Is Germany’s home office dream disintegrating?

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.

Is Germany's home office dream disintegrating?
Microsoft no longers requires employees to turn up to the office. Photo: DPA

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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Reader question: Do I have to work from home under Germany’s new measures?

Starting next week, employees must work from home if asked to do so by their employers. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: Do I have to work from home under Germany's new measures?
Photo: DPA

Under the new Infections Protection Act, officially approved by Germany’s Bundesrat on Thursday, employees will for the first time be legally required to work in their homes if requested to do so by their employers.

And employers, in turn, must send employees home where “there are no compelling operational reasons to the contrary,” according to the new legislation, first passed in Germany’s parliament on Wednesday.

The new legislation is expected to come into effect starting next week.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany’s new ’emergency brake’ Covid rules

What’s changed?

Previously, employers had to offer ‘home office’ where possible, yet employees were free to decide whether to accept the offer, or to go to the office anyway. 

The new law now states: “Employees must accept this offer unless there are reasons for them not to do so.”

Why now? 

A few weeks ago, a study from a Munich-based researcher revealed that the vast majority of German employees were still coming into their place of work, even though experts have estimated that around 56 percent could potentially work from home during the pandemic.

In addition, there have been a number of recent reports suggesting that some companies aren’t putting basic hygiene measures in place for employees, even though Covid-19 infection rates are at a critical point. 

READ ALSO: ‘Blindly continuing’: Are too many workers going into the office amid pandemic?

Will more employees work from home in response to the new act?

It’s hard to say, however, how effective the new legislation will be in getting more employees to set up their office at home.

Workers can claim exceptions – without giving evidence – as to why working from home is not suitable for them.

Furthermore, the newly formulated home office rules – unlike before – are no longer linked to threats of fines for those who still head into their workplace.

Possible exceptions for employees who nevertheless do not want to work at home are listed in the notes in the new act.

 “Reasons for not doing so may include, for example, space constraints, interference from third parties or inadequate technical equipment,” it said. 

“A notification by the employee at the employer’s request that working from home is not possible is sufficient to demonstrate this.” 

Accordingly, if an employee claims that his or her home is unsuitable, this could suffice.

Inspection visits to the home by the employer or Germany’s Occupational Health and Safety Authority are not likely to be accepted.

Testing in the office

As was previously the case, those who cannot work at home must be offered a test once a week by the company.

Those who are in frequent contact with customers are entitled to a maximum of two tests per week.

READ ALSO: Free Covid tests for staff – These are Germany’s new rules for employers


operational reasons – betriebsbedingten Gründe/betriebliche Gründe

threats of fines – (die) Bußgelddrohungen

not fitting – ungeeignet

equipment – (die) Ausstattung

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