Research in times of Covid-19
March 27, 2020 | One colleague has a very nice kitchen table and a friend rattling with cooking pots. The other colleague is sitting in the study in front of the obligatory bookcase, the third one in front of a world map. We at EWI maintain a very collegial and in part also friendly relationship with each other, but we have never had so many insights into the home four walls as at present.
Since 16 March – the day when kindergardens and schools in Germany closed down – almost all EWI staff has been working from home. This applies to researchers and administration, to the executive board and management. Only a handful of colleagues are currently still on site at the Alte Wagenfabrik, our office in Cologne-Ehrenfeld. Working in the home office requires above all a well-functioning technical infrastructure. Therefore, especially the two IT colleagues who share the same first name are currently much sought-after contact persons and take care of all smaller and larger problems. Sometimes it is also quite banal but essential things like fixing bugs with laptop cameras or microphones and distributing monitors to the employees. Now the first two weeks are over in the home office. Time to draw a first conclusion.
In the first few days everything was still a bit awkward. Of course, our institute had already had some home office situations before, but we have to admit it: It was the exception rather than the rule. It’s quite another matter to organize the entire institute’s operations decentrally at short notice than to have the core team on site in the office and only have individual people remotely connected. The work on our projects lives from teamwork, from the exchange of ideas. They often come up when people sit together in small groups or meet in the coffee kitchen.
It works surprisingly well
At least we thought so. Now then the complete (spatial) isolation. And with it questions like: Where is the access code for the video conferencing software again? How do I now get the files or start a model run on our server? And with whom do I discuss at lunch about the market stability reserve in the European Emissions Trading Scheme?
Two weeks later we got organized. And it works surprisingly well – at least for those of us who don’t have to look after our children while we work. We share files in now different ways, use our internal communication tool even more intensively and give presentations as webinars. We now also meet our customers in the digital space and discuss how things are going in the projects. By and large, the video conferences work quite well. Even if it’s a bit jerky here and there because the whole of Germany is using Zoom, Skype and Netflix. The software even passed our biggest stress test so far – a video conference of the whole institute, that is, about 35 people – (see photos). And even the traditional Kölsch for Friday evening can be taken together via video.
All in all, we certainly belong to the professional groups that, compared to others, can still do their work (relatively) without any problems. From this point of view we can only say: We would like to thank all the people who work even harder than usual in the hospitals and nursing homes, who work at supermarket checkouts or in other ways keep the critical infrastructure running and who are committed to our society. Please stay healthy!