Despite the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home remains a relevant topic. In the ninth survey on this subject, the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) examines the current prevalence and acceptance of working from home at the end of 2023. The study takes a detailed look at the use and satisfaction of working from home as well as the regulations in companies, career opportunities and employees’ identification with the company.
Spread and acceptance of working from home at the end of 2023
Since the official ending of the COVID-19 pandemic in the beginning of April 2023, the pre-pandemic state has returned in many areas. However, in other spaces the measures introduced during the pandemic remain in place. Specifically, in the world of work, working from home continues to be a hot topic. While some companies expect the era of remote work coming to an end (The Guardian 2023), others see working from home as indispensable, especially for the recruitment of key specialists (BDA 2023). However, there are still open questions such as: first, how many employees still work from home? Second, does this work practice impact employees’ identification with their employers? Third, what is the current situation regarding official company regulations? The ninth survey on the topic of working from home conducted by the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) seeks to answer these questions.
On behalf of the bidt, the market research institute DCore conducted an online survey of German working Internet users. From September 12 to 22, DCore surveyed a total of 994 persons. The following results are representatively weighted for the population of working online users in Germany, with weights based on age, gender and federal state. This survey supplements the eight previous cross-sectional studies conducted by the bidt in March and June 2020, in February, May and September/October 2021 and in March, June and October 2022 on the topic of working from home and thus also allows analyses over time. It is worth noting that the previous survey waves of internet users in Germany were conducted using Google Surveys, which was discontinued in November 2022.
Working from home remains highly relevant even after the COVID-19 pandemic
At the end of 2023, home office usage remains clearly above the pre-pandemic level, nevertheless it decreased slightly compared to October 2022. At 48%, almost half of all employed internet users in Germany use home office at least occasionally. Home office is more common among male, younger employees who work full-time, have a high level of formal education, a high income, and work in medium-sized to large companies with 50 to 4,999 employees. Managers with personnel and/or budget responsibility are also more likely to work from home. While 41% of employed internet users still worked several times a week from home in 2022 (Stürz et al. 2022), this figure has reduced to just under 31% in September 2023. This trend shows a significant decline in the high-frequency home office use. By comparison, the at least occasional use of home office declined by seven percent since October 2022.
One reason for this decline is the adjustment of the companies’ home office offerings. Since the end of the COVID-19-related restrictions, 44% of the home office users have had to return to their on-site workplace much or somewhat more frequently. On the other side, 21% of all home office users report that they now have to work on site somewhat or significantly less often. There have been no adjustments for a total of 35% of the home office users surveyed. For the vast majority (81%) of employed internet users who do not work from home, there has also been no change in home office options.
Majority of companies have home office regulations
65% of all employed internet users surveyed report that their company has regulations regarding home office use. Specifically, respondents in larger companies with 50 or more employees or in companies that are not owner-managed report regulations more frequently than respondents in smaller companies or companies that are owner-managed. At 20%, service agreements and/or works agreements are the most common forms of regulation. However, agreements in the employment contract (14%) or general guidelines from company management (11%) are also relatively common.
Focusing on home office users only, even 89% of them state that their place of work has home office regulations. In contrast, only 41% of respondents who do not work from home report this. And 22% have no knowledge of regulations regarding home office. This means that those who cannot or do not want to work from home are either significantly less informed about regulations, or the topic of working from home is not relevant to the employer and is therefore less likely to be discussed.
79% of respondents who report regulations do not deviate from them when working from home. Respondents without home office use state this more frequently (84%) than respondents with home office use (76%).
Highest level of satisfaction with own situation in home office
Satisfaction with their own home office situation has reached its highest level since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vast majority of 92% of home office users are satisfied with their own home office situation. Only about 9% are somewhat or very dissatisfied. In addition, employed internet users who work from home exclusively or several times a week (97%) are more satisfied than respondents who only work from home once a week or only rarely (82%). One possible reason for the continued high level of satisfaction with remote work may be that it is now possible to choose more flexibly and freely between different work locations, instead of having to work from home due to pandemic-relatedrestrictions.
Perceived employer attitude towards working from home predominantly positive
Almost half of the employees surveyed see a positive change in employers’ attitudes towards working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic. One quarter does not perceive this, while a further 25% say they do not know. Compared to May 2021, noticeably fewer working internet users see a positive change in their employer’s view of working from home. At that time, 80% still agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that employers now view home office usage much more positively (Stürz et al. 2021).
