Building Trust in the Modern Workplace
Lucia Falkenberg, CPO of the eco Association, on how a team exchange on an equal footing is a key factor for mobilizing trust in present and future workplaces.
dotmagazine: Lucia, as Chief People Officer at the eco Association and DE-CIX, one part of your role is being the Spokesperson for the eco New Work Competence Group. In previous interviews, you’ve highlighted how imperative it is to build trust in order to secure future workplaces. To gain some insights into how this can work, might you describe how the corporate culture of eco Association itself is founded on trust?
Lucia Falkenberg: First and foremost, we’re benefiting from what can be referred to as approachable management. Our executives – both managers and board members – pursue the joint spectrum of leading and managing. eco Association’s leadership, on the one hand, is about developing the association’s vision and potential and supporting all team members in pursuing this, as well as developing team members’ individual career paths. At the same time, our executives also embrace the type of management which is about getting tasks done on a day-to-day basis, delegating, and asking for accountability from our team. What’s of particular relevance to our approachable management is seeing our team members as people first and employees second.
To describe how we act on our approachable management on a practical level: All employees are listened to and are kept informed. This happens at a variety of levels. For example, there are very regular team meetings in our sub-units – for some teams, these happen weekly, for others daily, with this being based on joint decision-making. Since Covid times, based on their mutual preferences, a number of the teams are meeting more frequently than ever before. While these sub-unit teams focus naturally on their tasks in their meetings, there’s also often a personal catch-up and agreements being arrived at on flexible timelines. At the “higher level,” our monthly All-Hands meetings bring the full team together to share updates, highlight victories, showcase employees, and to cover and ask about issues. With these All-Hands meetings now occurring on a hybrid basis, what can be really beneficial are supportive comments and emojis in the live chat in the MS Teams meeting! What’s more, our internal eco Association newsletter – entitled [eco]mmunity – is also a great way of sharing thoughts and information with everyone at eco.
Within all of these different types of meet-ups and communication in our company, what is also essential for enabling trust is to have an exchange which happens on an equal footing. Namely: if this sense of equality is felt by all team members, then we can all accomplish our goals and build on our vision and potential together; if there wasn’t a delicate equilibrium of equality, then things would be likely to flare up or interests would fade, and all sides would lose. It’s all about having an equitable relationship to achieve a win-win situation.
In mobilizing trust, another imperative factor is facilitating what can be called a “learning and error culture.” The focus here is not on avoiding mistakes, but rather on learning from them. The parity of exchange naturally makes this much more compatible than it would be in any old-fashioned hierarchical types of workplaces. Transparent communication and feedback enable mistakes to be identified and solutions to be found. An important point of a positive error culture is a joint acceptance that the error is ordinarily the problem, and not the person associated with it. This learning and error culture focuses on the learning opportunities and is therefore far more open to innovation.
dot: When it comes to modern workplaces and the likes of building trust, what is your opinion on the surge in hybrid working: do you believe it works more as an advantage or a disadvantage?
Lucia: I am a friend of freedom of choice. On the one hand, digital tools such as miro can offer great benefits: aspects such as working on concepts or coding can be achieved just as well in mobile environments as in on-presence settings. On the other hand, as I see it, the generation of ideas, creative work, workshops and brainstorming can work far better when people are “on site.” The reality also is that the fresh perspectives of people from outside of the particular field can facilitate innovative solutions. So, overall, I highly recommend coming up jointly with a solution which combines the best of both worlds.
dot: On this topic of hybrid working, we can see numerous suggestions in previous dotmagazine articles about how to enhance communication via digital tools. For example, in our last dot issue, Dr. Ebbinghaus from Enreach focused on integrated communication tools. But what’s also important is to look at things from the other angle: In other words, what do you think might be required to encourage people to come in to the office in person?
Lucia: There’s no doubt about it: in our industry, hybrid work models are now more the norm rather than the exception, with Gallup’s latest insights, for example, showing that the ability to work in a hybrid arrangement is what most employees want. In responding to this, the office-based workspace itself needs to be adapted. For example, colleagues can naturally be disinclined to come into the office for meetings in which they could just as easily participate digitally. Nonetheless, spending at least some time in the office boosts a higher sense of connectivity and a sense of belonging. To have colleagues be present in the office to a sufficient degree, new workspaces need to be designed as inviting premises where colleagues can be enticed to attend: the workspace should be, beside work, a place of enjoyment for colleagues – an inviting space which offers pleasure and fun.
