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Change Suite

Return with confidence: Using tech to create safe offices, post-pandemic

NEW YORK (Reuters) - How can technology help companies worldwide return to work safely when lockdown ends?

FILE PHOTO: Ruth Gratzke, president of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, poses in an undated handout photo. Siemens/Handout via REUTERS

At Siemens, Ruth Gratzke is overseeing a “Return with Confidence” campaign to create safe and healthy indoor office environments.

“It addresses everything from elevators where you don’t have to touch the buttons, touchless interactions throughout the building or management of meeting rooms and desks around social distancing,” said Gratzke, who is president of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, U.S., a unit of Siemens AG. “It’s about using creative and new technologies, looking at what’s available in tech and giving people the confidence to return to the office.”

Gratzke, 49, talked to Reuters about the future of the office as well as leadership lessons she learned during the pandemic. Edited excerpts are below.

Q. What do you think our future work offices will look like?

A. The days of the good old cube format where everybody is sitting piled on top of each other are over. If people sit near one another again, there may be Plexiglass barriers around us.

And while people always say, “Yeah, we’re going to collaborate in these great beautiful meeting rooms,” people have learned to effectively communicate with each other via video.

Q. What impact has the pandemic had on leadership?

A. It’s shifted a lot more focus to our people. They are really the ones who have carried us through this pandemic and we’ve had to think a lot about, “How do I take care of these human beings and keep them safe, engaged and motivated?”

Our Mexico operations lost a handful of employees. We had to look at “how can we help their families through this dire time?” We’re taking care of our employees in ways I never had to before.

Q. What is your biggest work-life challenge now?

A. Being a home educator while being president. My son is nine years old. He is in public school, and he went virtual in March.

I was used to going to work in the morning and not thinking about my family until I came back at night. Home schooling was incredibly stressful and trying to balance both was crazy.

But constantly juggling both made me a lot more patient with myself. If I have a video call in my home office, and my little guy barges in here because he couldn’t solve a math problem, a year ago I would have killed myself over embarrassment. Now it’s like, “Hey, that’s OK. It’s part of life.”

Q. How are you managing burnout?

A. I’ve been working a lot more, longer hours, and I’m a lot more exhausted. My days are more packed and dense.

I’m a runner, so I get up at five in the morning and go pound the pavement for an hour. There’s something wonderful about just taking your music and going running in the dark. It cleanses my brain. Now, if I skip a run, I can feel my stress go up immediately.

Q. What advice do you have for someone just starting out right now?

A. For people that are trying to get into the job market, I am really impressed with young talent who go on LinkedIn and are ruthless. They find a way to connect. They are not scared of approaching someone with a big title.

I have the highest respect for someone who dares to do that. That takes confidence. I really encourage you to use the tools you have today and don’t be afraid to be aggressive.

Q. Is there a business book you often recommend?

A. “The Other Kind of Smart” by Harvey Deutschendorf. At some point in my career, I received feedback that I was too assertive, and I needed to focus more on being in tune with people around me.

This book showed me that strengthening the side of EQ, the ability to listen, the ability to read the signs around you are equally important as having a brilliant mind or being a great engineer.

Reporting by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in New York; Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis

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