How a mix of home office and presence work succeeds


Back to the office or continue to work from home? For many companies, a hybrid model can be the solution: hybrid working. How to find a suitable model and define sensible rules.

Some don't want to come back to the company at all because they can work better in a home office. Others long to work on-site again, to meet colleagues. With the end of the home office obligation, by no means every company switched back to pre-Corona mode; because many employees now like to work from home.

This is also shown by the results of a study conducted by the Hans Böckler Foundation with around 1,800 participants who have worked in a home office in the meantime: 86 percent of those surveyed said that they would like to continue working in a home office in the future, at least in part, or that they would be free to choose their place of work.

This concept is called hybrid working: employees can largely decide for themselves where and when they work - of course, this only works in companies where home offices are possible. How it can be possible to combine remote and face-to-face work, what the advantages are, and what entrepreneurs should bear in mind. 

1. Find out what the team wants

Before bosses decide on a model for hybrid working, they should ask their employees what they want.
It's possible that individual team members want something different from what was assumed - for example, the initial home office opponent may have taken a liking to it in the meantime and would like to continue to spend the majority of working hours at home.

To determine wishes and needs, employers can, for example, create a survey. In it, they should ask each person to indicate how many days he or she would like to work at home in the future.

In smaller companies where there are no departments or teams, management and employees should talk together about expectations and wishes and develop a concept from this, recommends Christian Lorenz. He is a member of the management team at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Personalführung e.V. (DGFP) and sees from his network of several thousand HR professionals how the topic of hybrid working is discussed - and accordingly knows many approaches and challenges.

2. Developing a model for hybrid working

Once the wishes have been collected, bosses must compare them with their own ideas:
For example, should employees come into the company at least two days a week?
Should there be a fixed team day when everyone comes in to exchange ideas in person?
Or should all employees be completely free to decide where they work because this has worked well in recent months?

Each company has to find a suitable concept for itself. "In my experience, many companies choose the 2-3 or 3-2 model - that is, two or three days of home office and three or two days of on-site work," says Lorenz.

Allow individual solutions in teams
In many companies, the expert says, it has proven effective not to impose a rigid solution on the team, but to leave a certain amount of freedom: "You don't make any hard-and-fast announcements, but give individual teams or departments a certain range within which they can move. So you leave the specific design to the individual teams and their managers."

That makes sense, he says, because the respective teams often have different prerequisites: In one, there are several mothers and fathers who have to pick up their children from daycare in the afternoon and therefore like to work from home frequently. In another team, collaboration works best on-site because team members need to coordinate a lot.

Set rules for meetings
If everyone is constantly working somewhere else, it's difficult to get the whole team together for meetings. That's why rules and good technical equipment are needed. Expert Lorenz sees three ways to make meetings succeed with hybrid working:

Employers set a day when everyone meets on site - all meetings take place on this attendance day, if possible.
"If not everyone is on site, you agree that everyone will dial in from their respective workstations," Lorenz says. This solution may seem odd when colleagues dial into a meeting in the same room at their respective workstations - but it ensures that remote colleagues are not left out.
Invest in meeting technology. For example, set up cameras at every seat in meeting rooms, table microphones or sound bars. "When hybrid working is no longer the exception but the rule, it makes sense to invest in good technology," says the expert. Having people present on site pass around a cell phone or put a phone on speaker is not a solution. Remote workers often don't know who is speaking - if they can understand the person at all.

Determine the test period
One thing is true for any model: It should not be set in stone. Lorenz recommends setting a date from the outset for the team to share their experiences and adjust the arrangements if necessary. What works well, what less so? What do individuals want to change? Does it even make sense to rely on hybrid working?

3. Clarify organizational issues

Organize equipment in the home office
Because of the inevitable work in the home office by Corona, many employees are technically well equipped at home. But at the latest when hybrid working becomes a permanent model, bosses should check whether everything is really there:

Do all employees have a laptop or standalone computer at home?
Do they all have an external monitor - or have some resigned themselves to the small laptop screen, which can be permanently detrimental to their health?
Do they have an external keyboard and mouse?
Do team members need office chairs at home?
Do they all have suitable spaces to work quietly and a desk?

Redesigning spaces
Hybrid working means that business owners need to think about their corporate spaces - because they may not need as much space as before.

So employers should look into subletting individual spaces or downsizing overall. Also, in Lorenz's experience, it can make sense to redesign spaces: Move away from small individual or two-person offices to larger spaces where team members can interact. After all, those who want to work quietly often do so in a home office.

4. Inform yourself about labor law issues Employment contracts

Those who have stipulated a fixed place of work in their previous contracts must change this in the case of hybrid work. Bosses can change individual employment contracts for this purpose, make supplementary agreements or - if there is a works council - establish a company agreement.

Working abroad
If the place of work is secondary thanks to a hybrid model, one or the other employee may be drawn abroad temporarily - after all, you can also work while traveling. Working from abroad on a mobile basis for a short period of time is also possible in principle.

But be careful: "Home office from abroad is insanely complex," warns Lorenz. "If you work abroad for a longer period of time, you come into tax liability there, into social security contributions, into the respective labor law." If employees want to work in other countries, employers should therefore carefully consider this request.

Occupational safety
The Workplace Ordinance (Arb StättV) does not mention home office or mobile working. It only applies to teleworking, i.e. home offices that have been equipped and tested for safety by the employer. This is probably not the case for most home office workplaces - and not for mobile workplaces anyway. Bosses therefore do not have to meet the stringent requirements of the ordinance for home offices.

Nevertheless, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, they must ensure that employees can work safely at home and do not endanger their health. Employers must therefore conduct a risk assessment.

Lorenz: "For many employers, some things are still unclear. It remains to be seen whether the government will anchor the home office in the law in the future and thus make some regulations clearer. One example: At work, power strips must be checked regularly. Does the employer have to do the same in the home office?"

Advantages of hybrid working

Despite the effort involved in switching to hybrid working, the model can pay off for companies in the long run: "If you're looking for new colleagues, you can advertise better flexibility and work-life balance thanks to a hybrid working concept," says Lorenz. "This may also offer the chance to recruit new talent that you didn't get to before - for example, because they live in another city and can work from there. Then someone from Berlin might take a job in Munich because they only have to be on site every two weeks."

The switch can also bring financial benefits: "You no longer need jobs for all employees, but can save some if everyone is willing to deskshare," says Lorenz. Companies can downsize or sublease offices, for example.

And last but not least, the step to hybrid working is rather small for many companies: Because of the pandemic, the technical and spatial prerequisites for hybrid working are usually already in place anyway and the team is used to working from different locations.

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