The government elected after the 2021 Bundestag elections will face challenges in adapting to the digitalisation of the work environment and establishing a legal framework for remote work. Against this background and a less tense pandemic situation, the bidt investigates the current use and acceptance of home office in Germany in its fifth survey. Employed persons were also surveyed about their thoughts on the topic of regulation.
Home office survey September/October 2021
Germany has been in political upheaval since the Bundestag elections on 26 September 2021. After 16 years of CDU-led federal governments, the SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and FDP are now negotiating a new coalition. The digital transformation of the work environment is one of the important topics for the future that has already played a role in the election programmes of the parties. Especially since the beginning of the corona pandemic, remote working has become significantly more important. For many employees, working from home has since been part of an attractive workplace (Stürz et al. 2021). The parties now negotiating have also developed clear ideas on the legal framework for home office during the election campaign.
According to their election manifestos, the SPD and the Greens want to introduce a legal right to mobile working within the framework of company possibilities. Mobile working or home office use should be based on the principle of voluntariness for employees (SPD 2021; Greens 2021). The FDP, on the other hand, wants to introduce a legal right to discussion. According to this, the employer side would have to examine and discuss with employees their request for remote working and home office (FDP 2021). The FDP proposal corresponds to the regulation in the Netherlands, one of the pioneers in Europe in terms of remote work (Stürz et al. 2020).
The Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) recently conducted a survey on the topic of home office. The survey was conducted when the political situation had changed after the Bundestag elections, the pandemic situation had somewhat improved, and the home office obligation had expired. The survey collected data on the current attitudes of employed people towards the right to work from home and the regulation of the work environment. Additionally, the survey examined the prevalence of home office and job satisfaction. The survey was conducted from 20 September to 10 October 2021 and involved 1,126 adult working internet users in Germany. This survey is part of a series of five bidt surveys on the home office topic, allowing for analyses over time.
The majority favours stronger regulation in the digitalisation of the work environment.
Most respondents (61%) believe politics should intervene more strongly in the digitalisation of the work environment. Differences can be seen among professionals (not) working from home. Around two-thirds of those working from home are in favour of stronger regulation. This proportion is about ten percentage points lower among professionals who do not work from home.
Legal right to working from home supported by a majority of professionals.
Almost two-thirds of working internet users favour having a legal right to work from home, as long as their job allows it. Respondents who have the option to work from home are particularly keen on having this right, with 34% of them completely agreeing that the government should create a legal framework to enable this and 35% rather agreeing. In contrast, only 12% of those who cannot work from home fully agree with this statement, while 37% rather agree. The categorisation of respondents based on their ability to work from home is determined by their self-assessment.
The effects of digitalisation on the world of work are perceived very differently depending on home office usage options.
The survey among professionals revealed that 54% believe digitalisation will improve the world of work, while only 16% think it will make it worse. However, the data shows significant differences in perception based on whether or not the employees can work from home. Among those who can work from home, 65% feel that digitalisation will improve their work life, while approximately a quarter see no change. On the other hand, only 29% of those who cannot work from home believe that digitalisation will improve their work life, with nearly a quarter perceiving a deterioration and 47% seeing no change.
Significant decline in the frequency of home office use since May 2021.
According to the latest survey, approximately 46% of employed internet users worked from home at least occasionally in September/October 2021. This marks a moderate decline of 6 percentage points compared to the previous survey conducted in May 2021. Among those surveyed, only 31% still work from home several times a week. This represents a decrease of 15 percentage points compared to the May survey when Germany had the most stringent home office regulations. At that time, companies were required to offer home office as much as possible, and employees were also obligated to comply whenever possible. The current numbers for working from home several times a week are the lowest recorded in all surveys so far and are roughly equivalent to the level observed in the summer of 2020.
Individuals who work from home report higher levels of satisfaction with their overall work situation than those who do not.
The majority of professionals express a high level of job satisfaction. 77% of respondents report being either rather or very satisfied with their current work situation. However, there are disparities between individuals who work from home and those who do not. Specifically, 83% of those who use a home office report being satisfied with their work, while only 72% of those who do not use a home office share the same sentiment.
