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Insights / Blog / Inside AOE

Approaching the New Normal: How our Duality Model unites remote work and office encounters

August 20, 2020
Joern BockJoern BockCOO

Yes, we at AOE have always believed in the On-Location principle – and with good reason. Close collaboration, direct exchange, the best possible working conditions and a unique spirit are at the core of our corporate DNA. But I admit: Even before Corona, the feeling had grown that remote work also holds a lot of potential for us. Mixed teams working together from different locations were giving increasingly positive feedback, be it in terms of their performance or personal job satisfaction. When the Covid shutdown started, we quickly realized that this situation could also prove valuable as an opportunity and learning field. That's why we set up a Remote Learning Group which has been meeting regularly through video calls ever since to discuss and redesign the working world during and after Corona.

The basis

How do we want to work together in the future? An important point of reference for our conceptual considerations is the trend-setting theory of self-determination of the US-American psychologists Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci. This theory states that the intrinsic motivation of employees depends to a large extent on the development of three components: autonomy, relatedness, competence. We have considered these components under the current conditions and added the economic factor.

For us, autonomy includes a concept of flexible working hours and a flexible workplace. For maximum relatedness, social proximity and interaction within the teams and with the overall organisation are required; as is a common understanding of what we want to achieve as a company. Competence can develop when the working conditions for the teams are designed in such a way that they can optimally develop their potential. Of course, taken together, these conditions need to ensure the business success of the company. This includes responsible management, but also the resilience of the company in times of crisis and the ability to adapt to change.

Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci

US-American psychologists
intrinsic motivation of employees depends to a large extent on the development of three components: autonomy, relatedness, competence.

Four insights and three theses

We have been living and working with the effects of the pandemic for five months now and have gained a lot of experience. Which observations are incorporated into our concept? Through surveys and numerous intensive discussions we know that ...

  • the majority of AOE employees prefer the home office,
  • another (but not insignificant) part prefers the office,
  • the relatedness within the teams suffers, but the teams counteract this by using remote communication tools,
  • the attachment to the organisation suffers immensely and the view beyond the team borders is almost completely lost.

For us that means:

  • A large proportion of employees will want to work from their home office, at least in part, in the future.
  • Physical presence is important for the feeling of relatedness within the teams and with the organization.
  • We need new structures in order to continue to be successful in the future.

Work where you can create the most value for your current task. And: Meet with your team as often as necessary.

The Duality Model

The concept that will guide us in the future is based on two elements: agreed upon attendance times on the one hand and free choice of workplace on the other. We want to use both in parallel and unite them in the best possible way. This is why we call it the "Duality Model". Now, what does the prototype look like? "Work where you can create the most value for your current task. And: Meet with your team as often as necessary." Those are the premises. Accordingly, the decisive factor is not whether I feel like working in the office or remotely, or what is more comfortable at the moment, but what helps me work on my particular task and what benefits the team.

These considerations result in four basic principles:

  • Each team agrees on specific attendance times.
  • Each employee can freely choose their primary place of work.
  • "Remote first" as soon as one team member is remote. This means that even if only one colleague works remotely and all other team members are in the office, everyone uses the remote tools for meetings. This way we want to ensure an exchange at eye level and under the same conditions for all.
  • Attendance times are also agreed upon for the entire organization.

The difference

100 percent remote, “just let it run”, fixed remote quotas: None of that fits AOE. Why do we do it differently than other companies? Even if the "results" are good in full remote mode, we cannot and will not accept the loss of interconnectivity. At AOE it is not just about optimizing value creation processes. Our way of working together - our community - is especially important to us and is what makes us unique. This was our credo before Corona and it will remain so. The face-to-face encounters will continue to be an essential element of our teamwork in the future.

The opportunities - and challenges

What are our model’s benefits? Each employee decides how and where their own value contribution can be increased, for example by accordingly choosing their place of work. For deep work, i.e. focus work, either location can be the more suitable one: home office or the office (e.g. it might be quieter in one of those locations). Creative work, on the other hand, is usually easier done face-to-face, together on-site, for instance during a brainstorming session on the whiteboard. It becomes very clear that the focus is on performance rather than working time. This also means: More trust, less control and thus more responsibility and self-determination. Which brings us back to the central category of motivation and the aspect of relatedness. And, as a by-product, we also increase our attractiveness as an employer.

Without doubt, working with all these freedoms will be demanding. The biggest challenge: It will require even more and better communication. We need to describe even more clearly the employees' leeway in organizing themselves and explain our "reasons why" so that our goals are transparent and comprehensible for all. We want to continually develop and improve as an organization. We want to become more productive, more sustainable and even more attractive as an employer. We want to be able to react flexibly to changes and thus be more successful overall. We want to do it our way and I will continue to report along the way.