When asked about their employer’s perceived attitude towards working from home, 32% of the employees surveyed rate this as fundamentally positive and 36% as neutral. Only 16% ascribe a negative attitude to their employer and 16% state that they do not know.
There is a strong correlation between the employer’s perceived attitude towards working from home and the actual use of working from home by employees. For example, 82% of the employees surveyed who ascribe a positive home office attitude to their employer also use the opportunity to work from home. For employers with neutral attitude, there are 43% of the employees surveyed that use home office, and 26% if the employer’s attitude is perceived as negative. Further, employees who perceive a positive employer attitude also spend more time working from home.
Employer’s positive work-from-home attitude increases company identification
Identification with one’s own company is of crucial importance for employee retention and employee motivation, especially in times of a shortage of skilled workers. The following section takes a closer look at the concept of company identification, which measures identification with the organization and its values and goals, as well as one’s own commitment to the organization and the desire to remain a member of the organization (Fischer et al. 2021).
When looking at company identification and home office use, internet-using employees who practice working remotely show higher approval ratings on all four asked aspects, compared to those without home office use. For example, 71% of those surveyed who work from home agree or strongly agree that their current employer is the best employer for them. In contrast, only 53% of the employees surveyed who do not work from home agree or strongly agree.
When the four aspects of company identification surveyed are combined into a company identification index, this relationship persists. There is a clear, statistically significant difference between employees who work from home and those who do not. As before, employees who work from home have a higher level of company identification thanon-site only employees.
Even in a more comprehensive multivariate analysis that additionally considers personal characteristics of the respondents such as “income”, “gender” and the like, this effect initially remains. Only when including the perceived home office attitude of the employer in the multivariate analysis does the correlation with home office use disappear. This means that with the same perceived home office attitude of the employer, employees with and without home office use hardly differ in their company identification. The figure below also illustrates this relationship. Specifically, conditional on the employer’s perceived attitude towards home office, the company identification index hardly differs between those who use home office and those who only work on site. It also shows that the more positive the employer’s perceived attitude towards working from home, the higher the company identification of the surveyed employees.
In a broader context, the results indicate that achieving a high level of identification with the company primarily depends on the work environment and a culture of trust towards employees. These factors also go hand in hand with a more frequent use of working from home, whereas home office use itself has no impact on identification with the employer.
Home office and career: majority see no impact
A majority of 54% of employees surveyed believe that working from home has no impact on their own career. However, 31% believe that working from home has a positive influence, while only 7% believe it has a negative impact.
There are differences in the assessment of career opportunities between employees who work from home and those who do not. For example, 36% of employees who work from home consider the impact on their own career to be positive, compared to only 11% of those who work on site. Interestingly, in the latter group, 20% state that they are unable to make an assessment. Those who actually work from home are therefore more inclined to assess whether taking advantage of this offer could rather benefit or harm their own career.
Furthermore, the employer’s perceived attitude towards working from home plays a role here as well. If employees believe that their employer has a positive attitude towards home office, 39% see a positive impact on their own career and only 5% see a negative impact. However, if the employer has a negative perceived attitude towards working from home, only 21% see a positive impact on their own career, while 16% anticipate a negative impact. If employees assume that their employer has a neutral attitude towards home office use, the majority (58%) assume that home office use will have no impact on their career.
“Working from home” remains an important decision criterion when choosing an employer
The shortage of skilled workers continues to be a significant challenge for companies. In the competition for skilled workers, the home office offering is still crucial, although this factor has lost some of its significance compared to the pandemic era. While in May 2021, 72% of employed internet users still stated that a suitable home office offer was rather or very important for them when looking for a new job (Stürz et al. 2021), by September 2023 only 55% of all respondents reported this.
Overall, a suitable home office offer is particularly important for the majority of young people under 50. Respondents with a higher income are also more likely to attribute greater importance towards the home office offering, compared to those with lower income.
For employees with personnel (63%) or budget responsibility (72%), the home office option plays a more considerable role when looking for a new job, compared to respondents without personnel (50%) or budget responsibility (49%).
