Home-Office Home Office
More flexible working practices are the long-cherished wish of many employees. But it took the Corona pandemic for bosses to recognize the benefits of home offices and digital communications. With the gradual easing of contact restriction regulations, German companies are slowly lining up for a return to the office.

Is this a return to "business as usual"?

According to the industry association Bitkom, around one in two employees worked completely or at least partially from home during the pandemic. Currently, "social distancing" measures are gradually being relaxed and employees can partially return to their offices. A study by staffing firm Robert Half concludes that despite positive experiences, working from home also has drawbacks. The authors see the future more in hybrid models. And Xing's new "Corona Barometer" also shows that employers must create real opportunities to meet in order to ensure cohesion.

More support among employees than before the crisis

According to the Robert Half survey, most companies have learned to cope well with the changed working world, which is becoming increasingly digital. Employees would have quickly gotten used to the new situation and adapted their working methods. According to the survey, one-third of respondents say that the workforce works well together under the current conditions and that colleagues even support each other better as a team. Almost three in ten (29 percent) say employees still have a positive attitude toward their work. The study chalks this up as positive, even if the results suggest the reverse, that two-thirds are not (any longer) positive.

Digitization influences future forms of work

The question of the "new normal" is not so easy to answer, says Christian Umbs, Managing Director at Robert Half. "What is certain is that the Corona crisis will have an impact on the way we work in the future. Many companies that were previously critical or wait-and-see about home office solutions have found that employees working from home are not only more engaged and satisfied, but also more productive." Some bosses have already announced that they will be more open to the idea of a home office in the future: "Even though many employees are now longing to return to the office, they still want the option of a home office to remain available," says Umbs.

Many employees have to adapt to a new working world

There are probably several reasons behind this ambivalent desire. Many employees are worried about their jobs due to the economic consequences of the Corona crisis, or at least fear financial bottlenecks due to short-time work. "A resumption of normal operations would give them more security," Umbs says. On the other hand, however, many workers in recent weeks have come to appreciate the time flexibility and a time savings from not having to commute to work. "For employees, the offer of a home office means that their needs are met more closely and a high level of trust is placed in them," Umbs explains. "But to ensure that the boundaries between work and leisure don't dissolve too much, a high degree of self-discipline is also required."

Hybrid working as a model for the future

In addition, a good one in four managers (28 percent) believe that remote work makes employees more flexible and that they benefit from a better work-life balance because they can work independently of location and manage their time better. Just as many of the respondents find that retaining key employees with key skills is more successful this way. Another finding of the study is that hybrid working, the mix of home office and presence phases, has proven itself in times of crisis. 86 percent of managers believe that this model will become permanently established in the working world. The survey in November involved 300 executives (general managers, CIOs and CFOs) in Germany at companies with 50 or more employees.

Well-being in the home office difficult for executives to oversee

When asked about the challenges of remote work and hybrid working, one-third of the executives surveyed (33 percent) cited finding employees with new skills. Just as many said it is difficult to keep track of employee well-being and mental health. Thirty-two percent noted higher costs for "additional benefits" such as technical equipment, health offerings or childcare.

Managers who disregard the needs of their employees risk, in the worst case, damage to their employees' health due to social isolation, too little support when problems arise or too high a workload, warns Emine Yilmaz, Vice President Permanent Brands at Robert Half in connection with employee well-being. The key, she says, is to find individual solutions for everyone. Yilmaz points out that a close and direct exchange with colleagues in the home office helps to recognize warning signals at an early stage so that countermeasures can be taken immediately


Task for employers: enable personal contact

The importance of direct interaction during home office hours is also confirmed by the results of Xing's latest survey: around 70 percent of respondents said that personal contact within the company is important for corporate culture to emerge and be felt. This March, 1,176 active Xing members took part in the survey, 348 of them in Germany, 424 in Austria and 404 in Switzerland. Corporate culture needs an office, a physical place for interaction, creative togetherness, and more,Sabrina Zeplin, Managing Director of Xing, deduces from the study results, and thus also advocates hybrid work models.

Corporate culture has changed for every second employee

As far as the corporate culture of their company is concerned, slightly more than half of the respondents (54 percent) are currently very or somewhat satisfied. However, almost one in two (49 percent) state that the culture has changed since the beginning of the crisis - for 29 percent to the negative and for 20 percent, i.e. slightly less, to the positive. Above all, employees miss shared activities, including virtual ones, which apparently also come up short. They also feel greater pressure to perform and increased psychological stress, and they receive less praise and appreciation for their work than before. It is not surprising that those respondents who believe that the corporate culture has changed for the better experienced precisely this appreciation during the crisis, and that their relationship of trust with their superiors has also improved. Another criterion that is particularly important to the respondents is the collegial interaction with each other.
Still need for action by employers

Xing members were also asked whether they would like to see a culture manager or "feelgood manager" in the company who would actively shape the corporate culture. 60 percent answered in the affirmative. Whether they have a feelgood manager or not, employees obviously need more cohesion and the feeling that their employer cares about them and offers them opportunities to exchange ideas with colleagues, especially in times of crisis and when they are working from home. Overall, the results of the two studies suggest that employers still need to take action here.​