Homeoffice? Nice idea, but the internal data of our company is not safe on your private computers. Consultation hours via Videochat? No, that is too impersonal. And because of data security it is hard anyway. Submit an application online? No, impossible. You have to appear in person.
And then Corona hit Germany and the virus is a cesura. The pandemic unsettled the entire world within a few weeks and freezed our old lifestyle. Restaurants were shut down, Events were cancelled, schools were closed: Our focus moved on to essential and systemically relevant things in life. Since this path alone would mean a complete stagnancy, an old and often discussed topic comes to the fore again: digitisation.
Before Corona: Germany is at mid-level
The “Digital Economy and Society Index“ analyzes the state of digitisation of all EU countries. In 2019, Germany became 12th in this ranking, which is slightly above the average of EU. However, Germany does particularly poorly in the field of “public services”, which includes aspects such as filing applications online. Here, Germany is in the lower third of all countries.
But also in business and economy, digitisation is not going well. There are some concepts and programs, but only seven percent of all german companies are seen as digital pioneers. For example, the ICT industry (information and communication technology) is particularly strong in digital issues.
In the field of education, there are also some gaps – especially in comparison to other countries. France and Denmark (both countries with a centralized government) reacted early to the shutdown and created digital platforms for homeschooling. Even before Corona, 91 percent of danish pupils used digital media in class – in germany there are about four percent. “The are different reasons”, says Marco Zingler, Vice-President of the Federal Association of Digital Economy.
“On the one hand, a federal educational system prevents a homogenous development across Germany. On the other hand, the culture concerning digitisation in the field of education is still too cautious than it should be and the reaction to the Corona crisis depends on the level of knowledge and commitment of a teacher. We do not expect broad digital skills from all teachers. But we expect that the authorities and governments bring this digital expertise from outside.” – Marco Zingler (translation by the authors)
Another aspect is the program “Digitalpakt Schule”, which should support schools in buying new technical devices or platforms for E-learning. Only a fraction of the five billion euro have been requested so far. This shows a survey among the federal states.
Many reasons for the slow digitisation
What are the reasons for the slow-growing digitisation in Germany? Here is an overview of some key aspects:
- Data security: Regulations like the DSGVO are perceived as a “brake”, although they should pave the way for digitisation.
- Investments: Financial aspects prevent companies from making investments in digitisation.
- Decision-processes: The more hierarchically a company is structured, the longer it takes to make decisions – take a look at administrations.
- Time: In the best scenario, digital concepts should be implemented parallel to day-to-day business. A study by order of the “Deutsche Telekom” has shown that this time is lacking, particularly in construction business and health care.
- Qualification of employees: Digital skills of employees are not necessarily the most important aspect for a recruitment. And even supervisors do not have any digital experience.
- Old structures: Well-known structures offer security and are therefore maintained. Moreover, not every company or team can deal with mistakes – because mistakes are assessed negatively and perceived as an additional burden. In turn, this leads to an unwillingness to change anything.
- Laws: Juridical aspects need to be considered. For example: In order to get the program “Digitalpakt Schule” on its way, the constitutional law was changed.
Digitisation in times of Corona
So if there is one positive thing that this corona crisis has brought with it, it is that all processes are now also being digitised in Germany – whether in public authorities, offices, at the workplace or even in universities. A concept that has long been common practice in other countries. Due to the current situation, Germany was also forced to act quickly and had to react in record time. And so far it has been shown that the home office concept works.
„The Corona crisis makes one thing clear: working from home office works – in a much higher level than many employers thought. Of course, the following will also apply in the future: The baker cannot get the right to a home office because he cannot bake the rolls at home. But for those who can and want to work at home, there will be a legal right.“ – Hubertus Heil in an interview with Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (translation by the authors)
To see that many things are also doable and possible digitally could be an enormously important step for the future, for the time after Corona. Employees, for example, could be relieved when they are on parental leave. Having the possibility for parents to work in the home office can be a huge relief for many families, because it makes it easier to combine family and career. Employers could also benefit, as they would not have to hire a full replacement for parents on parental leave for the time being. If this digital work concept is expanded further, employees could also benefit from travel costs being minimized or even eliminated, as more focus is set on online meetings in the future. This would also have a positive effect on the climate, as there would be fewer business trips. Because although we are now in another crisis, we must not lose sight of the other one we’re still in. And why not kill two birds with one stone?
„The Corona crisis is a digital turning point. There can be no going back to pre-crisis mode. It must be about using the digital legacy of the crisis to create the ‚New Normal‘ and to move the country forward“ – Achim Berg, president of the digital association Bitcom on the digital agreement Germany (translation by the authors)
Even if this step, all this digitization that has now taken place, has happened kinda by force and was therefore directly tested, it is clear that this digital change is actually working in many areas. What is important now, however, is that there will not be a step backwards again after the crisis, but that this digital concept is further expanded. After all, what does it show us that these digital trends were „well“ realizable more or less overnight? It shows us that the essential digital structure, the infrastructure, has already been available for some time, but has not been used to its full extent. Of course, not everything can simply remain as it is. Existing structures must be revised and developed further, concepts must still be created and developed, but now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity. So that in the future it may be easier and also more welcome for employers to let their employees work from home. So that in the course of digitalisation new, better ways can be found; perhaps also ways that will have a positive effect on our climate.
