My backpack’s my office,
everything else is in the cloud

Journalist: Simon Eppenberger | Photographer: Markus Bertschi, Siemens | Magazine: Work in progress – November 2020

Siemens Switzerland has ushered in a cultural change to its leadership, affecting all its 5,700 employees. CFO Jörn Harde, who believes in the importance of issues such as new leadership, diversity and inclusion, the changing workplace and “new normal”, explains how this has proven a boon during the state of emergency and how he is helping to shape the future world of work. 

Anyone who visits Jörn Harde’s office for the first time is in for a surprise. The CFO of Siemens Switzerland manages the company’s finances from a simple room in Zurich – without a single scrap of paper. No folders or documents are to be seen, not even a notepad on his desk. Only on the flipchart next to the meeting table are a couple of blank pages visible. The 44- year-old cannot help but smile when he says “My backpack’s my office, everything else is in the cloud”. He has been working this way for nearly 15 years now – and it is a natural fit with Siemens. 

The corporate giant is not only strong in areas such as energy, building technology, industry, health and mobility, but is also doggedly pursuing a digital strategy both internally and externally. This includes the “Smart Infrastructure” division. Its smart buildings simultaneously serve the needs of property owners, operators, tenants and users. Siemens’ technology can also be used in existing buildings, such as its headquarters in Zurich, which was built several decades ago. 

At the Zurich headquarters, smart building management is shrinking energy consump­tion and employees have access to a fast, secure Wi-Fi network everywhere. All Siemens locations and their employees are connected to each other through the network, and confidential internal data can be quickly accessed using chip cards and authentication. The system is so stable and secure that 98% of the CFO’s signatures are electronic. “The other 2% are for contracts that require a wet ink signature for legal reasons,” he says.

Virtual handover of a locomotive

Although Jörn Harde has long been a trailblazer for paper-free working methods at Siemens, COVID-19 has given digitali­sation an enormous boost, both within the organisation and on the customer side. A whole fleet of locomotives was even inspected using only camera glasses and live streaming. No one had to turn up at the site. “In five weeks, we’ve made more changes than we usually do in five years,” says a beaming Harde. 

“In five weeks, we’ve made more changes than we usually do in five years.”

At Siemens Switzerland, Harde also has his eye on issues such as new leadership, diversity and inclusion, the changing workplace and the “new normal” evolving from the comprehensive changes wrought by COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic has been so strong that people and companies are finding it impossible to get back to the old ways of doing things, even as the crisis passes. Instead, a new working world is emerging which will become the norm in the future. 

Jörn Harde, 44, grew up in Schwelm, near Wuppertal in North Rhine-Westphalia, and completed a commercial apprenticeship at Siemens after graduating from grammar school. He has been with the company ever since. He has worked in finance and controlling and also completed his studies at the Distance-Learning University of Hagen. He has held various operational management roles, including being responsible for integrating Nokia Networks into Siemens Networks, and later developed offshore wind farms in the UK. After four and a half years heading up the MB office of Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, he became CFO of Siemens Switzerland in 2018. He is married and lives in Oberengstringen. Outside of work, Jörn Harde plays chess and loves travelling to Greece, where his wife hails from. He also enjoys hiking and takes to the ski slopes in winter.

Who would have thought that out of all the people in the organisation it would be the CFO who moves issues forward rather than just dealing with the basic financial numbers? But this quickly becomes apparent when you listen to Jörn Harde. “It’s a matter very close to my heart,” he says. Before his current role, he headed up the office of Siemens CEO, Joe Kaeser, for more than four years and thus participated in shaping the company’s global strategy and cultural transformation.

Trusting not controlling

Since then, the central leadership has been streamlined and the group now has independent businesses with more entrepreneurial freedom. “This strategy is supported by a cultural change towards an ownership culture. Our understanding of agile, productive leadership does not work by controlling everyone, but by trusting them and giving them personal responsibility,” says Harde. He does not see himself as a manager, but as a coach and guiding figure who sets the goal and the framework for action but does not moni- tor every step. For Harde, diversity and inclusion are an important part of this transformation. 

“These goals can be combined very well with finance: having mixed teams and different perspectives stops prejudices and stereotypical evaluations from forming and therefore leads to better business outcomes.” At the same time, he is selfcritical, as there is still a lot to do. Siemens currently has too few women in management positions, for example.

The ongoing cultural change has also proven a boon in the emergency situation under COVID-19 and the lockdown. Despite its size, the group has been able to respond quickly and effectively. “First, we protected the health of our employees and partners. We then did everything we could to keep hospitals and other critical infrastructure for energy supply and mobility running,” says Jörn Harde.  