An in-depth analysis indicates that the satisfaction level of professionals with their work situation is directly linked to the frequency of working from home. Specifically, 87% of professionals who work from home several times a week report being rather or very satisfied. In contrast, only 74% of those who work from home occasionally or less frequently express satisfaction. This difference is especially noticeable among those who are very satisfied. Over half of frequent home office users report being very satisfied with their current work situation, while occasional users have a proportion of less than a third.
Satisfaction with own home office situation remains at a high level.
When looking at satisfaction with one’s situation in the home office, no significant differences or patterns of change can be found compared to the previous surveys. At 85%, the overwhelming majority of people who work from home are also currently rather or very satisfied with their situation in the home office.
The level of satisfaction with working from home is based on the frequency of remote work. Those who work from home more frequently tend to be more satisfied with their home office situation. Among the surveyed professionals who work (almost) exclusively from home, 93% reported being rather or very satisfied. However, for those who work from home once a week or less, the satisfaction rate drops to only 71%.
According to a multivariate analysis of data from all five survey waves, there is a positive correlation between working from home more frequently and feeling satisfied with one’s home office situation. This correlation remains even after controlling for the respondents’ age, gender, and the survey waves. Interestingly, there were no significant effects of age or gender. Additionally, there appears to be a trend of increased satisfaction with one’s home office situation in the later surveys conducted after May 2020.
Summary and outlook
Based on the latest data, it appears that many professionals still work from home occasionally, but not as often as before. Despite this, those who work from home are still generally satisfied with their setup. In addition, there is a clear correlation between the frequency of home office use and satisfaction: the more frequently professionals work from home, the higher the satisfaction values.
Concerning the current coalition negotiations and the parties’ proposals for the future regulation of home office, the survey shows that most respondents would like to see a legal right to work from home. There is a strong desire for a legal entitlement among those who can work from home due to their job tasks. However, it remains to be seen if such a legal claim will be necessary after the surge of home office usage caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Currently, the use of home office has remained significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. According to company surveys, various companies have expressed interest in providing more home office options in the future (Ifo 2020; Fraunhofer IAO 2020). Furthermore, a suitable home office offer will increasingly become a competitive factor for companies in the fight for qualified workers (Stürz et al. 2021).
Along with the high satisfaction rates of employees in home offices, companies, in particular, should seize the opportunities arising from the pandemic and increase their attractiveness by offering more flexible forms of work. Social partnership arrangements for home office should therefore be the focus now. Policy-makers should support such agreements by adapting the framework conditions to an increasingly digitalised work environment without burdening the economic recovery phase with new, high bureaucratic requirements on home office. An increase in the scope of labour law for both the employer and the employee, stronger co-determination in the design of home office regulations and clear requirements in terms of occupational health and safety in the home office represents possibilities for shaping the framework conditions. At the same time, an appropriate regulatory framework can increase legal certainty in the design of home office for companies and employees. Further steps should only be taken if these measures do not show any sustainable effects, and relapse to a pronounced presence culture at the pre-crisis level can be observed after the corona pandemic. The introduction of a right of discussion based on the Dutch model, according to which the employer side must discuss home office requests of employees with them, could be such a step.
At the same time, when shaping the framework conditions, policy-makers must also keep in mind those who do not have the option of working from home. The survey data show clear differences between employed persons who (could) work from home and those for whom this does not apply. Professionals who cannot work from home are less likely to be satisfied with their current work situation than those who work from home at least occasionally. It’s worth noting that only a small number of professionals who cannot work from home view digitalisation as beneficial for their work. Highly skilled workers, on the other hand, are particularly well-suited to working remotely (Mergener 2020). However, excessive promotion of home office, such as through tax incentives, could exacerbate the societal gap between digitalisation’s winners and losers. If remote work is not an option, policy-makers and employers must strive for a balanced approach to prevent a rift in the workforce or further social division. It is important to educate and support employees and managers alike while bolstering additional qualifications and training to ensure as many workers as possible can participate in the benefits of digitalisation. The rapid digitalisation of the workplace due to COVID-19 challenges the economy and society. Therefore, ongoing research is needed to shape this transformation and actively develop recommendations for its advancement.