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Is Germany’s home office dream disintegrating?

Is Germany's home office dream disintegrating?
Microsoft no longers requires employees to turn up to the office. Photo: DPA
While working from home has long been trumpeted as a stress-free alternative to siting in an office all day long, the trend has stubbornly failed to take on in Germany.

Home office has long been heralded as the future of office work. Its supporters say it has the potential to reduce stress and increase productivity. It also gives firms the chance to reduce overheads by moving into smaller office spaces.

Companies such as Satellite Office have been founded which offer firms the chance to totally give up on having their own work space. It offers conference rooms and office space for short term periods, so that a normally dispersed workforce can come together at timely moment to discuss projects face-to-face.

Meanwhile in 2014, Microsoft decided to take the unusual step of getting rid of the obligation for employees to turn up at the company's offices. Since then on any given day only 20-30 percent of the company's employees are usually found on the company's premises.

The bold decision has allowed the tech firm to downsize its office space and move into a more central location in Munich, where employees will have no set desk but will rotate as it suits them.

But despite this, statistics show that over the last two decades the culture of working from home has if anything become less popular.

A survey the Federal Statistics Office (destatis) show that whereas in 1996 13 percent of employees were utilising home office options provided by their companies 'sometimes or often', in 2014 this proportion had dropped to 11 percent.

A special case

“Microsoft is something of a special case,” Dr. Werner Eichhorst from the Research Institute for the Future of Work told The Local, saying he knew of no other company that had offered its employees similar conditions.

“Whereas the option to work from home is quite well established in public services and in creative industries, in other sectors it simply makes no sense,” he pointed out.

There are two principle reasons for why the home office culture has failed to take hold, he argued.

Firstly employees feel that communication in a complex work environment between multiple colleagues cannot be well replicated when people are not working close together.

Then he says that employees feel that if they work from home they get forgotten about and worry they are losing connection to their colleagues.

The researcher points out that working from home could reduce illnesses that result from overworking, such as stress which could have a positive impact on productivity, but that such a link is hard to prove.

On the other hand “many people feel that when they work from home their private and working lives are melding together and they don't like losing this sense of separation.”

Microsoft's circumstances as an IT firm give its decision a chance of succeeding where it would not be possible for other firms, Werner says.

“We don't expect to see an increase in companies reducing office space for this reason,” he concludes.

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