Remote management and location development in times of Corona

Merkle moved into home office quarantine 17 weeks ago. Another recap via remote location guidance

Merkle@Home: Philipp works during the home office quarantine in Switzerland. Wouldn't be anything special if he wasn't Managing Director of Merkle Belgrade.

Monday, the 13.06.2020

Before the kids get up I’m usually checking emails and news in our Merkle intranet. Our intranet is called Inside and all internal news are posted and discussed there. Personally, I’m most interested in what is going on in our Sales Pipeline. It’s good to know which projects might start at some point in the future. Today, my youngest son grants me about 10 minutes of that before he also wakes up. It’s 6:15am and I have my first break of the day.

Now, at 8:00 the whole family is up and running. Everyone is dressed and showered and I go downstairs to my current working room. It’s an empty room with empty shelves and one large table. This is where I spend most of my working days.

The reason why the working room is totally empty is quite a long story. Do you have a few more minutes? Alright. Last November, we as a family moved from St. Gallen to Belgrade. I took over the role of the Managing Director of Merkle Belgrade. Fast forward to March (even though these first four months in Belgrade would be enough for a separate blog post). Due to the corona pandemic the Serbian government announced that it will introduce the state of emergency and that it will close its borders. Being locked up for several weekends with kids in the middle of a huge city? Not really the most attractive option. We decided to come back to Switzerland and less than 24 hours later we were sitting on the plane to Zurich. Our first 4 weeks we spent at my parents-in-law. The second month we were in a 2-room holiday apartment in the Swiss mountains. Nice but quite small with two kids and a guy who has to work from home. Then, we finally found the apartment where we are staying now. Most of the rooms are kind of furnished. We have at least a bed to sleep on. We have a sofa, a table, and chairs. And I have a room with a table where I am sitting now.

Home Office desk of Philipp

In the together@ meeting (our company wide town hall meeting) we get the newest company information from our CEO Bernd. 

Then my video call marathon starts. A large part of my working days I spend talking to people. Since I’m in Switzerland instead of Belgrade and most of our employees are working from home I do these talks via Google Meet.

In our weekly Quarter Belgrade meeting, I share the most important information with all our 50+ employees. Today I’m talking about the office situation. I share our open job positions hoping that we receive a lot of referred applications and we’re discussing the newest company information.

Tuesday, the 14.06.2020

Every Tuesday at 9:15 we have our Београд кафа (Beograd Kafa). This is an informal coffee talk for all Belgrade employees to chat about what’s going on and how the weekend was. Today we’re talking about TV’s, football and the Serbian bureaucracy. All the informal conversations help me enormously to understand the situation that our employees are living and working in. Since Mid-March almost all of our employees have been working from home. For me it is important to close that distance between me sitting here in Switzerland and our employees working from home in Serbia as good as possible. This is only manageable by spending a lot of time directly talking to people.

In the past 4 months, our employees in Belgrade really have done an excellent job. They kept their motivation and positive attitude, no matter the circumstances even though most of them haven’t seen any of their colleagues in person. I’m really proud of how the performance and the team spirit have not diminished since then.

In the afternoon, right after my meeting with the Belgrade HR team, suddenly my 3 year old son is standing next to me. He wants to sit on my chair and take my headphones. “Who are you calling?”, I ask. And his answer comes fast and clear: “Ivana!” His best friend in the Belgrade office. Of course we directly called Ivana. She was pleasantly surprised to see my son instead of me at the other end of the video call. We had a short chat with each other and that was the ideal occasion to call it a day.

Philipp's kids

Wednesday, the 15.06.2020

Today is a special day. I actually leave the house and work from the real office in St. Gallen. I regularly have to sign some documents like contracts or annexes and without a printer the only possibility to do that is in the office. So, I grab my face mask and take the train to St. Gallen. Being in the office is a great break from the everyday routine of working from home. I got used to working in the home office but talking to real-life colleagues is a very pleasant change.

One of the main topics I’m focusing on today is the office situation in Belgrade. During the last two weeks there were some big protests taking place in the neighbourhood of our office building. A lot of people in Belgrade and all over Serbia were protesting against the government and its handling of the corona crisis. This resulted in violent attacks by the police and some fights between the police and protesters. Our office building is very centrally located and only about 300 metres away from the parliament building where the protests usually started.

Since the protests calmed down over the last couple of days we decided to open the office again for those who are able and want to come to the office in the current situation.

Thursday, the 16.06.2020

Our plan in Belgrade is to grow the number of employees in the coming 12 months. That means that recruitment is an important part of our job at the moment. We want to find skilled people that match our culture and our open approach to communication and collaboration. Together with our Recruiting Manager I’m going through the candidate pipeline and discuss the priority of our open positions.

Remote recruiting is a special thing. We already hired one person whom we’ve never physically met. All the interviews in our hiring process took place remotely. This requires a lot of trust from both sides to agree on a contract when you didn’t meet each other personally. And therefore, we are very glad that Milovan decided to join us and that he is a part of Merkle since May.

It’s noon and I can hear my older son calling: “Daaaddy, lunch is ready”. Great timing.

One of the things I enjoy about working from home is being so close to my family. I don’t have the daily commute and can therefore spend way more time with them. I can do a coffee break in the middle of the morning and I can play with the kids for 15 minutes. And we can have lunch together.

In the afternoon, the focus lies (again) on recruitment. We want to do more external events to attract talented people. We’re discussing about webinars (I know, everyone’s doing them at the moment), about discussion panels, about the planned job fairs and about our female hackathon that we do once a year. But the first event we plan and prepare for in the second half of the year is a “Virtual Open Day” for potential candidates and people who are interested in what we do in our projects. We’ll have a presentation about Merkle and Merkle Belgrade in general, short insights into technologies and projects and an overview of our hiring process. I’m looking forward to meeting many interesting young people. You’ll hear more about the event details soon.

Friday, the 17.06.2020

My first meeting in the morning is with Bernd, our CEO. Part of my role is to be the connecting piece between the locations in Switzerland and Germany and our office and employees in Serbia. Therefore, it is crucial to be in regular exchange about what is going on at a company level and to be in line from a strategic perspective. For today’s lunch I’m joining my family in the town’s swimming pool ten minutes away from the apartment. What a luxury to go for a swim with my kids over lunch break. But it’s obviously not that easy to return to work after that.

After lunch, again different calls with employees. I’d rather prefer to have all these meetings face to face directly in the Belgrade office. But of course, that is not really possible at the moment. Nevertheless, working from Switzerland works better than I expected.

The more challenging part is our private situation as a family. For four months my wife, our two boys and I have been living in a temporary setup somewhere in Eastern Switzerland. We’re missing our apartment, the kids miss their toys and the ice cream shop around the corner, we miss doing bicycle tours along the Danube. I could continue with this list for a while. 

And on the other hand, we're enjoying a lot of things while we’re in Switzerland. The kids see their grandparents a lot. We’re spending a lot of time outside in the beautiful nature. We’re in touch with family and friends. The corona situation is more or less stable and seems to be in good hands with the Swiss government. We have to let go of all these advantages as soon as we’re in Belgrade again. At the moment, we’re changing our plan regarding our return to Belgrade almost on a daily basis. It’s just not possible to tell when the right moment is here. And what will our life in Belgrade look like with all the restrictions that await us? Who can tell? Like many other things in these times our return to Belgrade is uncertain and not really plannable. This uncertainty is the tough part of our time here in Switzerland.

We’re looking forward to you, Belgrade.

Looking forward to see you