Zühlke – Empowering Ideas

Zühlke Camp @ Home - how we live and breathe collaborative education and training in 'remote' times

Tobias Rudolphi
  • Our colleague Tobias Rudolphi provides insights into how we continuously and consciously develop as individuals and as an organization, even in remote times.
  • In our insight, learn more about how we realize collaborative training at Zühlke Camp even in a remote environment, what challenges the organizers faced, and what lessons they learned during the implementation.
8 minutes to read

For us at Zühlke to keep our promises as an innovation service provider, we as a team must always be at the cutting edge of technology and therefore learn continuously and consciously as individuals and as an organisation. We see every new situation we encounter as an opportunity to learn, both in the project itself and as part of our continuous professional development (CPD).

An important part of this 'Zühlke Growth Mindset' is our annual Zühlke Camp, where the whole staff of Zühlke Germany comes together in one place to learn new things, to network and exchange ideas and develop ourselves as a company and as individuals; outside of our daily work and client meetings. Tobias Rudolphi, Regional Director at our location in Hamburg and a member of the organising committee of the Zühlke Camp, tells us how we realise collaborative training at the Zühlke Camp also in a remote setup, what challenges the organisers faced and what insights they gained during the implementation.

Continuous professional development (CPD) is very important at Zühlke. Each year, we invest 10% of our turnover in employee development, with the aim of promoting individual and collaborative learning. One of the formats that we use to implement collaborative education and training is the Zühlke Camp, where all employees meet once a year for a few days at a beautiful location away from our offices. We learn with and from each other in lectures, practical workshops, discussions, and Open Space sessions. In Germany, the camp is held for all employees at the same time. Most other countries with Zühlke locations have a similar approach while some organise several camps for different teams, depending on the size of the location and local practices. In all countries, the Zühlke Camp is one of the most exciting events in a normal Zühlke year. It is highly appreciated by all employees and is one of the cornerstones of our culture.

The Zühlke Camp is our Innovation Hyperdrive

At the Zühlke Camp, the focus is on working together on topics that employees are particularly passionate about, or that have a high strategic value in our company; these can be 'bleeding edge' technologies, or the further development of our portfolio or even Zühlke itself. "I think of the camp as a kind of 'innovation hyperdrive'; we get together for a few days, and when we part ways at the end of the camp we will be a few months further along in our understanding," Tobias explains.

At least as important are the opportunities for networking and socialising with colleagues during the Zühlke Camp. "Networking and having fun together without being involved in daily work is enormously important. Both for us as individuals and for our project work. When team members know and trust one another, it has a direct, positive impact on our work. A team whose members understand one another well can also work together better, more successfully and with more joy in our innovation projects," says Tobias. "In addition, the camp is a great opportunity to get to know colleagues from other locations and areas of work better and to experience and celebrate our culture together."

How does the camp work in 'remote' times?

After having had to cancel last year's camp due to the uncertain Corona situation, this year's camp was run in a fully remote format for three days, allowing all employees to participate from home.

But how do you set about organising an entire training camp for over 300 employees remotely while at the same time doing justice to those aspects of the camp that promote collaborative work?

Communication and good preparation are the key

"Naturally, the biggest challenge was the uncertain situation that arose due to the constantly changing Corona editions," Tobias recalls. "It feels like we've reorganised the camp three times this year. Hoping to conduct at least parts of the camp in smaller cohorts on-site, we had initially opted for a hybrid concept that would have allowed for a combination of on-site and online participation. However, due to developments during the third wave of Corona in Germany, we then decided to run the camp in a fully remote setup."

In addition to selecting a suitable tool that is as trouble-free and easy to use as possible, the organisational work involved other challenges, especially in ensuring good communication around the camp. "One of the key findings for us as an organising team is that communicating for a remote camp requires a lot more planning and preparation.The virtual environment makes it more difficult to achieve the spontaneous information, reactions and conversations that are the essence of the camp. Because of this, we had to guarantee that all information was available in one central place and that we reached as many of our colleagues as possible with our communication channels."

To ensure this, various tools were tested and evaluated in advance. "In the end, we decided on a mix of tools that were already well established in our project work: Microsoft Teams for remote meetings, scheduling and ad-hoc communication, Miro to facilitate remote workshops, and Confluence as a 'content hub' in the preparation, execution and follow-up of the camp. This setup worked very well, and all participants were able to use it without any problems," Tobias explains.

Lessons learned can be used directly in project work

One of the principles of learning events at Zühlke is that they have one or more themes for which sponsors are responsible. During the camp, the theme sponsors are available to the organisers of the individual camp sessions for suggestions, questions, and feedback. Participants can register for themes in advance and then work on them together in the individual sessions. This year, the sponsors have created a program that not only is in line with the company's goals, but also enables all employees to develop personally, learn new things and apply the knowledge directly to their everyday project work.

camp program

After a short joint kickoff, it all got going. In a program designed around a total of five themes, new solutions were developed and much discussed. Our client Tiger Media International GmbH was also invited to the session on "Sustainability innovation and engineering". Using their 'Tiger Box TOUCH' as an example, we worked out together how more sustainable products can be designed and developed, especially when the focus is on the ecological footprint that the box has currently, and how this can be reduced. In addition, many ideas from the fields of 'Repairability', 'Service design' and 'Circular value creation' emerged.

Strenghten social interaction

In terms of having an opportunity to learn collaboratively, the remote format of the camp worked very well for most of the participants, and the previously defined goals were achieved in almost all the sessions. In particular, the switch from the daily project business to other, new topics was very much appreciated. The insights gained were then distributed as video files or presentations so that everyone had access to this knowledge, as this also reflects a principle of CPD events at Zühlke.

However, feedback from participants also shows that the networking and socialising character of the camp suffered greatly in the remote format and was not nearly as effective as at an on-site event. "Despite all our efforts, these aspects of our usual camps have clearly fallen by the wayside. If the camp is held as a remote event again, we need to integrate these activities better. Initial thoughts are moving in the direction of using a mobile app designed specifically for this type of event, which would allow significantly more and better interaction options for participants and a better overview of the programme and the different sessions," says Tobias. "But to be honest, of course we are all hoping that the next Zühlke Camp will be held on site and that we will finally all get to come together again!"

Tobias Rudolphi is Regional Director Hamburg & Partner at Zühlke Engineering
Contact person for Germany

Tobias Rudolphi

Regional Director Hamburg & Partner

Tobias Rudolphi is Head of Competence Unit & Business Solution Manager at Zühlke Group in Hamburg, Germany. As Regional Director for Hamburg, he is responsible for growing the location through finding the right people for the team and business development, as well as the delivery of high-quality software and product solutions for the customers of Zühlke in the greater Hamburg area.