Will working from home become the norm in Germany post coronavirus?

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people working from home in Germany paled in comparison to other European countries. The coronavirus crisis changed that. Is there bound to be a permanent culture shift?

Will working from home become the norm in Germany post coronavirus?
Photo: DPA

Back in January, the term “Home Office” for most of us in Germany meant an infrequent bonus, offering us the chance to get a head start on the household chores before the weekend whilst keeping an eye on our work emails.

During the coronavirus pandemic, however, working from home has shifted to becoming the norm for those of us lucky enough to carry out our jobs from the comfort of our own dwellings.

As we tentatively step towards an end of lockdown restrictions, businesses, government and workers are weighing up the pros and cons of working from home as they consider making it a more permanent feature of our working lives.

A dramatic change

Dr. Anja Gerlmaier of the Institute for Work, Skills and Training at the University of Duisburg told The Local that before the corona crisis, only eight percent of people in regular employment in Germany worked from home.

This is lower than in most other European countries, which she attributed to a very strong “presence culture” in Germany. People who regularly work from home were considered more family oriented than career focused.

“Before corona, employers may have used excuses for not allowing staff to work from home, such as the costs involved in supplying their workers with the necessary equipment,” said Gerlmaier.

But since the corona crisis, the amount of people now working from home has risen to 35 percent. This sharp increase shows that Home Office is indeed possible and it will be very difficult for employers now to justify not letting their staff work from home.”

The Employment Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) even wants to make working from home a legal right and is currently drafting a law which would enable anyone who wants to (and is able to) to work in home office – even when the corona pandemic is over.

READ ALSO: German government set to introduce permanent 'Right to work from home'

Working from home can have its advantages. Photo: DPA

More or less productive at home?

The sudden and dramatic increase in people working from home has also seen a boom in programmes which enable us to communicate with our colleagues.

One such company is Mentimeter, an interactive presentation platform established in 2014, which has seen an increase in signups of between 150 and 200 percent throughout the pandemic, having already had 75 million global users at the start of 2020.

The company conducted a survey of 1,500 of its users – workers across all office-based sectors of the German workforce who found themselves working from home for the first time due to Covid-19.

Some of the eye-catching and light-hearted findings include 13 percent of respondents admitting to turning their camera off due to being naked or partially clothed and 42 percent of respondents reporting that their colleagues were the things they missed least about working in the office.

One of the more significant findings, however, was that 64 percent of respondents felt that they were less productive when working from home. Mentimeter’s CEO Johnny Warström, told us “as the respondents in our research were all new to remote working, this drop in productivity may simply be because of the period of adjustment to something new.

On the other hand, some elements of office life are difficult to recreate virtually. It could be as simple as not always being able to turn to a colleague to ask a question, or being able to instantly discuss a problem.”

Dr. Gerlmaier told us that, in her view, increased productivity can be one of the most important advantages of working from home, but this can only happen if one's time is managed effectively.

Combining childcare with home office doesn't help productivity. Source: DPA

“Studies have shown that working from home can significantly boost productivity. But this advantage does not come automatically, as workers need to regulate how they work.

“For example, when people work very hard at home, they don’t realise how often they need to take a break, where as in the office they would do this automatically, for example, to get up to talk to colleagues. Not taking breaks can lead to psychological strain and ideally, employers should give their workers training on how to work at home.”

Of course, the novel impact of the corona crisis has particularly impacted on the productivity of parents working from home, given that they have also had to home school their children during this time. 

READ ALSO: Germany considers tax advantages of working from home

Potential for the future

So, will the high numbers of workers in Home Office continue after the pandemic has left us?

Another of Mentimeter’s findings was that 28 percent of respondents cited internet or technology issues as the greatest impediment to productivity, but, as Warström pointed out: “I would be surprised if the Covid crisis did not result in a widespread investment in the tools necessary for employees to be able to work from home.”

Dr. Gerlmaier is of the opinion that the corona crisis has shown that digitalization could also make a considerable ecological impact.

“For workers who regularly drive 50 kilometres to work, this will surely largely cut emissions. Many workers will have realised that working from home offers big practical benefits and it will be harder for employers to deny them the right to work from home, when their staff have already seen that this is possible. But I don’t think we will get to 35 percent again.”





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7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network.