„While countries such as Sweden, Singapore, but also China and the USA are also promoting technology and digitisation politically, no convincing concept can be identified in Germany. And this despite the fact that time is pressing. Technologies are developing more and more dynamically, and Germany is threatened by the fate of not being able to catch up once a backlog has been created“. – Professor Dr. Philip Meissner, Director of the Digital Report 2020, European Center for Digital Competitiveness on Germany’s digital status (translation by the authors)
Concrete changes in all life areas
The corona pandemic has not only brought about professional and economic changes, but of course also private and social changes. Often it is not even clear which change is taking place in which area, as the boundaries blur. Contactless payment, for example, is first and foremost an economic change, but it is of course also mirrored in private life. More and more shops are now using contactless payment, because it minimizes the risk of infection. The EC devices no longer need to be touched and cash no longer needs to be passed from person A to person B.
As already mentioned so often, the introduction of the home office is also a change that this crisis brought with it. In addition, there are other concepts such as homeschooling or e-learning, for those who are not yet working but studying or still going to school. The ban on contact and the introduction of the home office have led to video conferences instead of face-to-face meetings and also to the replacement of long-distance travel by online meetings.
Online shopping is also booming thanks to Corona. Of course, this option is extremely advantageous, especially for those who belong to the risk group and can use it to order food and other daily essentials. But the whole thing has evolved so that local shops now also shine with online shops and offer a delivery service, for example, so that they can be supported during the crisis.
Even apartment tours were partly transferred completely to the internet. Immoscout has found that providers receive twice as many requests when they offer online viewings. Landlords use tools such as vermietet.de or everreal.co, which use an algorithm to find suitable tenants.
Even an online consultation with a doctor is now possible. Digital consultation hours will not eliminate the waiting room, but they could still have some advantages. On the one hand, the risk of infection would be significantly reduced, and on the other hand, patients could save a lot of time.
With regard to private and social life, it also shows that today, despite the ban on contact and thanks to various technologies, we have the possibility of being „together“. Currently, almost all dating is allowed to only take place online. Via the Houseparty app you can arrange to meet at parties, with the difference that everyone is at home with his smartphone and not in the same room. But also events such as a virtual reading circle or digital sports courses are offered online. Via live-sessions you can meet on the internet and practice the most different kinds of sports with each other.
The consequence of the fact that all bars and clubs will remain closed is that all other parties also have been moved to the internet. Meanwhile, fans, listeners and viewers can enjoy entire concerts and festivals, which are directly streamed to their own sofa at home. This means living room concerts, which are streamed live via Facebook or Instagram, often in the form of a festival, at which a number of different stars perform one after the other.
Another point are demonstrations and rallies, which also have been completely moved to the internet. The demo from the German Association of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) on May 1st (Labour Day) completely took place online via live stream. And also the Fridays for Future movement has reacted, because currently there are no demos allowed. On April 24th they demonstrated online with the action #NetzstreikFürsKlima (Network Strike for Climate) to continue to draw attention to the climate crisis, which is currently moving more and more to the background due to the corona situation. With all these events, virtual moments are being created which, despite the crisis, give a feeling of community.
Conclusion: Corona crisis is a digital turning point
Germany is probably not going to catch up in places, as the same thing is currently happening all over the world and everyone is continuing to work on their digital concepts. Overall, the digital situation will therefore reach a higher standard worldwide, so that the allocation of places will remain almost the same.
Furthermore, digitisation will not be continued at the same level as it is now. Especially in the private and social areas there will definitely be a return to old structures. People will meet in person again and no longer just make appointments online.
But in the economic and professional field, this crisis will probably lead to a rethink. Existing structures will be used more efficiently, new concepts will be developed and expanded further. The role of politics can also become more central at this point. Through actions and regulations, it can set the course to leave the sphere of influence not only to large digital players.
The current phase is suitable for developing an awareness of what works well online and what depends more on interpersonal contact. Finally, the post-Corona period will show which short-term solutions also have good chances of survival in the long term.
To conclude, a few interesting pieces of information:
- The population also takes a critical view on the current digital state: 86 percent of those asked think that the federal government does not sufficiently support the digitisation process. These are the findings of a representative study by the European Center for Digital Competitiveness.
- According to a survey for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the interviewed persons see the greatest digital development potential in education (29 percent) and health care (21 percent).The interviewed persons see the state in particular as having a duty to shape digitization (35 percent), while Internet companies are ranked as digital pioneers by 5 percent.