WORKING FROM HOME – STOPGAP SOLUTION OR HERE TO STAY?
Born out of necessity during the lockdown, working from home has proven effective on the whole. This has led to broad expectations that tele-working will become widespread, signalling the end of the office as we know it. Our research experts Inga Schwarz and Wolfgang Schneider consider whether working from home is set to become firmly established as standard practice.
Ms. Schwarz, doesn’t working from home offer major advantages for all parties concerned?
[Inga Schwarz: At first sight, yes. The flexibility offered by remote working has major benefits for employees. The apparently positive consequence for companies is that they require noticeably less office space and can thus reduce costs. The space requirement ratio could be lowered from 1 to 0.7 or 0.8 per employee, for example. However, this is only feasible if companies introduce “desk sharing” or “hot desking” concepts, which allocate continually changing workplaces to each employee when they appear at the office.]
Many companies are already applying these concepts. Where exactly does the problem lie here, Mr. Schneider?
[Wolfgang Schneider: There is no clear evidence as to whether employees really welcome having a continually changing workplace environment at the office. Increased employee satisfaction is commonly highlighted. But personal and informal conversations frequently reveal considerable dissatisfaction and above all a loss of connection with the company and colleagues.]
"Informal conversations frequently reveal considerable dissatisfaction and above all a loss of connection with the company."
[Inga Schwarz: Aside from the issue of whether all employees are happy with hot desking, other aspects require to be considered which may impose incalculable burdens on companies.]
[Inga Schwarz: These include the legal issues relating to working from home, which have yet to be fully clarified: When and to what extent must the employee pay for their office fittings and equipment, for example? And how is the employee to guarantee that their home work environment complies with the requirements of the German workplace ordinance when their employment contract includes provisions on working from home?
[Wolfgang Schneider: The aspect of equal treatment must also receive due consideration. Not every employee has sufficient space at their disposal to set up a home work environment in accordance with the legal requirements. So who decides which employees are able and allowed to work from home? Insurance issues are another difficult area: Defining precisely when an accident in the home constitutes an occupational accident is immensely difficult, for example. Going to make a cup of coffee is presumably part of the working day, while answering the door to the postman presumably isn’t. For small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, setting up an organisation that allows employees to work from home on a large scale may therefore involve substantial administrative burdens and additional costs.]
"The spontaneous situations which are crucial to a company’s success do not arise when employees work from home."
[Inga Schwarz: Sharing information and continual learning are instrumental to business success today. Studies show that this takes place first and foremost in informal talks - in the kitchenette, in the corridor or over lunch, for example. The spontaneous situations which are crucial to a company’s success do not arise when employees work from home. This is all the more evident when it comes to onboarding new colleagues. How can a true group identity and team spirit arise when a large proportion of the staff are working from home? And how can companies tap into the potential of talented but more introverted employees who find it hard to seize the initiative in online conferences or when personal meetings only take place on a sporadic basis?]
[Wolfgang Schneider: And last but not least, it should be considered that certain workflows may become less effective as a result of a greater emphasis on working from home and creative potential may be lost. A number of major law firms with whom we are in close contact have noticed this year that many processes carried out by their clients have become markedly longer, leading to significant increases in costs. Rises of up to 15 per cent are no rare occurrence here. And the idea that offices may be limited to the role of meeting places for creative brainstorming also has its pitfalls. For example, the notion that all team members can be jointly creative regularly on demand on certain days of the week does not chime with the reality of office life as we know it.]
To sum up, working from home as widespread standard practice is a far more complex affair than it is often portrayed to be.