This difference is partly due to the fact that these respondents work from home more frequently. For example, 84% of those surveyed who work from home consider a suitable home office option to be important or very important, notably more than respondents who do not work from home (29%). Respondents who work from home more often also attribute an important role to suitable home office options more frequently than respondents who only work from home occasionally. For example, 90% of the employees surveyed who work from home exclusively or several times a week state that they consider a suitable home office option to be important or very important for a new job. In contrast, only 72% of respondents who work from home only occasionally consider a suitable offer to be important or very important. On the other hand, the clear majority of internet-using employees who do not work from home (64%) consider a suitable home office offer to be unimportant or very unimportant.
However, only a small number of employees (7%) have actually changed employers due to the home office options, though. Yet 15% consider a change for this reason. Among the home office users surveyed, almost twice as many (13%) state that they had already changed employers due to the home office options. A further 17% of the home office users surveyed are at least considering doing so.
There are also differences depending on the frequency of home office use.
Focusing on employees surveyed who work from home exclusively or several times a week, a larger proportion (15%) state that they have already changed employers, compared to those who only work from home once a week or less (9%).
Broken down by age, a change of employer due to home office options is most common among younger employees under the age of 30, at 14%. 27% of employees in this group also consider changing their employer, which is the highest number among all age groups. In contrast, only 2% of 50 to 64-year-olds have already changed jobs and only 6% are considering a change.
The perceived attitude of the employer towards working from home also plays a decisive role. For employees who think their employer has a negative attitude towards working from home, 29% state they consider changing jobs. In contrast, among those who assume a positive attitude towards working from home, only 12% consider switching jobs.
Conclusion and outlook
The swan song of home office is still a long time coming because even six months after the end of the coronavirus measures, home office is here to stay. Although more and more companies are increasingly bringing their employees back to the office, 48% of all employed internet users still work from home on a regular basis. In contrast to the times of pandemic, the regulations surrounding working from home have become more formalized. The majority of employees surveyed report that their companies now have home office regulations. Working from home has therefore become established and, in many cases, has developed from a pandemic emergency solution to a regular means of modern working methods.
Home office options are increasingly becoming a competitive factor in the fight for well-trained specialists, since working from home is an important factor when deciding on a new job. In particular, home office users who are younger or have a higher income state that a suitable home office offer is important when looking for a new job. In addition, this group also states more frequently that they have already changed their job due to the available home office options. Moreover, the employer’s positive attitude towards working from home plays a decisive role. Since a positive attitude towards home office also has a positive influence on employees’ identification with their own company.
For companies and institutions, the topic of working from home is therefore relevant for two main reasons: firstly, for the acquisition of new talent. It makes sense for companies to create home office options where possible and to communicate existing options accordingly. For example, as is already common practice in some industries, these could be specifically included in job advertisements or highlighted and emphasized in the context of various employer branding measures in order to position the company as an attractive employer. Secondly, to retain employees in the company in the long term. Companies should not underestimate the importance of working from home and their attitude towards it and, above all, should critically examine the impact of potential bans on their own competitiveness. After all, as long as companies are competing for employees, home office options, a positive and open home office environment and a culture of trust will be decisive factors for their attractiveness as employers and the identification of employees with the company, even if in individual cases it is only possible to work on site.
However, working from home also comes with challenges. The clear majority of employees surveyed do not believe that working from home will have a negative impact on their career. In contrast, experts and large companies warn of possible negative consequences for employees’ promotion opportunities if they do not return to the office more often (Stern 2023; T3n 2023). One reason for this is the reduced visibility of employees working from home (Flüter-Hoffmann, Stettes 2022). Thus, there is a certain discrepancy between the perception of the employees surveyed and the attitudes of individual employers. Both employees and employers are called upon to ensure that working from home does not have negative consequences for their career path. For example, employees should discuss their own successes and request feedback from superiors in order to remain visible despite physical distance. At the same time, employees with a high proportion of working from home should maintain their contacts with colleagues and managers so that communication does not suffer as a result. Regular joint exchange meetings online, but especially in person, can help to counteract distancing. At the same time, when looking for a job, it is advisable for employees to critically evaluate whether the attitudes of their potential future employer regarding working from home match their own expectations. However, employees should also communicate their own preferences clearly and at an early stage. The same applies to employers, who should communicate their expectations of future employees during the application process. Employers also have a duty to maintain contact with employees working from home. This can include regular days with on-site presence and implementing in-person team events, as well as a proactive exchange about the challenges and needs associated with working from home. Ultimately, companies also need new leadership skills in order to take account of the flexibilization of the working world through working from home.