Home office is the new normal. Is it also a model for the future?

One year since the first lockdown

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, the way in which people work has changed significantly. Office work is done much more frequently in the home office, and – as a recent survey* conducted by YouGov on behalf of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH in Germany and Great Britain shows – both companies and employees have mostly come to terms with their new reality.

Just over a third (35 per cent) of the employees surveyed in Great Britain, and one in five (19 per cent) in Germany currently work exclusively from their home office. In addition, 12 per cent in Great Britain and 23 per cent in Germany alternate between working at their place of employment and in their home office. 39 per cent of professionals in the UK and 42 per cent in Germany say that their job cannot be done from a home office, and therefore, they must continue to attend their place of employment. As a direct consequence of COVID-19, nine per cent of employees in Great Britain and six per cent in Germany responded that they are currently unable to carry out their professional activities.

The survey also sought to discover what a daily work routine looks like for those working in a home office, and to see what advantages and disadvantages there are. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of those working from home in Germany, and 61 per cent of their British counterparts responded that from a purely technical point of view, such as reasonable internet bandwidth and computer equipment, working from home had no disadvantages when compared to their normal office workplace. Only 13 per cent in Germany, and as many as 22 per cent in Great Britain have experienced technical limitations that interfered with their work. The remainder were undecided or have not yet formed an opinion.

More productive when working from home

With adequate technology, a basic prerequisite is met – a productive working environment. And indeed, about half of those working from home say they get more done in the same amount of time than in the office. Exactly 50 per cent of those surveyed in Germany and 51 per cent in the UK agree with this sentiment. For 29 per cent in Germany and 25 per cent in the UK, this holds partly true, and only 18 per cent (German) and 17 per cent (UK) believe their productivity is lower when working from their home office.

One reason may be that there are more distractions in the office than when working at home. As many as 37 per cent of those working at home in Germany and 40 per cent in the UK responded that they are distracted more often when in the office. Slightly fewer in both countries feel more distracted at home: 31 per cent in Germany and 35 per cent in the UK.

Poor access to information when working from home doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. Although 28 per cent of respondents who work from home in the UK and 25 per cent in Germany reported they don’t receive all of the information they need to complete their work, a slight majority (51 per cent) of respondents in the UK and half (50 per cent) in Germany noted they do receive all the relevant and necessary information. For 22 per cent in Germany and 17 per cent in the UK, this is partly the case.

Social contact is missed – but not by everyone

What is missed when working from home are colleagues: 55 per cent in Germany and 61 per cent in the UK stated they miss the direct social contact when working from home. However, one in five in the UK (20 per cent) and 23 per cent in Germany don’t have a problem with this lack of social contact during working hours.

Apart from the reduced social contact, the advantages of working from home seem to outweigh the disadvantages. In particular, many welcomed the time saved by not having to commute to their workplace: A clear majority, 73 per cent of employees in Germany and 67 per cent in Great Britain of those working from home, see this as a direct improvement in their quality of life.

The majority of companies support home office work

It is not only employees who see the advantages of working from home, companies have also given it the thumbs up: Of those who work in a home office, 57 per cent in Germany and 54 per cent in the UK report that their company encourages working from home. Only a minority of 19 per cent in Germany and 13 per cent in the UK have experienced resistance from their managers or companies.

Even so, should federal regulations, i.e. a legal basis, be brought in to ensure that employees have a right to work from home? A slight majority of employees in both countries (51 per cent in Germany and 52 per cent in Great Britain) believe that allowing a home office should be a decision made purely between the employer and employees. Only 42 per cent of employees in Germany and 35 per cent in Great Britain are in favour of statutory home office entitlements. The remainder of those surveyed have not yet formed an opinion about this or they declined to respond.

The figures from the survey have shown that the move from workplace to home was not possible without home office upgrades: In both countries, more than half of the home office respondents have invested in new home office equipment in the past twelve months. Bestsellers were in order: headphones and headsets, office chairs, keyboards and mice, and PC monitors.

Home office costs are largely borne by those working at home

Only one in five of those surveyed said their employer paid for their home office purchases: specifically, 22 per cent of respondents in the United Kingdom and 21 per cent in Germany. Some companies partially covered these costs, but in the end, 65 per cent of British employees and 60 per cent of their counterparts in Germany were left to cover the costs completely by themselves.

Need to catch up on digitalisation

The increased prevalence of home office work is a good indicator for the progress of digitalisation, but it has also shown many gaps. When asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a need to improve on the digitalisation front, 40 per cent of the employees in Germany and 37 per cent in the United Kingdom answered in the affirmative, based on their own workplace. A larger gap is seen “in the economy in general,” namely by 71 per cent of employees in Germany and 60 per cent in Great Britain. Employees in Germany give public authorities and public administration offices a particularly poor report card on their digitalisation efforts: 78 per cent see a clear need for improvement here. At 58 per cent, the British are nowhere near as bad.

“As seen in our recent study on distance learning, although progress has been made toward digitalisation, the pace of this progress is still far from sufficient in many areas,” said Dr. Sara Warneke, Managing Director of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics. She continues, “The fact that almost four of every five employees in Germany see a clear need to catch up in terms of digitalisation of public authorities and administration office should set alarm bells ringing among the political decision-makers. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the cause of this gap – it has only made it much more visible.”

* The data is based on an online survey conducted at the start of March 2021 by YouGov Deutschland GmbH, where 1,275 employees in Germany and 1,343 employees in the United Kingdom took part, of whom 533 (Germany) and 635 (UK) were working from home.