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The conflict between economic and human responsibility

It’s only been around two years since I, along with my colleagues Sabrina Voecks and Heinrich Böhm, became ‘junior’ partners at JOI-Design and thus self-employed.

With our ‘senior’ partners Corinna Kretschmar-Joehnk and Peter Joehnk, the company of JOI-Design now has a partnership structure. In the course of preparing for this change, we discussed many scenarios but certainly hoped some of them would never affect us.

However, none of us expected or even considered we would face the extraordinary situation of the so-called ‘Corona – Pandemic’ such a short time after establishing our partnership. This crisis has left us upended with tasks and entrepreneurial decisions that are extremely difficult to make even for experienced directors. We ‘juniors’ and our ‘seniors’ Corinna and Peter have been happy to lean on each other for support in order to make the correct decisions.

Since its foundation in 2003, JOI-Design has very much been a family-run company in which decisions are substantially based on humanity rather than economics. This is just one of the reasons why we have such a positive work atmosphere.

In this time of the pandemic, the discrepancy between economic and human/health responsibilities is almost palpable for everyone. However, while global decision-making is all about how much economic damage one can accept in order to maintain the health of society, in the microcosm of a medium-sized company, the question arises as to how much “human damage” I can/must accept in order to keep the company alive. Closing the company due to economic factors would of course cause ‘human damage’ for all employees.

The situation of the Corona – Pandemic was, and continues to be, especially difficult for our office because our clients are primarily in the hotel business, one of the hardest hit sectors besides the event industry.

For this reason, many of our hotel conversion projects that are usually paid for out of a property’s cash reserves were simply stopped. New-build hotel projects, which are mostly financed by investors from other industries, are indefinitely postponed. We were confronted with the tough entrepreneurial decisions of determining what measures we had to take to keep the office alive and aligned so we can get through the crisis as stable as possible without knowing how long it will last.

There was also the problem that as many employees as possible should work from home to avoid infection. For various reasons, two of our partners were affected by the crisis, which made coordinating our office’s future trickier. We had to schedule many meetings to deal with employees’ reduced work hours and layoffs as quickly as possible.

Reducing work hours was, of course, the first choice because we wanted to try to keep all our employees. This measure only works if business is lost for a fixed and, above all, temporary period. Unfortunately, this scenario only applied to some projects that we hoped would resume after the initial shock.

However, for some projects in progress and those about to be commissioned, investors had to file for bankruptcy or reduce their business capacity, which meant work abruptly stopped or was cancelled entirely. The drastic loss of business meant that sadly, we had to part with some of our employees.

This decision is one of the hardest any entrepreneur has to make, but it was even more difficult for us as ‘newcomers’ to self-employment. In such a family-oriented company like JOI-Design, it was incredibly painful to make these choices.

In order to balance the economic bottom-line of our monthly costs with the realities of our new situation, we were forced to shake the trust of our employees and trigger private, human tragedies in order to secure a chance for the company’s survival. We hope that in time, work will return, and we can gradually bring all employees back on board.

We’ve tried to act as transparently as possible, because we really have the best employees we could ask for, and by that, I mean all employees. We hope our strategy is working well and we can achieve the goal of completing our team again as soon as possible.

We would like to thank all our ‘active’ and ‘passive’ employees who, through their loyalty and tireless commitment, work to ensure we will continue to realise our design ideas and visions in the future, and bring our design spirit to life in the world of hotels.