The significance of corporate culture

The coronavirus has put Audi to a tough test and resulted in many changes both for the company and for its employees. Six employees from the areas of production, training and development, health care, corporate culture and human resources report on their experiences over the past months – and why Audi will emerge stronger from the pandemic in the long term.

03/18/2021 Copy: AUDI AG ― Photos: Getty Images, Markus Burke Talking Sustainable Business Reading Time: 8 min

Talking Sustainable Business – Key Facts

  • The coronavirus has strengthened the company in many areas
  • Audi employees have demonstrated that the company remains united, even during the most difficult times
  • Secure jobs thanks to occupational health and safety

Stark durchs Coronajahr

Peter Biersack, Learning process facilitator in Further Training Vehicle Technology, Neckarsulm

When the pandemic hit, we in the Further Training Vehicle Technology department were no different from anyone else at the company – we asked ourselves: “What do we do now?” But when it became clear that the coronavirus wasn’t going to disappear after a few days, it was time for solutions. In other words, we wanted to make our training services available to employees in digital form.

We benefited enormously in this regard from the wealth of experience available to us at the Audi Akademie. After all, the Akademie is the company’s internal point of contact when it comes to skills development and training. We had already gathered a lot of knowledge about digital learning formats. The Akademie has focused on blended learning for some time, including a mix of face-to-face measures and digital training programs such as live online or web-based training. This enabled us to quickly prepare and conduct face-to-face training events in digital form, with some extending over several weeks.

It’s important to note that not everything is possible virtually, and not everything makes sense digitally from a methodical and educational perspective. This is something that we as training experts always pay particular attention to. Our motto – “lifelong learning” – ultimately applies to us too. And I have to admit, as an experienced classroom trainer, I was initially unfamiliar with the virtual training format, but now I have become a real fan of live online training.

As an experienced classroom trainer, I was initially unfamiliar with the virtual training format, but now I have become a real fan of live online training.

Peter Biersack, Learning process facilitator in Further Training Vehicle Technology, Neckarsulm

Chris Metzger, Production Ingolstadt

Chris Metzger, Production Ingolstadt

Chris Metzger, Production Ingolstadt

I celebrated 25 years of service on March 4, 2021. Throughout all these years, I have experienced and seen a great deal. The company has changed enormously since my first day in 1996, but we have always come through both the good and difficult times together. The four linked rings in our logo are also a good symbol for the collaboration between us employees. Yet naturally nothing could really have prepared us for something like the coronavirus.

In production, we were hit hard by the negative impact of the pandemic. The assembly lines were down for five weeks in 2020 – something I had never witnessed before during my time at Audi. Normally there are around 44,000 people at the Ingolstadt site, and suddenly only about 2,000 Audi employees were keeping operations going at the plant. It was pretty eerie!

Since then, there have been a lot of changes in production. Numerous occupational health and safety measures have been introduced at the plants, with special safety precautions developed by Audi for group areas, plant entrances and exits, internal works transport and the staff canteens.

Much of what we regarded as self-evident in assembly is no longer so obvious. Work within the group the way some of us have experienced it for a very long time now is changing. There are new constellations because some employees with pre-existing medical conditions are deployed to other areas. Of course, we all know why, but it’s still tough. We will definitely be very pleased in assembly when the coronavirus is finally behind us and we can take off the masks again.

Hanna Kuschel, HR Strategy, Ingolstadt

The coronavirus is persisting stubbornly and changing the way we work at Audi. I personally already worked from home one day a week before the pandemic. My experience is that many tasks can even be completed more efficiently remotely. However, I was in the minority. Now many of us are familiar with the advantages of digital collaboration. I asked about this on our internal platform “Audi Team Community.” Many Audi employees appreciate the fact that digital collaboration allows them to work more productively, more creatively and also more efficiently.

So what will change in the long term as regards working from home? Many of my colleagues would like a hybrid model, where they work remotely or away from the office on certain days or during certain weeks. However, we should retain as much flexibility as possible rather than adopting a rigid approach. All the survey respondents said that they did not want to work solely from home, but would prefer to go back to the office on certain days at least. Another finding is also worth noting: Some people realized during this intensive period that working from home is simply not for them and they prefer to work in the office.

Even so, we should expect that, thanks to the coronavirus, mobile working will become an accepted practice in areas where it is possible. We’ve learned a lot about digital collaboration in recent months and will also benefit from it in the long term. I welcome the new flexibility.

Many of my colleagues would like a hybrid model, where they work remotely or away from the office on certain days or during certain weeks.

Hanna Kuschel, HR Strategy, Ingolstadt

Daniela Huber, Corporate Culture, Ingolstadt

Daniela Huber, Corporate Culture, Ingolstadt

Daniela Huber, Corporate Culture, Ingolstadt

The task of continually developing corporate culture at Audi is handled by our department. This is where we develop, test and evaluate special measures, formats and programs for this purpose. At the heart of this are the Audi leadership principles and the Audi corporate values of appreciation, openness, responsibility and integrity. We collaborate with employees from all the business divisions every day – very often through personal interaction. Events and workshops are part of our daily business: bringing people together, networking and leveraging synergies. And then came the coronavirus.

