole family are dance enthusiasts and we’ve even choreographed a few dances of our own. In the summer, one thing we did was try to create a bit of a beach atmosphere in the garden. The kids made cocktails and set up sunshades and deck chairs. Sometimes they also played hotel or restaurant. The shift to homeschooling was not so easy for them at first. They missed the familiar learning environment and the daily social contact with their classmates and friends. These days, almost everything is paper-based. They sit at home in front of a sheet of paper and they can’t spontaneously ask their classmates or teachers, when they get stuck. But even though they’ve mastered learning from home perfectly by now, there are still the odd few days when filling out even a single work sheet becomes a struggle. In days gone by, that was actually normal; back then, we spent the entire day just poring over sheets and books. They are very practical after all: In my search for a suitable laptop stand, I came across a thick book from my student days and thought to myself: I always knew that would come in handy again.

“When you have to be dress up for an online customer acquisition meeting, but actually want to work out and have promised your daughter you would pick her up from school…”
Working from home or learning from home? In any event, it’s “home”.
Online dance lessons from home, for home.

“I love performance optimization”

© Fraunhofer IAO, Portraitzeichnung: Bernd Schifferdecker
Damian Kutzias, Digital Business Services

Damian Kutzias tries to make the best of a situation in every respect – whether it’s work or shopping.

Working from home is a double-edged sword for me. If you live alone, it can feel very lonely. I miss the contact with my colleagues on the team – we used to eat together at lunchtime. I was also always going to fairs or events, I traveled a lot, gave presentations and moderated hackathons – I was always in personal contact with people. That part of my life is gone now. While I do give digital presentations, getting to know people and making new contacts has become more difficult. Before, I spent a lot of time on site with customers, for example, when I had to work on machines. When you know each other personally, there is a completely different connection, and the projects run a lot more smoothly. That affects project management and customer acquisition as well. With in-person presentations, people always come to me afterward to ask questions or start a conversation. With digital presentations, often the only thing that comes at the end is the question “Do we get the slides?” It’s depressing. I believe people don’t dare ask the questions in front of other listeners that they would have asked in private.

However, on balance, I see myself as someone who has done well during the pandemic. I love performance optimization, and the coronavirus has contributed to that in some ways. There were times when I worked on six projects at the same time. That would not have been possible before. What’s more, I was still able to press ahead with my dissertation. I can now organize my breaks to suit myself more, I’ve set up my own home gym, and I save five hours of commuting to the office every week. I’m happy about every bit of time I save, especially when it comes to the boring parts of everyday life, like shopping. Before the pandemic, I always ordered my groceries online. But then a lot more people caught on to this idea, which meant that many products were often sold out. So now I go to the grocery store again. To get the most out of this time, I buy in bulk, for example, I get 5 kilogram packets of pasta. In the future, I can imagine myself working from home three days a week so I can really put the pedal to the metal and then spending two days in the office so I can see my colleagues.

Everything’s happening at home now, even workouts. “Because I save time on the commuting and packing up, now I can work out more often instead.”
Performance optimization at the grocery store: Maximum haul for minimum time expenditure.