With the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance coming into force on 27 January 2021, companies are required to offer home office as much as possible. With its latest, third wave of surveys on home office in Germany, the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) examines the current prevalence of home office in Germany and the effects of this regulation.
In January 2021, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs reacted to the high corona 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 to protect the safety and health of employees. In addition to other measures to reduce contact in the workplace, it also contains a regulation on home office. Thus, “employers […] must offer employees in the case of office work or comparable activities to carry out these activities in their homes if there are no compelling operational reasons to the contrary” (Bundesanzeiger 2021). The ordinance came into force on 27 January 2021 and is valid up to and including 30 June 2021.
Home office survey February 2021
The Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) took the new SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Regulation as an opportunity to shed light on the effects of this regulation on the prevalence and acceptance of home office work. To this end, bidt conducted a representative short survey from 4 to 8 February 2021 – shortly after the new regulation came into force. Using Google Surveys, 1,564 adult working internet users in Germany were surveyed. The survey complements the two bidt survey waves previously conducted from 27 to 29 March 2020 and from 12 to 15 June 2020. This allows an analysis of the spread and acceptance of home office over time. The following is an overview of the results.
Majority believes in the effect of the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance
A clear majority of 61% of adult working internet users agree with the statement that the current ordinance will increase the use of home office overall. Only 18 % are of the opposite opinion.
Occupational health and safety regulation shows quick effects
The expectation of a positive effect of the new Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance on home office is also reflected in the actual behaviour of employers. Around 34% of the employees surveyed report that employers have expanded home office options as a result of the ordinance. While 26 % of all employees also want to use the offered extension, this is not the case for 8 %. For about two thirds of all employees surveyed, there has been no expansion of home office so far. This was either because the employer did not react to the regulation (14 %) or because a further expansion was not possible. Thus, 14 % of workers report that home office options have already been exhausted, 39 % report that their jobs do not allow for home office.
Especially for workers with desk jobs, but also for people with jobs in teaching, training and counselling, the ordinance led to a further expansion of home office in many cases. For all other activities – such as the production of goods, the transport of persons or goods, or healing and care activities – the ordinance has only led to an expansion of work from home in a few cases. This is largely due to the fact that home office is generally not possible for these activities.
Home office use higher than ever
Compared to June of last year, the use of home office has increased significantly. Around half of all adult working internet users are currently in their home office at least from time to time. Compared to home office use during the first lockdown in March 2020, use has increased by another 6 percentage points. It is now 14 percentage points above the reported pre-crisis level of 35%. The use of home office several times a week has increased significantly compared to June 2020. Thus, currently about 41 % of working internet users work from home several times a week. This share has doubled compared to the time before the corona crisis.
If one looks at home office use according to the activity predominantly carried out on a typical working day, it is mainly people with desk jobs who can currently use home offices. Thus, around 78 % of employed internet users who work predominantly at a desk currently work in a home office at least from time to time. 68 % even work from home several times a week. Home office use is also relatively high among people with jobs in teaching, training and counselling. On the other hand, only a few respondents with other activities – such as producing goods, transporting people or goods, or in healing and care activities – are in a home office. Only 14% of them use a home office from time to time, and only one in ten several times a week.
Home office potential largely exhausted with frequent use
In the new survey wave in February 2021, adult working internet users were asked to estimate how often their current professional activities would allow them to work from home. The assessment of the personal home office potential was to be given independently 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 potential is currently exhausted. It shows that currently about 26% of all employees are (almost) exclusively in a home office. However, 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 thus already more than exhausted. A reduction in home office use after the corona crisis thus appears necessary for this group of respondents so that the respective activities can be pursued meaningfully at all.
If we now look at those who can use home office several times a week or (almost) exclusively, the potential among working internet users is 46%. In fact, 42 % currently work from home several times a week or (almost) exclusively. This means that in this larger group of frequent users, the home office potential has already been largely exhausted. It should also be noted that not all workers want to exploit the possible potential and around 8% of all workers state that they do not use the expansion of home office options that has currently taken place. For this group, a further expansion of home office hardly seems to be in line with the activities and preferences of the employees.
If one extends the consideration to the occasional use of home office, a potential of a total of 61% of all employed internet users is contrasted with an actual use of 49%. For employees with possible home office use about once a week or less, the potential is therefore not yet fully exhausted.
Satisfaction with the home office situation remains high
The vast majority of home office users surveyed continue to be satisfied with their current home office situation. Overall, 79% of them say they are rather satisfied or very satisfied. This corresponds roughly to the proportion of satisfied respondents during the first lockdown in March 2020. Compared to June 2020, this represents a slight decrease of 6 percentage points. However, an increase can be seen among those respondents who are very dissatisfied with their own home office situation. Their share has doubled to 8 % compared to March and June 2020.
Interesting differences can also be seen in the satisfaction scores by home office usage frequency. Thus, in February 2021, 47 % of those working internet users who work in their home office at least several times a week are very satisfied. For those who work from home only about once a week or less, on the other hand, the figure is only 33 %. At the same time, the proportion of very dissatisfied frequent users, at 9 %, is significantly higher than among the infrequent users, at only 2 %. Among frequent users, the middle categories of rather satisfied or rather dissatisfied are therefore less pronounced than among the few users.
Based on the current use of home office by professionals several times a week and the self-assessed potential for it, the potential seems to be largely exhausted among frequent users. Some professionals who are currently (almost) exclusively in the home office are even in the home office more often than their activities actually allow. The lack of personal exchange with colleagues and customers and the additional mental or physical strain in a permanent home office can also play a negative role in the performance of the activities. Only in the area of those who make little use of it is there still unused home office potential. After about a year of the corona crisis, the level of satisfaction with the home office situation is still very high.
There are many indications that the working world after the coronavirus will be different than before the start of the pandemic. Thus, a change in the working world in 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 of the coin, a rethink on the part of employers is the other. In company surveys, for example, around half or even more of the German companies surveyed state that they want to offer more home office options in the future (ifo 2020; Fraunhofer IAO 2020; ifo digital 2020). Nevertheless, the companies also perceive negative effects of the current home office situation (ifo digital 2020).
The use of home office will thus probably become more natural after the pandemic 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 regulations for home office use.