NEW YORK (Reuters) – How can technology help businesses around the world get back to work safely after the lockdown?
At Siemens, Ruth Gratzke is overseeing a “Return with Confidence” campaign to create safe and healthy indoor environments.
“Face it all from elevators where there is no need to touch buttons, non-contact interactions throughout the building or management of meeting rooms and desks around social distances, “said Gratzke, president of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, USA, a unit of Siemens AG. “It’s about using creative new technologies, examining what’s available in technology, and giving people the confidence to return to the office.”
Gratzke, 49, spoke to Reuters about the future of the office and the leadership lessons he learned during the pandemic. The modified extracts are below.
Q. What do you think our future work offices will be like?
A. The days of the good old cube format where everyone sits on top of each other are over. If people sit next to each other again, there may be plexiglass barriers around us.
And while people are always saying, “Yes, we will collaborate in these beautiful meeting rooms,” people have learned to communicate effectively with each other via video.
Q. What impact has the pandemic had on leadership?
A. It has shifted the focus much more to our people. They are really the ones who got us through this pandemic and we had to think a lot about, “How can I take care of these humans and keep them safe, engaged and motivated?”
Our operations in Mexico have lost a handful of employees. We had to examine “how can we help their families in this terrible time?” We take care of our employees in ways I’ve never had to do before.
Q. What is your biggest challenge in working life right now?
A. Being a home educator while being president. My son is nine years old. He goes to public school and went virtual in March.
I was used to going to work in the morning and not thinking about my family until I came back in the evening. Home schooling was incredibly stressful and trying to balance both of them was insane.
But constantly juggling made me a lot more patient with myself. If I’m having a video call in my home office, and my little guy walks in here because he couldn’t solve a math problem, I would have killed myself a year ago from embarrassment. Now it’s like, “Hey, that’s fine. It’s part of life.”
Q. How are you managing burnout?
A. I have worked a lot more, more hours and I am much more exhausted. My days are thicker and denser.
I’m a runner, so I get up at five in the morning and hit the pavement for an hour. There is something wonderful about taking your music and running in the dark. Purify my brain. Now, if I miss a run, I can feel my stress build up immediately.
Q. What advice do you have for someone just starting out now?
A. For people who are looking to enter the job market, I am really impressed with the young talents that go to LinkedIn and are ruthless. They find a way to connect. They are not afraid to approach someone with a great title.
I have the utmost respect for someone who dares to do so. This requires trust. I really encourage you to use the tools you have today and don’t be afraid to be aggressive.
Q. Is there a business book that you recommend often?
A. “The Other Kind of Smart” by Harvey Deutschendorf. At some point in my career, I received feedback that I was too assertive and needed to focus more on being in tune with the people around me.
This book has shown me that strengthening the EQ side, the ability to listen, the ability to read the signs around you are just as important as having a brilliant mind or being a great engineer.
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s reportage in New York; Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis