According to a survey by the University of Constance, 56% of those asked would in future like to be able to work – at least in part – from home. The figures are based on employees who have been working actively from their home workplace since March and who correspond, as regards age and gender, to the average of the German working population.
Although working in a mainly isolated state within one’s own four walls cannot replace the sociable environment of an office filled with colleagues, and although a lively interaction and exchange of ideas are largely absent, almost 50% of those asked admitted that they worked more effectively and productively from their home workplace.
“Mobile working”, as this new method of working from home is called, has proven to be surprisingly successful and some companies, such as Siemens AG, want to deploy the home workplace as a company standard in future. The Siemens Board has decided that more than half of its workers worldwide will work from home on two to three days a week in future. “Some of the prejudices against mobile working have just simply disappeared”, says Jochen Wallisch, a leading Siemens manager in the HR area.
The new work affects more than 140,000 employees of the group in over 125 locations in 43 countries and will be implemented with immediate effect. “This is a further development of our corporate culture”, explains Siemens boss Roland Busch. He explains that this type of work is connected with a different leadership style – oriented towards results, not to presence in the office.
According to another study by the Center for European Economic Research, several companies in Germany want to continue the home workplace concept in future. Before the pandemic, it was only in every fourth company in the manufacturing industry that employees worked regularly from home, for example. Now it’s almost 50% – and after the crisis, around 37% of companies are planning to retain their home workplaces.
In the information management sector – the ITC sector, media service providers and information technology – the figures are even higher. Before the crisis, each second company was deploying employees working from home, and almost two-thirds of companies want to continue to use mobile working from home in the future. For the purposes of the study, 1765 companies in Europe, each with at least five employees were surveyed.
Despite this, the disadvantages of home workplaces are not inconsiderable and are well known. Particularly for parents, some of whom are suffering enormously from the double burden of work and childcare as a result of schools being closed. And then of course the danger exists that the communication between colleagues can worsen and that company loyalty and connections can break down. These are important reasons for not abolishing the office altogether, experts say. According to a survey by the Fraunhofer Institute in Sankt Augustin, the number of contact persons in the crisis has dropped – of the more than 2000 interviewees in large companies, employees previously had contact with 10 to 15 colleagues, while from the home workplace, they now only have contact with between five and nine.
A good portion of self-discipline is also required to work within one’s own four walls. As the exchange with colleagues as well as the structure are frequently absent, work processes can actually suffer. While some people forget to take a break and find it hard to separate work and free time, others have difficulty starting work again after a break, as the pressure from outside is no longer there. In addition, the Fraunhofer Institute found that 65% of those asked missed the common breaks – 85% missed the personal exchange, while 66% missed work-related conversation.
In addition, the home workplace must be well equipped. Companies have been investigating the best ergonomic working conditions for decades. Working at the kitchen table or on the couch can thus not remain a permanent situation – and was only intended to be an emergency solution at the start of the crisis. The German Accident Insurance has issued specifications on how a workplace should be equipped – anyone not following these guidelines could be facing tension and back pain.
Dietmar Harhoff is the Director of the Max-Planck-Institute for Innovation and Competition in Munich. “The crisis is helping us with digitization”, he says. “Things are working now that didn’t work before”. Although many people have returned to the office, the number of workers at home workplaces remains very high in comparison with before the crisis. “The intensity and frequency of use are, at almost 40%, way above the 20% of those working from home before Corona”, says Harhoff. The MPI carried out a survey at the beginning of March and another one two months later, at the beginning of June. From this, it became clear that ideally, employees should work two to three times a week from home. “In many cases, physical presence on site is simply necessary”, Harhoff says.
To create optimum conditions in the future, Harhoff believes that companies need to rethink some strategies from both a conceptional and a physical perspective. “Employees must be offered ideal technical options”, explains the Director, “so that they can work from home under the best possible conditions”. At the same time, it is extremely important that management receives instructions on how to be able to lead their teams in the new situation.
Jutta Rump, Director of the Institute for Employment and Employability in Ludwigshafen does not believe either that the 100% home workplace model will prevail. In her opinion, hybrid forms of the model will develop, and “We will not be returning to the old world”.