The relationships between Würth and its business partners and those within the company among the employees follow entirely new rules in times of corona. In her interview, Bettina Würth, Chairwoman of the Advisory Board of the Würth Group, talks about changing forms of communication and the success stories that have been achieved as a result.
Interpersonal relationships changed during the lockdown, as did business relationships. How does communication work in times of the coronavirus?
I have observed my surroundings, including myself, and I realized that most people bear a new trace of seriousness. We do not necessarily act with less optimism or even less pleasure, but there is a new intensity in our encounters, because we have less contact with others in general. I find it particularly pleasing to see that the hint of vanity that had crept into our egos has taken somewhat of a back seat. This is something I have also noticed around the office. There is more respect in our interactions with one another at Würth and with our business partners. We are more affectionate and more open at the same time.
How was the transition at Würth to digital forms of cooperation?
EEvents and meetings were not allowed for a number of months, and even travel was called off. As a result, we had more time on our hands. If we are honest with ourselves, then we have to admit that this has also done us all some good. We finally had a chance to breathe. I am still extremely impressed and pleasantly surprised at how quickly we were able to set up our mobile office system at the company so that our employees would have laptops and so that the data cables would work properly. We pulled everything off without a hitch. A great accomplishment.
How were daily business activities restructured during the second phase?
The first video and telephone conferences were a little bumpy to start with, since they called for a completely different type of moderation. I even held my Advisory Board meetings online. If you are sitting at a table with your colleagues and a decision needs to be made, then you can ask the group whether they all agree and you can see their heads nodding. It is not possible to see that on the phone. But we learned very quickly how to deal with this.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of this new digital form of communication, and what are the disadvantages?
I think that it has allowed us to become more effective and rigorous to some extent. We prepare ourselves better for meetings and are able to reach decisions more quickly. Nevertheless, several aspects inherent in direct interactions are missing: facial expressions, gestures, frowns, the group dynamics that you have in a physical space. As such, we are somewhat limited in our daily activities. Interpersonal relationships fall away, and everything is much more focused on facts, data, and figures. However, I am worried that abstaining from traveling, for example, might cause us to fall victim to a new sense of comfort, making us think that working from our living room fills the bill. But that is not enough. We need personal interaction and socialization. We need to make an effort for one another. Visiting our customers is also a matter of respect.
Will we progressively work differently in the future regardless?
Over the last few months, we have been able to gain a great deal of new insights. For example, our sales representatives have suddenly contacted twice as many customers as in the last several decades. They used the time that would otherwise have been spent sitting in the car driving to the next customer meeting to call their business partners. This has given rise to new opportunities to work together, which had not even been considered until now. Many of our customers were happy to hear from us at all as we inquired about their needs in this new reality. After all, construction workers were able to continue working despite the lockdown, albeit with certain restrictions. We will maintain many of these new ideas and insights while continuing to work on improving them.