This has been achieved practically without any problems to date. Many teams were already working agilely before the pandemic and are digitally fit, and the changeover to working from home was quickly achieved. Virtual meetings became the norm within a short amount of time. All the while, management has been watching and listening intently. It wants to know what people in the company want, how teams operate and how productivity is changing in this new working world. And it is becoming clear: people appreciate the new flexibility and the trust is paying off. “Despite the new challenges and decentralised working, we are just as productive if not more efficient than before,” says Harde.

Hybrid working model

This has already prompted Siemens to introduce mobile working as a new standard worldwide in July. “We wanted to be one of the first large industrial companies to establish mobile working two to three days a week worldwide,” says an enthu­siastic Jörn Harde. «We’re not talking about simply ‘working from home forever’, but about a hybrid working model with new opportunities and challenges.» For this to happen, he says it is essential not to prescribe a «new normal». Teams are given the freedom to choose the best way of working together, based on the respective roles. The working model in the production and service parts of the business may differ from that of office work. Maintaining direct social contact is still important, and colleagues continue to meet regularly in person. This is so for existing team members and especially true for new team members. Harde is convinced of this: «When someone new onboards, there’s no substitute for a face-to-face meeting.»

Siemens has been operating in Switzerland since 1894. Today, the company is active in a wide variety of sectors, including energy, mobility, digitalisation, building technical services, automation and health. The headquarters of Siemens Schweiz AG is located in Zurich, while the international headquarters of the “Smart Infrastructure” branch is in Zug. Here in Switzerland, Siemens and its subsidiaries employ more than 5,700 people and generate sales of CHF 2.24 billion, making it the largest industrial employer in the country.

Working from home also entails risks like one’s private and professional life meshing too closely or not having a suitable workplace. So, he stresses that it is essential to treat yourself and the team with care. This is one of the reasons why offices and meeting rooms will continue to play a key role at Siemens in the future. However, the way in which they are being used is changing, as can be seen not too far from Harde’s office. 

“Despite the new challenges and decentralised working, we are just as productive or even more efficient than before.”

One department is converting to the new way of working right now. All desks are being cleared so that they are always free for those working on site. To create more openness and transparency, interior deco-
rators are removing the almost roomhigh privacy screen from the glass wall of the meeting room. “For Siemens, cultural change and flexibilisation are not a form of disruption, but an evolution that is taking place individually in different ways. The goal is to achieve satisfaction and productive cooperation – not to reduce costs, although that might be a consequence.”

As someone well-versed in technology, Jörn Harde is certain COVID-19 will bring about many changes. “A huge number of work processes can be mapped virtually.” Even large meetings involving a hundred participants and teamwork are already possible digitally. “I can move as a figure through the virtual space and take part in group discussions as usual.” What sounds like a game works surprisingly well in practice. This is why even in the future people will have to travel less.

Creativity and collaboration

At the headquarters of the “Smart Infrastructure” business unit in Zug, Siemens is showing what the physical workplace of the future could look like. In 2018, it had a building constructed there in an especially sustainable and smart way. The rooms offer users new levels of comfort, for example by automatically regulating the temperature. And in the “Spark” innovation space, everyone has an inspiring environment for different types of collaboration open to them. Featuring an abundance of plants and inviting furniture, this area is far removed from the traditional meeting room with its four white walls. The rooms and the small amphitheatre are used for design thinking, presentations, regular team meetings and film screenings.

“My vision and hope is that we provide people with a healthy, creative work environment, a working culture that fulfils them and where everyone is equally important.”

Creativity and collaboration are not only key elements in the innovation space. Jörn Harde believes they are the future. “My vision and hope is that we provide people with a healthy, creative work environment, a working culture that fulfils them and where everyone is equally important. The “why” question will continue to gain in importance as a driving force in personal commitment. “Our guiding principle is to make what is important a reality. We serve society and contribute to a better world, for example by using scarce resources more and more efficiently. Having this purpose is something I look forward to every day and is something I’m excited about working for.” 


Jörn Harde – In the spotlight

The ceo is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. What were you doing 20 years ago?
After completing my commercial training at Siemens, I started my first job at Siemens Corporate Finance. One year later, I married my wife.

Would you have thought 20 years ago that you would be CFO of Siemens Switzerland today?
No. But I loved Switzerland even back then and I knew that I would one day aspire to a leadership role.

How do you keep yourself digitally fit?
By enjoying and being open to technology and exchanging ideas, especially with younger employees who are on-trend.

Why does your work fulfil you?
Two things fulfil me: exchanging ideas with so many great people – and our technologies which contribute to making a better world. 

What is the most important thing for you personally at your workplace?
In my direct environment, that would be trust and satisfaction. Work is a big part of life and you should be able to laugh sometimes.  

How is your work-life balance – or work-life integration?
I’m always available, both during the day for my wife and in the evening for em­ployees. It works well, as your private life is respected here in Switzerland. Mindfulness is important in order to get a good balance.

Your tip to other companies on the working world of tomorrow?
Give everyone more personal responsibility and give up controlling everything. It is impossible anyway.