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At the start of the year (2023), Nicole Engenhardt-Gillé joined the freenet AG management team as the Executive Board member responsible for human resources and ESG, having originally joined the company back in 2000.

“We want to strengthen our strengths.”

Nicole Engenhardt-Gillé on...

... her career

I’m delighted to be joining the Executive Board of freenet AG. I’ve been with freenet for more than 20 years, have been in charge of the company’s Human Resources department for a long time and led the Legal and Investment Management team in my capacity as a trained lawyer. My remit has expanded this year. Since 1 January, I’ve been responsible for all aspects of human resources and sustainability (ESG) as well as all training and education within the company’s bricks-and-mortar shop business.

... her role as the company’s first female Executive Board member

As Head of Human Resources, I’ve always seen myself as the link between staff, management and the Executive Board. Now, all the issues that matter to the future of the company – how we unearth the right talent, continue developing it, work together to achieve the best results, and set ourselves up in the long term as an environmentally-friendly company making a positive contribution to society – have their own Executive Board unit.

These are all issues affecting not only freenet AG but every large and medium-sized company in Germany. Although I know that there is a certain amount of public attention on me as the first woman ever to sit on the Executive Board of freenet AG, my responsibilities are fundamentally the same, and I’m delighted to be able to keep pushing things forward with my colleagues as a member of the Executive Board.

We still work within a flat, team-oriented hierarchy with a collegiate culture that encourages open doors and autonomy and creates opportunities to take on responsibility.
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… her previous “footprint” at freenet

The pandemic was a turning point for how we work together at freenet, just as it was for many other companies. We introduced new flexible models and ways of working that allowed us to navigate the pandemic very effectively. Mobile working is now normal, or four-day working weeks. We introduced agile methods that allow us to do more of our work in flexible, time-limited project teams.

My priority now is to ensure that we can continue along the same successful path we have been following here at freenet AG. We are now considering which ideas we should try out to enhance our reputation as an attractive employer even further in periods when labour is scarce.

At the same time, we offer our employees a significant degree of reliability and job security even in times of crisis. We now have HR managers at almost all of our sites, giving us an excellent insight into what matters to our 3,700 employees across the different regions.

… culture and diversity within the company

Despite its size and success, freenet has maintained a start-up mentality for more than two decades. We still work within a flat, team-oriented hierarchy with a collegiate culture that encourages open doors and autonomy and creates opportunities to take on responsibility. I think we’re a very friendly company! freenet’s natural diversity also contributes to this atmosphere. We think about diversity not just in terms of gender and countries of origin – although 56 different nationalities are represented within our workforce – but also as a blend of knowledge, skills and culture. We have embraced this variety from the beginning and see it as a vital factor in our continuing development as a company.

… employee development and skills

We regard all of our employees as talent that we want to harness, promote and retain according to their individual strengths. To do that, we need managers who are bold and who embrace change. We believe that developing our leaders is an essential step in increasing satisfaction among our employees and retaining them in the long term.
At the same time, developing skills is also an important topic. We launched a digital learning portal back in 2018 that encourages independent learning and offers a wide range of in-person and online training opportunities. While this initiative was recognised with an e-learning award last year, awards are not what matters to us; instead, it’s all about developing training and education methods that are right for us.

2023 is officially the year of learning at freenet. We want to encourage all of our employees to invest in their continuing personal development. For one person that might mean learning a new language, while another might prefer to study agile methodology, artificial intelligence or psychology.

… ESG – Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance

Sustainability is a topic we have been addressing within our company for many years now, independently of the increasingly stringent regulations and priorities in the capital markets. Our main objective is to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we’re working towards that goal. Although we still have a long way to go, we have already made some progress.
When it comes to energy, almost all of our sites are now supplied with green electricity – just as our data centre has been for several years now. We save energy by using LED technology and motion sensors, for example, conserve resources by consistently implementing our “Digital First” approach, review opportunities to use photovoltaics to generate our own power at our sites, and have fitted out our head office with modern, energy-efficient building technology as part of extensive renovation works.

Another example is transport, with one in ten company vehicles now electric – a figure that continues to rise. We are adding charging points at our sites, now offer bicycle leasing alongside company car leasing, and encourage the use of public transport.

Our employees hold the key when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. We want to make our colleagues increasingly aware of sustainability issues when making essential business trips, whether that means booking green-certified hotels wherever possible or notifying us of the carbon footprint created by each journey. Remote working opportunities also reduce daily commutes among our workforce.

At the same time, we are also expanding the range of environmentally-friendly products offered in each segment. Our GRAVIS subsidiary, for example, offers a sustainable alternative to certified Apple accessories with its Networx Greenline range. At freenet, we began selling Germany’s first carbon-neutral smartphone, the “rephone”, at an early stage, and we continue to work on initiatives such as creating a better circular economy, refurbishing devices and extending product life cycles.
However, we can only achieve our ambitious sustainability targets if everyone plays their part. That’s why I’m so pleased to see the employees at our sites getting involved as sustainability ambassadors and considering what else we can do to reach our climate change mitigation goals ahead of schedule.

Our main objective is to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we’re working towards that goal.
bubbles gille

... her plans for change

freenet AG has already changed tremendously in recent years, both as an employer and as a sustainable company. We want to continue following this path together with our colleagues while also striking out in new directions in my areas of responsibility.

As always, we want to ensure that we remain an attractive employer to our staff in the long term. That means adopting innovative working time models and offering an optimal work-life balance. At the same time, freenet has long offered its employees exceptional career opportunities, with all six Executive Board members promoted from within the company. You won’t find many other listed companies who can say that.

The next step is to ensure we are attractive in times when labour is scarce and to continue developing our own staff in areas where we cannot find the right talent. I’m sure there is even more we can do to highlight the company culture here at freenet. That’s why I’ve already spent a few years working on this.
Finally, it’s important that we implement the sustainability goals we have set for ourselves. We know what we want to achieve, and we know where we stand on the environment. Our challenge now is to identify specific measures and continue to breathe life into our existing sustainability programme. To do that, we need to be even more aware of how we go about our business. In my view, the best way for us to do this is to work with our employees to determine where we can do even better when it comes to climate action. Having said all that, I think we’ve already taken some important steps in this area. What we need is evolution, not revolution.

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