Coronavirus - response from Hamburg business

16 March 2020
Many crisis teams in place, wide variety of measures implemented or in the planning

Measures aimed at containing the coronavirus are increasingly stringent and more and more companies in Hamburg are sending their staff home in response to a general instruction issued Sunday (March 15, 2020) by the Ministry of Health and until April 30 initially. This has triggered the cancellation of large public events and the Ministry of Culture and Media has also reached agreement with theatres and concert halls to halt all events at their venues. Dropbox, Xing and Google, for instance, have told their employees to work from home.

Otto – used to virtual communication

Companies whose setup facilitates working from home are clearly at an advantage. “As a high-tech company, we are in the fortunate position of being trained in working from home. Each member of staff can set their phone to any arbitrary number just by a click and is in possession of a notebook that allows access to all that is needed. This means that it makes virtually no difference whether they work from home or from the office,” said Frank Surholt, press officer for Otto. Meetings and business trips are being replaced by video-conferencing. “And we are accustomed to interacting by Skype with customers, external service providers and purchasers, so that the switch from person-to-person contact to virtual communication presents no difficulties for us.”

Philips – crisis team activated in early March

Philips is also relying as far as possible on Skype for business e.g. for larger meetings or is postponing large internal events. Crisis mode was activated two weeks ago at Philips DACH – and at Philips’ Hamburg office in Röntgenstraße with over 3,000 employees. “A team consisting of executive, personnel management, the legal department, crisis management and communications is meeting daily to gain an overview of the current situation in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and to discuss measures for the Philips operations in the three countries,” said Sebastian Lindemann, press officer. Hygiene measures are being boosted, corporate medical support expanded and a recommendation issued not to embark on trips to high-risk areas over the weeks ahead.

Jungheinrich duplicating crucial departments

Special precautionary measures apply to those returning from (business) trips. “Colleagues who have been on holiday in a region defined as a high-risk zone by the Robert Koch Institute are being urged not to go to their workplace for 14 days, irrespective of whether they have symptoms or not,” said Benedikt Nufer, Jungheinrich press officer. The firm, which is headquartered in Hamburg, has beefed up its IT capacity recently to manage the shift to working from home. “Members of staff in many departments have been told to take their laptops home with them at the end of the day so as to be prepared to work from home at any time,” Nufer said. “At the same time, we have set up additional office space where departments essential for continuing operations e.g. IT can be duplicated.” Also, staff in these departments are being split between the current and the new locations to limit the risk of infection within the teams.

Mutabor – cancellation of international fairs felt in Hamburg

But not all the effects can be cushioned by working from home and quarantining. “Corona is impacting our daily work to an exceptional extent, as we are active in the trade fair business,” said Johannes Plass, CEO and founder of Mutabor, a design and communications consultancy. The Hamburg-based company offers planning and advice to its customers including Audi, Volkswagen, at large trade fairs and events, meaning that the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the Geneva Motor Show are also felt in Hamburg. “As yet, it’s impossible to predict the extent of the economic damage. We are looking into the appropriate instruments, such as short-time working, and are watching the subsidy programme announced by the government with keen interest,” Plass said.

Even more efficient following Corona

Nevertheless, Plass is determined to extract the positive from the restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic. “We are pushing flexible working, remote working and working from home more than ever before, so that everyone works as efficiently as possible and to their own rhythm – in the corona era and later as well.”

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