To this end, what is particularly important is to upgrade the design of a company’s workspace. In the past, employees generally tended to spend the vast majority of their time in the office, located at specific individual desks and classic meeting rooms or boardrooms. Nowadays, however, when people are in the workspace, there’s a different orientation required towards the employees’ variety of tasks and requirements. What’s needed here are spaces which allow people to undertake concentrated work in silence – which can be referred to as “silent zones.” But what’s also vital are a range of other open spaces which are available for communication, creative work, and workshops.
dot: Hybrid working is clearly not the only current challenge for modern workplaces. Due to economic uncertainties, there is a current spate of layoffs in IT & tech companies; nonetheless, skills shortages are expected to be a continued major challenge for companies. For IT and tech companies, what strategies do you think are needed for attracting skilled workers?
Lucia: Here we can also tap into how the eco Association succeeds in attracting – and retaining – skilled workers. In attracting workers, what has to be made prominently clear is the purpose and the meaningful nature of the job on offer: for example, in eco, we make it clear that “We are part of the solution.” Effectively, what needs to be emphasized is more than the pure sense of earning a living. A job is more than just a job. Let’s face it: we often tie our identities, our passions, and who we are as people to our work. This means that, in recruiting campaigns, we at the eco Association tell our story, including factors such as a creative and collaborative workplace, an inclusive culture, and our commitment to having workers move up the ranks.
Another essential aspect for attracting skilled workers is flexibility, with expectations for this having grown significantly during the pandemic era. At eco, for example, there are so many different possible variants of part-time work. As a rule, the mode is that we find solutions together when employees approach us with the need to adapt their working model to their domestic situation, such as if they are starting a family. The remote working model that we established during the Covid-19 pandemic is an example of this, but by no means the only one. Now we are offering new hybrid opportunities and variants of part-time work. I think it is undisputed that this model facilitates balancing the demands of work and family and private life.
In addition, we offer a comprehensive range of professional development opportunities and, because we are so broadly based, the opportunity to develop in very different ways. Such an approach allows us to not just attract skilled workers – but to retain them as motivated and invigorated colleagues. Ultimately, providing more creative freedom to colleagues is an excellent way of offering more learning and development opportunities.
To briefly touch on one more priority when it comes to the employment of skilled workers: within any firm, a sense of job security can make a big difference. Particularly at a time when the stability of the world’s economy is being shaken up, job security is very important. From our end, this doesn’t just involve having fair contracts, but also to have all team members know that they are valued and have supportive activities for lessening any stress and anxiety. At the eco Association, activities such as yoga, sport, and family-support initiatives from the German-based eco member “pme Familienservice” are just some of the key complements to economic security.
dot: In the eco Association, you are also founder of the #LiT – Ladies in Tech initiative, which campaigns for more visibility for women in tech. Why do you see gender equality as being so important, and what tips might you offer to companies for getting their female professionals in the front row?
Lucia: Given the distinct importance of digitalization on every level – globally, nationally, and regionally – it is clear that no IT & tech company must “settle” with a homogeneous set of staff. In other words, all companies must prioritize diversity in order to work on and develop multifaceted content. Ultimately, with the rising significance of the Internet industry’s role for society and the economy, there is simply no sector for which a full representation of society is more important. What is particularly worth homing in on in this regard is the need to ensure that algorithms are not programmed without regard to social structures!
In this context, it is unquestionable that gender equality is a very important goal to be pursued by the IT and tech industry. Now, the fact that approximately just one in four IT & tech workers in the U.S. are women – and less than one in five in the EU! – brings it home as to how critical it is to come up with those good recruitment solutions that we’ve already discussed: meaningful jobs with good future prospects, flexibility, and job security. In addition, for all team members, but for women in particular, work-life balance can be the absolute make or break for entering and staying in a firm. What counts here, for example, are agreements on flexible working hours or mobile working, as well as team meetings that take place in (and not outside of) core working hours. What needs to be borne in mind is that a good working atmosphere, flexibility, and freedom for personal life plans have been proven to increase motivation and employer attractiveness – for both women and men.
Within the company itself, female workers must also be made visible, must be empowered, and encouraged and supported in networking – on career sites, panels, in management floors, and networks like eco’s own German-based “#LIT – Ladies in Tech” initiative. This is because the increased visibility of female specialists and managers not only pays off positively for a company’s image, both internally and externally – it also attracts further female talent.
Lucia Falkenberg is Chief People Officer with eco – Association of the Internet Industry and DE-CIX Management GmbH. Having joined eco in 2012, Lucia became Spokesperson of the eco New Work Competence Group in 2014. Lucia is the founder of eco’s #LiT – Ladies in Tech initiative, which campaigns for more visibility for Women in Tech. Prior to her role at eco, the Business Studies graduate managed her own human resources firm, where she successfully supported numerous clients in finding and retaining talented personnel. Lucia also previously worked as an international HR representative for an American IT company. Her extensive experience and know-how across the entire human resources spectrum is of particular benefit when it comes to advising executives and developing and implementing targeted personnel marketing and recruitment strategies. As a mother and professional woman working in the digital sector, Lucia benefits directly from the opportunities offered by the digital world of work.