Working remotely during the pandemic: which special circumstances I notice as a dual student and what keeps me occupied
My name is Philipp. I am 21 years old and currently in my second year at Bayer as a dual business informatics student. In 2019 I moved from Braunschweig to Leverkusen to be as close as possible to my job and my university during my studies. In view of the pandemic, things obviously haven’t quite turned out that way. 😉
Bayer was one of the first major companies in Germany to urge its entire workforce (apart from those responsible for producing its wide range of products, who of course have to be on site) to work from home – and provided its employees with assistance in this matter. All of that was to be expected, but it nonetheless came quite suddenly for me. All of a sudden, people no longer met for meetings at the office, but rather in a virtual environment. For many, including me, it has been a major challenge – both physically and mentally. My apartment has neither a separate home office nor the right equipment for me to be able to work from home as well as I can at the office, be it ergonomically or interpersonally. But more on that later.
Nor had I previously had any experience with working from home, and was only just beginning a new chapter in my life and getting my foot in the door of a global company anyway. A lot was new for me and I wasn’t able to just pop into another office to ask someone for help if I had a problem. All of that now had to happen online. That meant you waited longer than usual for answers and sometimes didn’t get one at all if the question got lost in the shuffle. You were either overwhelmed with tasks or had time on your hands because there weren’t enough tasks at the moment.
It was these circumstances that prompted me and many of my fellow students to work more independently and assume responsibility. I began to take decisions that were less critical of my own volition and to the best of my knowledge, and tried to learn more in other areas whenever I had idle time. I also got used to the fact that some of my colleagues weren’t always able to react immediately and it wasn’t a bad thing to follow up more than once.
I’m now in my third department, and I feel comfortable working remotely. I have since become accustomed to the processes and IT programs, and am learning to leverage the potential offered by working from home. You can switch from one meeting to another more quickly, and a spontaneous discussion is possible at the click of a mouse. You can quickly grab something to eat, and many people save themselves a long and time-consuming commute. For the most part, I can organize and complete my daily tasks myself. And last but least, no one can look over my shoulder virtually and control my work. Of course, that also means my colleagues have to be able to rely on me to complete tasks independently and conscientiously. Many colleagues have found that they are rewarded with good results if they delegate responsibility and show trust. This realization is good for both parties because it creates a better work climate and an atmosphere of well-being for all involved.
In one of our new internal AI subprojects with a company called eightfold, for example, my fellow student Justin and I even maintained direct with that startup in the United States. Here we were able to advance the software configuration according to Bayer’s specifications. (Short advertising blog: Are you looking also for an exciting experience in the field of IT? Apply for a dual study course at Bayer.)
As far as the issue of workplace equipment goes, Bayer is very focused on the health of its employees. That’s why every office workstation has an ergonomic chair, a height-adjustable desk and several screens. Of course, such comforts obviously aren’t available at home. As soon as the pandemic started, therefore, I organized a second screen and a height-adjustable desk – with some assistance from Bayer. Had I not done so, I would probably now be very dissatisfied with my situation working from home. And a “semi-office” next to your bed isn’t exactly a motivating factor when it comes to getting exercise. Admittedly, this also impacts one’s physical health. It requires self-discipline to achieve the necessary balance, and in some cases I need a lot of motivation to leave the house and get some exercise. In a “normal” office job, you at least walk from one conference room to another a few times or head to the canteen at lunchtime, including a subsequent stroll through Bayer’s own Japanese Garden; when working from home, you sit at your desk all day long. What’s more, I myself would usually either walk or cycle to work each day. I also miss the opportunity to burn off some energy and clear my head at my sports club in the evening – and my physical fitness often suffers as a result.
This is another major disadvantage particularly for the younger generation like mine, who do not yet own a large apartment or a house in which it takes more than five steps to reach the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen or living room.
I consistently hear from friends that their mental health is suffering because they can’t maintain their social contacts. I’m lucky that I can personally interact with my colleagues while working remotely or talk on the phone with friends from university, but I encounter others who sit in a virtual lecture with 200 other students and don’t have the opportunity to talk about problems or (common) experiences. As an employer, Bayer is aware of all these problems and tries to address them in a targeted way.
I was helped a lot by an Instagram post containing tips for how to find a good work-life balance while working from home (https://www.instagram.com/p/CKRffdJKOLV/). Our employer urges everyone to take enough time for lunch or set aside time for a creative activity at least once a week. This shows me that Bayer is also concerned about its employees’ health and it’s okay if you don’t participate in every meeting that doesn’t fit into your private routine at that exact moment.
In conclusion, I’ve become accustomed to working from home and learned how to put my time to good use. Remote working is definitely a future-oriented employment model for many people who, for example, have a long commute and can complete their assignments just as easily from home. For a student, however, the “good old” office is a better place to start out in a career in my opinion. It’s important to get to know your colleagues personally in 3D and learn how to conduct yourself and get your bearings in the office. I therefore look forward wistfully to the moment in which I can return to the office, have a personal conversation with my colleagues and get something tasty to eat in the canteen at lunchtime.
My closing message to you is that we’re all in this pandemic together. Each of us has his or her own little problems to deal with at or outside work. Yet only as a team can we succeed in overcoming these obstacles and looking positively to the future.