Suddenly everyone had to work from home where possible. Suddenly there were digital teams, leading from a distance and collaboration via Skype. But what does this mean for our corporate culture? Little or no personal contact within the team and lack of facial expressions and gestures in meetings mean that behaviors such as “reading between the lines” and asking more targeted follow-up questions are now playing a more important role. Openness and transparency are now more important than ever before in our predominantly digital communication. This takes courage – the courage to address things, and not just things relating to specific work topics, but also interpersonal matters.

Together with appreciation and trust, this is the basis of a positive team culture. The lack of personal interaction during coffee breaks means that new and different ways have to be found to compensate for this.

The coronavirus has shown us the importance of the role played by shared fundamental values, and how they can communicate certainty and unite people. One thing has become clear: Culture is especially important when the pressure mounts in uncertain and complex environments, and a pandemic is naturally the ultimate example of this. At the same time, it was and is acting as the impetus for faster transformation. The cohesion between Audi employees has been noticeable everywhere and many exciting digital initiatives have emerged. I am convinced that with this Audi spirit, we will all emerge stronger from this challenging situation.

The coronavirus has shown us the importance of the role played by shared fundamental values, and how they can communicate certainty and unite people.

Daniela Huber, Corporate Culture, Ingolstadt

Anke Manthey, Specialist for Health Promotion, Ingolstadt

Anke Manthey, Specialist for Health Promotion, Ingolstadt

Anke Manthey, Specialist for Health Promotion, Ingolstadt

We’ve never had a situation like this before. First of all there is the disease itself, and by now most of us Audi employees know someone among our colleagues or acquaintances who has had Covid. Second, everyone is impacted by the pandemic: everyone at the site, all the Audi employees – literally everybody. Audi Occupational Health has been working in the crisis teams since January 2020 to ensure safe workplaces, to keep employees informed and to prevent or interrupt chains of infection.

For these reasons, the pandemic has been and is an important issue in my work at Audi Occupational Health, where the primary focus is on mental health. Or to put it in simple terms: If employees do nothing but read about the coronavirus and think about the disease, how can they enjoy their work or be productive?

We all know that conditions also need to be right in order for people to work well, and these conditions have changed significantly as a result of the coronavirus. This starts with simple situations, such as eating lunch together in the staff canteen or having a quick chat in the corridor. None of this is possible at the moment – and that can be quite stressful. So it’s all the more important that we look after our mental health. Especially in a time when we have to forgo familiar daily routines and keep our social contacts to a minimum, psychological wellbeing can be thrown off-balance sometimes.

We began to offer individual consultations as early as April last year. I myself have held many conversations with colleagues, and sometimes just listened. I have shared some helpful tips and tricks for how to successfully get through a potential quarantine, and how people can make sure that the virus is not the only thing they think about. At the end of the day, we are all in this together – and the more we talk to each other, the faster the waves will subside.

Audi Occupational Health has been working in the crisis teams since January 2020 to ensure safe workplaces, to keep employees informed and to prevent or interrupt chains of infection.

Anke Manthey, Specialist for Health Promotion, Ingolstadt

Oliver Schadow, Leadership Programs/Training, Ingolstadt

What eventful months we have had. They were challenging, but for this precise reason they were a time of discovery as well. If anyone had asked a year ago whether and how managers can lead their teams from a distance – that is, without working together in one location most of the time – many people might still have been skeptical.

But now we know that “digital leadership” works – even as early as today. Why? Because the underlying bases for this are an openness for new things as well as trust. These are values we have been promoting at the Audi Akademie for many years through our interdisciplinary training and corporate culture initiatives. We extended our training program in the area of digital leadership to support specialists and leaders during the pandemic.

Looking back I can say that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated both digitalization in the Group as well as the flexibility of our working world overall. What we experienced over the past months and have also driven forward ourselves would otherwise normally have taken years.

The coronavirus has changed our organization and will continue to do so. This includes a new mentality for dealing with challenges. Specifically: “Just do it” is sometimes a good approach! This boldness will make us faster as a company, and besides, some insights are only gained once the process has begun. This “Do it” approach has also proven successful with such a complex issue as the widespread introduction of mobile working. For me this is a reflection of “We are progress.”

`Digital leadership´ works – even as early as today. Why? Because the underlying bases for this are an openness for new things as well as trust.

Oliver Schadow, Leadership Programs/Training Ingolstadt

Occupational health and safety at Audi

Comprehensive health management and an integrated occupational safety system are two of the ways in which Audi seeks to minimize work-related accidents and improve the health resources of its employees, while also promoting their physical and mental performance.

Group-wide standards are helpful in this regard. For all day-to-day operations, the company and Works Council representatives have developed measures to prevent accidents and damage to health as well as to design safe processes, equipment and vehicle components. The Board of Management bears overall responsibility for compliance with the statutory regulations on occupational health and safety. Furthermore, each operations leader is responsible for occupational safety in their supervisory and functional area. This is also laid down in a works agreement on occupational safety that covers all employees of AUDI AG.

Health protection in the pandemic

A comprehensive safety concept was developed during the first lockdown along the “worker journey” – in other words, along the daily work routine. This concept includes both behavioral measures at home, such as checking one’s own state of health, as well as on the way to work. Behavior at the workplace and during break times, as well as redesigning workplaces and work organization – distancing, segregation, working from home, provision of face masks, in other words – were also considered within the scope of the “worker journey.” This safety concept was adapted continually in line with the latest findings concerning the pandemic and implemented in accordance with the incidence rate.

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