Home office: a curse or a blessing?

The pandemic has made working from home the norm for many. Is that a curse or a blessing? A conversation with Sabine Pfeiffer, Professor of Sociology at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, about the work model and its future, which is far from being written.

SZ: Ms. Pfeiffer, how do Germans like working from home after almost two years of pandemic?

Sabine Pfeiffer: In the meantime, a lot has become disenchanted, because the negative aspects of the home office have become more obvious. Many employees miss the company as a social place. In addition, the intensity of the work has increased significantly. The phenomenon was seen before the pandemic, but now the digital meetings are so tightly timed that you sometimes have difficulty stretching your legs or going to the bathroom. In addition, the commuting time saved has often become working time.

There are now many studies on the home office, but they come to different conclusions: Sometimes the bosses fear loitering, sometimes the companies see increased productivity. Sometimes the respondents are satisfied, sometimes not. What is true?

It should come as no surprise that studies come to different results. First, because the perception is changing: In the first lockdown, companies and employees were even less digitally equipped than they are now and the processes are not yet as routine, while a certain normality has now occurred. Second, because you cannot say in general whether the home office is good or not, because that depends on the respective constellation. Many people enjoy the advantages of this work model, others have a living situation that is not appropriate at home for a long time because there is not enough space or the equipment is not good. There is no majority sentiment on this issue, but rather a polarization – and it will keep managers busy for a long time to come.

Work in times of Corona: Sabine Pfeiffer is Professor of Sociology at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.

Sabine Pfeiffer is Professor of Sociology at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg.

(Photo: Robert Haas)

Many people still work in presence. Those who can work from home are privileged in many ways.

That is not always true, but unfortunately it is a fact that we often regard work activities that do not take place in the office in a derogatory manner and pay poorly. And not just since the pandemic. Even companies where some employees can work in the home office and others cannot, sometimes measure with double standards – and while some get a new workspace with cozy sofas, the foreman’s office in the workshop still looks like it did in the 1970s. Of course, that does something to people. Managers need to recognize this problem.

Can you say that employees tend to like to work in the home office, while managers want more face-to-face work?

Not necessarily, there are also different perceptions among executives. Many bosses enjoy the advantages of working from home because they suffer from long commuting times or have children, which is exactly the same as with employees. But, of course, leading becomes more difficult, because the tasks of a manager also include ensuring team spirit and the well-being of employees, and that is easier up close. So it is not surprising that many superiors would like to see a return to normalcy in the company.

Will the home office establish itself after the pandemic?

I think that a lot will normalize again, but the home office will certainly remain. The companies will have to find ad hoc solutions, because of course they can no longer reject this working model with the argument that it is technically and organizationally impossible. With the hybrid models, it is important to make sure that colleagues always have the opportunity to meet in real life, even for informal moments. And that managers learn that presence should not be the only criterion for evaluating employees. Issues such as the internet connection at home, technical and ergonomic equipment and lighting also have to land on the supervisor’s desk. At the workplace in the company, the rules of occupational safety and ergonomics apply, at home it looks different. Something has to change.

So should the legislature intervene?

The legislature intervenes in other areas, for example when it comes to work organization and safety, why shouldn’t it do it when the work is done from the home office? Because exactly where both employees and employers have the feeling that everything has been undermined, the legislature might have to take a closer look. Statutory regulation is all the more important in those sectors and companies where there are no works councils. The point is not to stipulate how much time you have to stay in the home office and how much in the company, because a certain amount of leeway is important. But one should already draw guard rails and regulate not only according to operational issues, but also recognize the legitimate claims of the employees.

According to a ruling by the Federal Social Court, the way from bed to home office is legally insured against accidents. How do you see it

That might seem strange, but it’s very important. Because accidents that fall into the category of occupational accidents can also occur on the way from the bathroom to the work desk. These are certainly very few cases, but there can be individual cases and there is no reason why employees should be disadvantaged. Because it makes a big difference whether the accident is financially supported by the professional association or not.


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