What seemed unthinkable just a few years ago is now being talked about as the new normal: more and more employees are working from home - and it is already becoming apparent that the home office is set to become an integral part of everyday working life for many people. But how do employees experience working from home? In this blog post, the think tank's recent surveys are complemented by the first results of interviews from a bidt research project on the digital transformation of engineering companies.
Since the start of the corona pandemic, our society has changed in many ways. Not only our coexistence but also the areas of economy, education and work have been affected to a great extent. In particular, the home office obligation decreed by the federal government has led to a change in the world of work at high speed, as many had not known it before. In May 2021 – data from the bidt think tank showed – 46 % of German internet users worked from home several times a week. Immediately before the last home office regulation expired, significantly more people continued to work from home than before the pandemic: 44 % of those surveyed worked from home at least occasionally in March 2022, and 32 % several times a week.
Software for the Home Office: Trying Instead of Planning
The massive expansion of working from home presented many companies with major challenges: In a very short time, familiar and well-established work processes had to be changed so employees could work from home. It was not only a matter of providing the necessary hardware (laptop, monitors, etc.). At the same time, many companies introduced various software solutions to organise and coordinate work processes remotely and to enable or facilitate digital collaboration.
The Corona pandemic became a catalyst for the digitalisation of companies and other organisations. Managers and employees of a market-leading German engineering company, interviewed as part of a bidt research project, describe the pandemic to foster an openness to new digital opportunities that would not otherwise have existed. Instead of having to plan and calculate the implementation of new software, the pandemic suddenly opened up the possibility of trying new tools as simple pilots.
New digital tools, new opportunities and challenges
Employees and managers are often surprised at how quickly and well the transition to working from home has gone – and the positive impact it has had. For example, in interviews conducted as part of the bidt research project on the digital transformation of engineering companies, employees reported that using tools such as Teams or Slido had lowered the threshold for active participation and questioning in digital company meetings.
However, there are also critical voices: For example, the introduction of digital software solutions sometimes leads to considerable additional burdens and extra work. One reason is that some people do not feel adequately trained to use the new tools. Introduction or training in the use of the new solutions is often offered only briefly or not at all, while at the same time, it is expected that they should be mastered immediately. In addition, digital tools are sometimes associated with additional tasks. Due to the ad-hoc nature of their introduction during the Corona pandemic, the digital tools are often not, or insufficiently, interconnected, so entries must be made several times, or data must be entered into different systems at great expense. There is also concern that cohesion and a sense of community within the company could suffer long-term if employees no longer see each other regularly in the office but increasingly interact via digital tools.
Good communication despite or because of working from home?
The fact that companies are introducing, testing and expanding new software solutions for working from home also has far-reaching consequences for the forms and channels of communication, the nature of collaboration and the relationships with customers or other external stakeholders. Communication with superiors and colleagues is also changing as it increasingly takes place via digital communication tools. But how satisfied are employees with this new way of interacting?
The bidt think tank data show that overall satisfaction with interacting with superiors and colleagues is relatively high. Overall, 72% of respondents say they are very or rather satisfied. Surprisingly, respondents who work from home are even more satisfied. Of these, 77% say that they are satisfied with the professional exchange they have with their superiors. In contrast, only 68% of respondents who do not work from home are satisfied.
A similar picture emerges when looking at satisfaction with interacting with colleagues. Overall, 81% of all respondents say they are rather or very satisfied. But again, satisfaction is linked to working from home. 49% of employees who work from home several times a week are very satisfied with the professional exchange with colleagues. In contrast, only 24% of those who work from home once a week or less are very satisfied. 41% of respondents who do not work from home at all are very satisfied with their professional interaction with colleagues. This may indicate that a hybrid solution with a very low proportion of home office is more challenging for colleague interaction than a hybrid solution with a higher ratio of working from home.
In the interviews conducted as part of the bidt research project, employees also say that the increase in working from home has made hierarchies in the company flatter and that the company culture has changed in a positive way. Many feel that the digital tools that have been introduced since the move to home offices have made it easier and better to collaborate and communicate with other locations around the world, as well as with customers and partners.
Tools instead of tea kitchens: better informed in the home office?
But if so many people work from home, how (well) does company information still reach the home office? The BIDT data suggests that working from home does not have a negative impact – on the contrary: 79% of those who work from home agree that they feel very well informed about processes and developments in their company. On the other hand, only 63% of the professionals who do not use a home office give the same answer.
More frequently working from home also seems to positively affect the perceived level of information about what is happening in the company: 82% of respondents who work from home several times a week agree with this statement. In contrast, only 70% of those who use their home office once a week or less agree.
Work-life balance: Does working from home make people happier?
A recurring and important issue in working from home is work-life balance. How does it affect employees when their workplace moves to their own home? In the bidt survey of March 2022, the overall satisfaction of those working from home was high: 85% of respondents were very or rather satisfied with their own home office situation. Professionals who are able to work from home several times a week are significantly more satisfied with their work-life balance than those who rarely or never use a home office. 87% of those who work from home several times a week are satisfied with their work-life balance.
Working from home – the new normal?
Employees experience working from home differently depending on their individual backgrounds. However, it seems that working from home will become an integral part of many people’s working lives in the future. Overall, many employees are expected to continue to want to work from home, at least occasionally. In addition, different models and concepts are currently under discussion to continue to allow different levels of remote work. Employers have also realised that working-from-home concepts are a competitive factor in recruiting and retaining scarce skilled personnel. However, it is also clear that in the future, these new models and concepts will be associated with new opportunities and new challenges for employees.
The quantitative data in this article comes from a survey among 1,957 working internet users with the help of Google Surveys from 03.03.2022 to 20.03.2022.
The blog posts published by bidt reflect the views of the authors; they do not reflect the position of the institute as a whole.