One in three employees in Germany worked in a home office in February 2021, according to a recent study by the ifo Institute in Munich. “Corona will permanently change the use and acceptance of home office. In the meantime, the majority of German companies are considering offering more home office options in the future,” says Dietmar Harhoff, director at the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation. A global study by Barco, a provider of visualization and collaboration solutions, found that a hybrid work environment is preferred by respondents. The ideal balance, according to the study, is three days in the office and a maximum of two days per week in the home office. Fifteen percent of respondents in the study said they plan to continue working full-time in a home office after the COVID-19 restrictions. The other side – the view of the companies – was illuminated by the IHK short survey “Home office – new normality or back to presence culture”. The survey found that for a quarter of the companies surveyed, home office will be an integral part of their future way of working. Forty-seven percent of the study participants voted for a hybrid working environment consisting of face-to-face work and home office.

Personal contact with colleagues is missing

More flexible working time models and home offices make it easier to combine work and everyday life. Visits to the doctor, bank and authorities can be easily integrated into the working day. The trip back and forth to the office and the associated time expenditure are saved. Nevertheless, the virtual working world still presents employees with major challenges. Many find it difficult to collaborate with other colleagues via video chat. Active participation in virtual meetings is also limited, as employees find it difficult to contribute virtually. Forty-five percent of Barco study participants said they found it easier to collaborate with colleagues in the office than to communicate via video chat. Virtual collaboration requires clear alignment on goals, approaches and roles. Careless planning can lead to miscommunication and frustration. Information sharing and knowledge management are also challenging over distance. Personal exchange in the coffee kitchen, in meetings or during the joint lunch break was missing for most respondents.

Improved technological infrastructure expected for a more productive workday

Employees who choose not to work in a home office even though they are allowed to do so cite inadequate technical equipment or infrastructure as the main reason. Slow, error-prone Internet connections are the main reasons. For younger employees under 30 in particular, the equipment in the home office cannot keep up with the equipment in the office (IBA survey). In addition, study participants in the Barco survey would like to see technological improvements in future meetings. Fifty-six percent of respondents were in favor of an app for participating in video and telephone conferences with the click of a button. Also desired are further development of speech recognition technologies, filters for video conferences and collaboration software to make everyday work at home easier. Meanwhile, there are numerous providers that enable services for editing and saving work documents by multiple participants. Various video conferencing providers have also already reacted and offer, for example, background formatting to give the conference participants a bit of privacy.

Hybrid meetings in formal meeting rooms preferred

An integral part of the working world is the exchange of ideas in meetings. Business travelers are often on the road for days at a time, and delays and traffic jams create time pressure and stress. Under the COVID-19 measures, things then came to a standstill. Many meetings were no longer possible in physical form. Online meetings via video chat, which had often been disdained before, became established. The majority of Barco study participants assume that the current virtual meetings will become hybrid meetings in the future, with one part of the workforce participating virtually and the other part from the office. In this regard, 75 percent of respondents prefer scheduled meetings to spontaneous meetings. The greatest advantage of this hybrid solution is that in some cases hours of travel are avoided and, if necessary, related parties can meet together directly on site. 50 percent of respondents would prefer formal meeting rooms for this purpose. The trend of the so-called huddle spaces (small meeting rooms for six to eight people equipped with seating and necessary media technology) of the past years seems to have been slowed down by the pandemic. Working together with several colleagues in small spaces seems unattractive to most for the foreseeable future.

Employee satisfaction with home offices currently remains high. However, the proportion of respondents who are very dissatisfied rose by four percentage points to eight percent compared with March 2020. A downward trend can thus be observed. According to current studies, the reason lies in particular in inadequate technical equipment and a lack of personal contact with colleagues. The hybrid working world is thus a new trend that can combine the advantages of the virtual world with those of the analog world.

Image: https://pixabay.com/de/photos/home-office-stuhl-schreibtisch-1575464/

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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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