With the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance coming into force on 27 January 2021, companies are required to offer home office as far as possible. With its latest third wave of surveys on home office in Germany, the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) is also investigating the current prevalence and acceptance of home office, specifically in Bavaria, for the first time.
In January 2021, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs reacted to the high coronavirus incidence levels with a new SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety regulation. Detached from the regulation of home offices, which is on the labour policy agenda, the new Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance aims to minimise the risk of coronavirus infections at work and protect employees’ safety and health. In addition to other measures to reduce contact in the workplace, it also contains the employer’s obligation to allow employees to work from home for office work or comparable activities (Federal Gazette 2021). The ordinance came into force on 27 January 2021, and its validity was recently extended until 30 April 2021 by resolution of the federal and state governments (Bundesregierung 2021). Even before that, the Bavarian state government had appealed to companies in Bavaria at a home office summit in mid-January to allow as many employees as possible to work from home (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 13 January 2021).
Home office survey in Bavaria February 2021
The Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) took the new SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance as an opportunity to shed light on the effects of this ordinance on the spread and acceptance of working from home in Bavaria and Germany as a whole. To this end, bidt conducted a representative short survey in Bavaria from 5 to 7 February 2021 – i.e. shortly after the new regulation came into force. Using Google Surveys, 1,058 adult working internet users in Bavaria were surveyed. In addition, the survey was also addressed to 1,564 adult working internet users throughout Germany from 4 to 8 February 2021 using Google Surveys. The following shows similarities and differences in home office use in Bavaria and Germany.
Occupational health and safety regulation shows effects: Employers react by expanding home office options
39% of Bavarian employees report that employers have expanded home office options due to the ordinance. The vast majority of employees affected by the extension also want to use the extended home office options themselves (32% of all Bavarian employees); this is not the case for 7% of all Bavarian employees. 61% of the Bavarian employees had no home office extension. This was mainly because the home office options had already been exhausted (for 16% of Bavarian employees) or the activities generally do not permit home office (for 32% of Bavarian employees). A further 13% of employees in Bavaria state that their employer has not yet reacted to the new regulation.
Compared to the figures for Germany, it is noticeable that in Bavaria, a slightly larger proportion of employees report expanding home office options due to the new regulation.
High home office use in Bavaria: 55% of employees work at home at least from time to time
The use of home office is currently widespread in Bavaria. Now, 55% of all adult working internet users in Bavaria are in their home office at least occasionally. This is 6 percentage points more than the national average. At the same time, it is noticeable that even before the coronavirus pandemic, occasional home office use was more widespread in Bavaria than in Germany. Thus, 39% of the Bavarian respondents stated they had also worked from home at least occasionally before the coronavirus crisis. The figure for Germany as a whole is 35%.In contrast, the pre-crisis level in Bavaria does not differ from that of Germany as a whole when it comes to the intensive use of home office several times a week. 48% of all employed persons in Bavaria state that they currently work from home several times a week. In Germany, this is now
If one looks at home office use according to the activity predominantly performed on a typical working day, it becomes apparent that it is primarily people with desk jobs and activities in the areas of teaching, training and counselling who currently use home offices. Respondents with other activities – such as manufacturing goods, transporting people or goods, or in the healing and care professions – are far less likely to be in a home office. A clear difference between working Internet users in Bavaria and Germany is evident for respondents with teaching, training and counselling jobs. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, occasional home office use was much more pronounced among this group of people in Bavaria than in the German average. Now, during the coronavirus crisis, this difference is even more pronounced. Thus, 87% of Bavarian respondents with jobs in teaching, training and counselling say they currently work from home at least occasionally, 21 percentage points more than the national average. In terms of intensive home office use several times a week, this group in Bavaria is also well above the Germany-wide figure of 54%, at 73%. It thus appears that the overall slightly higher home office use in Bavaria compared to Germany is mainly due to persons with teaching, training and counselling jobs.
Home office potential is largely exhausted with frequent use
The adult working Internet users were also asked to estimate how often their current professional activities would allow home office use at most. The assessment of personal home office potential should be given regardless of whether the employer allows home office or whether such an offer would be used at all.
The subjective assessment of the potential for home office use can be compared to the actual use. This reveals the extent to which the home office potential has been exhausted. It shows that about 31% of all employed persons in Bavaria work (almost) exclusively in a home office. However, only about 21% of the respondents in Bavaria state that their activities can also be carried out (almost) exclusively in the home office. For this group, the home office potential is thus already more than exhausted. A reduction in home office use after the coronavirus crisis thus appears necessary for this group of respondents so that the respective activities can be pursued meaningfully.
If we now look at those who can use home office several times a week or (almost) exclusively, the potential among working internet users in Bavaria is 51%. 48% currently work from home several times a week or (almost) exclusively. This means that the home office potential is practically exhausted in this larger group of frequent users. It should also be noted that not all employees want to exploit the potential and that around 7% of all Bavarian employees state that they do not use the current expansion of home office options.
If one considers the occasional use of home office, a potential of 64% of all employed internet users in Bavaria stands in contrast to an actual use of 55%. For employees with possible home office use about once a week or less, the potential is not yet fully exhausted.
The results for Germany are very similar to those for Bavaria. About 26% of all working Internet users in Germany are (almost) exclusively in the home office. Only about 19% of the respondents state that their activities can also be carried out (almost) exclusively in the home office. For this group, the home office potential is currently more than exhausted, even throughout Germany. The self-assessed potential for home office use several times a week or (almost) exclusively among the employed Germans surveyed is 46%. 41% currently work from home several times a week or (almost) exclusively. If one considers the occasional use of home office, a total potential of 61% of all working Internet users in Germany is contrasted with an actual use of 49%.
High satisfaction with the home office situation
The vast majority of home office users surveyed in Bavaria are satisfied with their current home office situation. Overall, 77% say they are rather satisfied or very satisfied, 23% are rather dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. The satisfaction figures for Germany are practically identical, with 79% satisfied and 21% dissatisfied.
55% of all adult working Internet users in Bavaria are at home at least occasionally. 48% even work from home several times a week. Especially among these frequent users, the home office potential is thus practically exhausted. Home office use in Bavaria is also somewhat more pronounced than the national average. 77% of home office users in Bavaria are satisfied with the situation in the home office; for 23%, this is not the case.
There is much to suggest that the working world after corona will be different than before the pandemic began. Thus, a change in the working world in Bavaria and Germany seems likely due to the corona-related push for home office away from the pronounced presence culture. The high level of employee satisfaction is one side; a rethink on the employer side is the other.
Even if the current obligation to offer home office is only temporary, the use of home office will probably become more natural after the pandemic in Bavaria and will be possible more often than before the pandemic. A balanced mix of presence and home office days should become the rule where possible. In this way, the advantages of home office can be combined with the benefits of face-to-face work, and negative consequences of excessive home office use can be avoided. The experiences during the pandemic should provide impetus for employers and employees to find sensible arrangements for home office use.