WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management has managed the corona crisis well so far. The tireless efforts of the staff and faculty of the Business School had no small part in this. One department which is especially challenged by the contact restrictions is the WHU Welcome Center. It is one of the first points of contact for new members of the WHU community and expression of a strong welcome culture at the school. The open atmosphere is made possible by the comprehensive exchange between the Welcome Center and the school’s management, the Human Resources Department, the assistants of the faculties and numerous other colleagues of the administration. The Center supplements services for already existing activities such as the Intro-Day and helps to optimize processes. Normally Diana Stasch and Cindy Berdou are used to personally welcome all new employees to the campus. In this interview both describe how COVID-19 has temporarily altered their work.
The work of the Welcome Center has also changed significantly due to the Coronavirus. A practical example: Dr. Heike Brost-Steffens took up her work at Executive Education during the lockdown. She states: "My welcome at WHU in early May was very personal, despite the unusual circumstances in the current corona period. The campus was quite empty, though. The Welcome Center supplied me online with the most important things and offered help at any time. I was also very positively surprised that such a Welcome Center even exists".
Is it more difficult to welcome people now while not being able to establish personal contact on a regular basis?
Cindy Berdou (CB): It was a change at the beginning because we also had to alter our procedures. At the moment we work mainly from home, but the WHU welcome culture and personal greetings are important to us. That is why, especially in the first weeks of the corona crisis, we also sent welcome packages directly to people’s homes. The personal welcome meetings then had to take place online. Unfortunately, some events had to be cancelled since March or had to be switched to online formats. Among them language courses or seminars for assistant professors. Since May, however, the personal greetings can be offered on campus again, subject to the conditions.
What other influences does the Coronavirus have on your everyday work?
Diana Stasch (DS): Fortunately, almost none. Thanks to the quick conversion, we were able to work on almost all tasks digitally from home. Only the issuing of contracts and the preparation of the welcome packages had to take place on campus. Information were exchanged a lot more via video conferences. The meetings were scheduled in compliance with the new working hours of colleagues with small children. However, the office is now regularly open again most of the time. Due to the corona crisis we had to face completely new tasks. For example, employees from other federal states increasingly asked for commuter certificates. Applying for visas and work permits in Germany from abroad was another major issue.
Naturally, the Welcome Center helps on many occasions without the Coronavirus as well. As an example, how do you support reconciling family and career more easily?
DS: The flexible working hours at WHU and the possibility of working from home are very helpful. But also other existing offers like the Santa Claus celebration for the children make the atmosphere more family-friendly. Via intranet we offer the opportunity to find out about kindergartens and schools in the region as well as about parental leave arrangements. Clarifications on the German educational system are certainly interesting for international staff members.
Despite the legal entitlement to a daycare place for children at the age of two in Rhineland-Palatinate, the situation is often difficult. That is why the “WHU Toddlers” are a major component of our efforts to facilitate the combination of family and job.
The "WHU Toddlers" are also a fairly new initiative. How is it accepted so far, and what preparations were necessary for this pilot project?
DS: The discussion about WHU's own childcare has accompanied us for years. After extensive coordination with the Youth Welfare Office, the school’s management, the search for qualified pedagogical staff, and a property, our day care center was opened in March. The “WHU Toddlers” can accommodate up to five children at the age of one to three. In Simone Hahn we found a high-quality and experienced caregiver who is very empathic towards the children. One week after the first child had come to settle in at the beginning of March, we unfortunately had to close again due to the Coronavirus. This interrupted the rhythm at the start. But the "WHU Toddlers" have opened again since May. The facility is accepted very well and accommodates children of all ages.
The Welcome Center itself is now just one year old. What is your assessment of its capabilities since the opening?
DS: First of all, we are the first contact for all new members of the WHU community. After all, the Welcome Center was created to strengthen the welcome culture. Our work begins when the new faculty member, staff member or doctoral student signs the contract. He or she is welcomed personally and by e-mail, receives a welcome package, and on the first day of work immediately finds a fully equipped workplace.
Knowing them from their appointments, we profit from being accustomed to the needs of new faculty members. Immediately after signing the contract, we can follow up on providing a good start at our school. Our results so far have been positive: For example, we have been able to professionalize the onboarding of the employees and are planning to implement this even more digitally.
How do you perceive your role in welcoming new staff and how does this facilitate the start?
CB: WHU is very internationally oriented. We would like to make it easier for people from all over the world to come to WHU but also to get started in the region. The "New in Germany" checklist is intended to help employees from other countries to find their way around and to give them a good feeling right from the start. We sometimes also help with inquiries concerning the Foreigners' Registration Office. In one year, we have already handed over more than 80 of our welcome packages – the latest ones with the WHU protective masks. First impressions count!
To what extent do you support integration at the new workplace or chair?
CB: At first, we get in touch with the departments and teams to clarify what is still to be done before the employees start their new job. Structured documents, a checklist, and the guide "New at WHU" on the intranet for new staff members support our efforts. Especially when new chairs are created and there is no team yet, we make sure that new faculty members feel welcome and can begin their work right away. Everyone should be able to start on the same terms!
Note: Please also read the interviews with other WHU departments and how they experienced the corona crisis: