At the Vienna University Executive Academy of Economics and Business, the people behind them study “the first major stage of their careers”. You are in your mid-30s, CEOs or “high potentials” and pay between about 40,000 and about 50,000 euros for an MBA course at the Academy. 40 percent of students so far are women. A number Dean Barbara Stottinger is proud of, as she emphasized in an interview with ProtCasten. However: Corona time caused this value to collapse sharply, despite the same student numbers remaining stable.
How was the executive academy fare during the Corona period?
Barbara Stotinger: We have around 70 employees who managed the change with them. However, at the same time, we have completely diverted our business to the Internet. But this show of strength also gave us a chance to experiment a lot and get creative.
What new experiences and teachings have been particularly important thus far?
Digitization was there before. Even before the pandemic, we talked about how digital transformation will work and what implications it will have on CEOs. In my view, what the past year has brought about is an enormous acceleration. On the other hand, I don’t want to talk kindly about the downsides of the past year. It was incredibly stressful for managers and employees. You can also see this in the sick leave numbers. But it did give us the opportunity to use this situation as a real experiment.
What great lessons has leadership learned from this real experience?
The demands on communications have definitely increased. At the same time, providing some stability was a challenge. This doesn’t necessarily mean knowing where to go. It’s about confidence that you’ll both work and go one direction. You can also borrow some loans securely from startups. Because startups often face the situation of not knowing what to do next and having to respond quickly to changing circumstances. You can definitely learn something there.
The very big point that keeping distance made was remote work on a large scale. What are the arguments for and against for keeping this after the crisis?
Several studies have refuted that this reduces productivity. Productivity increased, especially in the first few months. What has been proven is that higher performers in particular are getting better. I definitely think it will continue, but it’s the movement of a pendulum. We are now in the extreme case of “no one in the office”. It is not good for everyone.
Who falls on the side of the road?
Software programmers have been working from their home offices for years. There are definitely branches or functions where nothing special is. But for many, this colossal communication effort is new. Getting the job done wasn’t the big deal. But psychological well-being in the workplace. In stressful situations, it might be a good idea to be able to turn to a colleague at the next table. These mitigation functions, which occur in the office in between, must be consciously implemented when working remotely. Our employee survey shows that people want to be back in the office at least a few days of the week.
What challenges does this impose on managers when employees are in the office at different times and to different degrees?
In teaching, we initially did everything online after the change. Then we moved on to hybrid teaching. Anyone could come in the lecture hall and the others would have been online. It will likely be the same in many offices in the future. It’s hard to do everything online, but at least everyone is in the same position. The mixed solution has the potential to make some employees more difficult to see. Perhaps those in the office are more present at that moment.
A home office isn’t always a home office. The crisis has shown that people with caring responsibilities are under tremendous pressure – and this often affects women. Is there a way out of this dilemma?
We got off to a very good start with our Executive Academy programs in the fall and barely noticed the crisis in our numbers. This was not a safe card, we had doubts whether people in such a situation would invest a lot of money in training. Now we have a program that starts over with very good numbers. But what we’re actually seeing in the numbers is a decrease in the number of female students. At 40 percent, we have a relatively high percentage of women in our MBA programs. This is not very common internationally, the ratio being closer to 25 to 30 percent. We are very proud of him and do a lot for him. But in the Corona period, the percentage fell almost in half. That gave us a lot to think about. In my view, this fits perfectly with the picture that women are more challenging in times of crisis. I am keen on simple explanations, but in this case I think that this relapse into certain stereotypes can be proven.
In a home office, the boundaries between work and rest periods are often blurred. The health minister has just resigned, and it’s clearly being reviewed. Does remote work also bring greater risks of burnout?
For the Minister of Health, it was of course an extremely difficult situation and the workload last year was superhuman in the true sense of the word. You can see all over Europe that many health ministers last year are no longer in office. It was impressive how he handled the situation and we can learn something from it. In general, I believe that these psychological pressures, which we often see and perceive, have been there before – among other things due to digital transformation. I also think that at the moment we are still not completely clear about the paradigm shift that is taking place. What exactly will the new job look like, and what specific skills will managers need? Successful perceptions of how we will deal with the new situation will only materialize.
As a manager, how can you ensure that employees are not straining themselves in the home office?
This is definitely the challenge. The manager definitely cannot be solely responsible for this. On one level among colleagues, communication is of course very different. Therefore it is important to strengthen the team’s vigilance towards each other.
Are MBA programs adapted or redesigned in light of the disruptions caused by the Corona crisis?
These subjects are of course part of our MBA programs. You have to look at these topics from different perspectives. I think it would be a wrong approach, for example to stop the “new leadership” in a separate unit. For example, I can’t teach an HR unit that isn’t related to new work today.