How the pandemic changed our everyday lives part 1: how it started

From new challenges to the "New normal"

Daily coronavirus updates, moving 6,000 employees over to working from home within a very short period of time, introduction of flexible working hours, masks and rapid testing, physical distance markings on the entire R&S campus, takeaway food in the cafeteria, vaccinations by the company physician, eLearning courses, online sports classes offered by the company fitness studio (Health Loft)... These are all of the things we have managed to implement since the spring of 2020 together with our R&S COVID-19 Task Force.

Pandemic start

Unfamiliar challenges

The early days of the pandemic presented our employees with a large number of new challenges. Not only IT rights and equipment had to be made available to allow employees to work from home within a very short period of time, there were also many places in which the use of Skype as a meeting tool had not yet been established, meaning that it had to be incorporated into the workflow virtually overnight. Even forwarding packages to colleagues who were suddenly working from home or were stuck in quarantine became a real logistical challenge.

To ensure that employees weren't left to cope with these challenges alone, R&S had set up the in-house R&S COVID-19 Task Force as early on as in January 2020. The team met 7 days a week, initially face to face in the office, then via Skype or sometimes by mobile phone from the playground. The core Task Force team is made up of Ernst Marschall, Vice President Corporate Security, Christian Reiter, Vice President Corporate Marketing and Communications, Holger Schötz, Executive Vice President Human Resources and President and COO Peter Riedel.

Effective Task Force from day one

The Task Force acted as a coordinator and provided support in dealing with all of the challenges faced by the workforce. An information page was set up on the intranet to communicate daily updates. Any misunderstandings or questions were clarified immediately in the comments on the post. To ensure everyone's safety, business trips were canceled and numerous health protection measures were put in place.

There was a process of intensive dialog between the different company locations. "We also helped each other out whenever we had to, for example, if another site had run out of masks. In the beginning, we were the ones who needed help, but we were the ones giving a helping hand later on when, for example, R&S France ran out of masks," reports Marie Cheong, Office Admin Manager in the Singapore subsidiary. The headquarters in Munich worked in close cooperation with Singapore to provide support to colleagues in India in the form of oxygen concentrators and antigen test kits.

In the conference rooms and at their workplaces, employees were provided with masks.

The health of our colleagues was top priority.

A look behind the scenes

What started as a small group of participants in the Task Force was soon expanded to include representatives from various divisions of the company, with members from the works council, IT, the plants, medical and central service offices joining the team very quickly. One of the Task Force's success factors was the mutual exchange of information. The members were very open in discussing their thoughts and concerns as part of a completely transparent structure. What is going well? What have we ticked off the list? Where do we still need to tweak things?

Colleagues also sought to find solutions in areas that were actually unrelated to their area of expertise, with the HR department, for example, passing comments on for their colleagues in IT. The latter, in turn, submitted requests to Corporate Communications. A case of silos and overstepping boundaries? "There was no opportunity or time for that," says Nikolas Brink, Executive Vice President Information and Business Technology. "Crises aren't structured, so decisions have to be substantiated and need to be made fast," explains Christian Reiter. As the company's standardized emergency and crisis management processes were already established, the methodologies and mechanisms for addressing scenarios or crisis management were tried and tested.

Processes vs. pragmatism

The initial scenario processing stage soon gave way to more agile methods to meet the rapidly changing requirements imposed by the authorities. Smaller teams implemented the measures – a sense of team spirit was omnipresent. The aim was always to ensure that our colleagues stayed safe – but also to adopt an entrepreneurial approach at the same time.

The overriding objective was to protect human health, and this was used as a starting point from which solutions were sought and found. Many a process was bypassed in favor of a pragmatic approach. Extensive Excel lists, for example, were put into circulation which, in cases of doubt, could be worked through more quickly than an established IT approval process. To give an example, this allowed more than 6,000 computers to be connected from employees' homes within the period of three weeks.

Huge responsibility

"The biggest challenge has been making decisions that have a direct impact on our colleagues' health. That wasn't always easy," is how Ernst Marschall describes the situation. As Vice President Corporate Security, he always has a high level of responsibility when it comes to security-related issues – but the focal point of his work during the pandemic was new for him, too. By way of example, an entire group under his leadership was responsible for tracing chains of contact whenever an infection was reported. "Together with our teams from Central Services, we had an elaborate shift plan in place to ensure we were able to reach all contacts, lock off and disinfect rooms and contact the healthcare authorities."

"We always enjoyed the trust of the Executive Board, which gave us a lot of decision-making powers. The budget, for example, was never an issue. We have been able to order several hundreds of thousands of masks and tests over a period of almost 1.5 years, allowing us to make the working environment decisively safer for our employees," stresses Christian Reiter.

Continue reading about how the pandemic changed our everyday lives in "Part 2: How we experienced it":

Our R&S-COVID-19 Task Force

Peter Riedel, Chief Operations Officer

"Our objective has always been to act in the best interests of our workforce and to stay one step ahead. We wanted to act, not react."

Holger Schötz, Executive Vice President Human Resources

"We were always confident. And we had a good plan."

Ernst Marschall, Vice President Corporate Security

"Our people reacted gratefully and reasonably."

Christian Reiter, Vice President Corporate Marketing

"There is a chaotic phase in every crisis. The most important thing is to keep it as short as possible."