Interview with Klaus Niederländer, Director, AAL Programme

In an interview with Klaus Niederländer, Director at AAL Programme, he discusses how the pandemic has influenced his thinking and work.

‘The virtual world has become a reality for our networks’

We’ve long-needed a much more sustainable approach to our relationships. We have 23 members in 18 countries. You can’t visit them all, it’s impossible.

Over the last 15 months I’ve seen very few people, including my team. And yet I’ve felt more in touch. That’s really changed. The virtual world has become a reality for our networks.

There will still be those occasions when you’ve got to meet. You cannot replace these. Our physical events are going to become smaller, but our overall reach is going to be much larger.

‘The role of the office will become very different’

We will be going back to the office 50% of the time, with much more flexibility.

I’m enlarging our home-working policy. People may not have seen their family for the last two years. That flexibility means they could work from home in another country.

The role of the office will become very different. It’s to meet people – giving it a purpose. You have to ask yourself – why am I going there? And when you do it becomes much more of an experience.

‘We went through these 15 months without any problems’

I’ve never had a control-based management system. Our aim is to increase people’s autonomy, professional development and inclusiveness through a collaborative management system. I think that’s why we went through these 15 months without any problems.

I sent the IT team to everyone’s homes to check their internet connections while providing screens, desks and chairs. To be sure they had the physical infrastructure they needed.

And I set up weekly meetings with my managers and encouraged them to do the same with their teams. Funnily enough, our virtual meetings were far more regular than when we used to meet in the office and much more focused!

‘The boundaries of our organization became more fluid’

Our interaction with people is different now. Sometimes a little bit of distance isn’t bad; you don’t need to have people around you all the time.

The boundaries of our organization became more fluid, more transparent – not so strict and rigid. You realise that you’re part of an organization, but also part of a wider system.

It’s helped us build connections outside of our organization. So the crisis has created a new potential for collaboration and development.

‘With virtual events we create a seamless stream’

We organized a seminar and wanted to bring together politicians, researchers, doctors, business start-ups and SMEs.

With 125 people from 12 different countries, across three time-zones. I couldn’t have done that as an actual event.

When we organize a physical event we spend so much time on logistics and less on content. Online it’s the other way around – you can focus on the agenda.

With annual events, we put so much energy into one day. It’s an on-off thing – that’s not how life works. But with linking physical with virtual events we create a seamless stream. You’re building a continuous flow and a more fluid agenda.

People are willing to work and do things differently than before. For me, there’s no way back.

‘There’s a window opening up right now. And it’s exciting’

All of a sudden there are many new networks starting up. We have global networks and are better connected with them, in a more meaningful way. People have more connections now than before.

The challenges we are facing today must be addressed through people. It’s about the connection of people not the connection of goods and capital. There’s a window opening up right now. And it’s exciting.

‘We need to build the social infrastructure of the future’

The crisis has given us proof that digital tools can help isolated people stay socially connected. But there’s a gap created by digital literacy and access.

As an organisation, we want to bring the benefits of digitalization to an aging population. We need to build the social infrastructure of the future. This will be much more virtual than physical.

When you think about relationships between people, the physical parts can be relatively limited and private. We can still meet in person but through a virtual interchange.

‘A new narrative’

The real consequences of the health crisis are linked to our demographic changes. The pandemic would have been very different if we had a young population.

The topic of an aging population concerns us all. And it’s a phenomenon which is here to stay. It’s a gift of life to live longer, but how can people remain autonomous and contribute to society?

We have to build a new narrative. One that’s much more inclusive, much more positive. At a societal level, we must look at what improves the quality of life of the population.

We will never significantly improve the quality of our lives without systemic transformation.

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