Time and time again, I find myself talking about home office. “Right now we’re working in a home office.” Or, “Home office is great, I can work on the balcony sometimes.” But doesn’t home office literally just mean a home office? In Corona days, most of us were quickly sent to the home office to minimize the risk of contagion. But is that the right term now? My husband and I have been working from home for a few months now. Since I only work part-time, he sits in the den and I work where our one-year-old girls aren’t being babied at the moment. He also needs a neat, tidy workspace to be able to concentrate. I, on the other hand, like to wander flexibly through the apartment and look for the place where I feel most comfortable. Am I perhaps practicing mobile working? Or is being at home enough to call it a home office? What is behind these designations? That’s what I wanted to find out, and I found out that, unlike mobile working, home office does indeed have some fixed rules.
What exactly is home office?
According to labor law, the home office in Germany is defined as follows: It is a computer workstation permanently set up by the employer. And it is not permanently set up until the employer and employee have defined the conditions in an agreement and the equipment for the home office has been provided by the employer and installed on site. In addition, there is a risk assessment in which the working conditions and the workplace are examined on site. To do this, the employee must give written consent for outside experts to enter the home and inspect the workplace. An alternative to this is for the employee to inform the employer about the specific layout of his or her workplace and to agree on the details of the furnishings.
The provisions for the home office
In addition to the hazards associated with a normal office workplace in a company, the assessment should also consider the hazards associated with a home office. There is a whole range of regulations on this. I analyzed my own workstation based on these criteria to see if it might even be suitable for a home office:
- It must have sufficient space for changing working postures and movements.
- Display devices are positioned so that the surface is free of annoying reflections and glare.
- Work tables must have a low-reflection surface and be set up so that the surfaces are free of annoying reflections when working.
- The work surface must be large enough to allow variable arrangement of all items required for work, such as keyboard, mouse, pens and notepads. In addition, the work surface in front of the keyboard must allow the heels of the hands to be placed on it.
- When working in a home office, data security must also be ensured through a data protection/IT security concept. But this also includes lockable cabinets, logging into the Internet only via VPN or tunnel solutions, and not keeping passwords freely accessible. What was new for me was that printouts with company information have no place at home in the wastebasket in the home office.
The requirements for the employee
Unfortunately, I can’t meet all these criteria. For example, my dining table is white, so the surface is a bit dazzling between 1 and 5 p.m. on sunny days. But my employer has equipped me with a laptop, mouse, etc., so nothing stands in the way of good work. So, theoretically, I could even do home office, if only I would always work in the same place and it would be separated like my husband’s study. But the fact is, I just work flexibly at the place where it just fits (if it’s for childcare, also at my parents) or where I feel best (gladly also on the balcony). But I still meet the most important requirement for mobile working: I stay in Germany! Because yes, you have to stay in Germany if you are also allowed to leave your home. Despite all these differences, working from home, whether in a home office or mobile working, does have some things in common, such as the requirements for the employee.
- The employee must adhere to normal working hours, because both home office and mobile working simply involve working at a different location. The work must therefore be performed to exactly the same extent and quality as if sitting in the office.
- However, this also implies that the employee observes his break times. There is often a tendency to simply eat something at the computer, which then leads to breaks being ignored.This brings us straight to the dangers of home office or, in my case, mobile working from home.
Dangers of home office/mobile working from home
Personally, I’m very happy about the opportunity to work from home, because my children are not yet in daycare and I therefore need less childcare than I would if the time for the round trip and lunch break were added to the working hours. Even though it’s hard not to jump into the living room with them when one is crying or to sit at the computer and ignore them banging on the room door. Nevertheless, this is not the perfect model for everyone and this form of working also has its pitfalls. One source of danger, for example, is working on regular chairs, but they weren’t built for sitting at a desk for hours on end. This lack of ergonomic adjustment can lead to physical strain on the muscles and skeleton, which can also trigger headaches.
However, it is not uncommon for working from home to also pose a psychological burden due to the lack of spatial and temporal separation between personal life and workspace. And we don’t want to forget the previously mentioned danger, which may please the employer somewhat and will vote more positively for home office, namely the frequent forgetting of breaks and the increased overtime, which is often worked because an e-mail is answered briefly on the side, etc.
Nevertheless, most employees see working at home as an opportunity and are happy about the trust placed in them. Thus, they often work overtime precisely to prove that they are hardworking and not lazily on the couch having a marathon series. Another factor that influences whether one is successful in the home office is conscientiousness. In Wirtschaftswoche, Conny Herbert Antoni, an industrial and organizational psychologist at the University of Trier, explains: “There are consistent correlations between a person’s conscientiousness and successful home office. If I’m conscientious, it also means I do what I set out to do.” Which sometimes means working overtime, or working with a cold instead of taking a sick leave.
In a report by AOK, the health insurance company found that home office employees were less likely to call in sick. On the other hand, they were more likely to report psychological problems such as anger, self-doubt and sleep disturbances, which may indicate a lack of boundaries. But also a lack of social interaction. Because if you’re otherwise annoyed with a coworker, you can deal with him in the office, vent to other colleagues, or simply try to get rid of the anger on the way home. But all of these options are no longer available. This leads to the biggest problem with the home office: For many, social contacts at work are very important and they fear isolation due to working from home. Conny Herbert Antoni said in Wirtschaftswoche: “Personality factors influence how well someone copes with the home office. There is evidence that people who are very socially oriented don’t like to be alone as much and can be less productive as a result.” These people also need to be picked up at corona times, especially with involuntary home office/mobile working.
Ways to counteract these dangers
At Picalike, we are very lucky that both our boss and our project manager are very concerned with these dangers and try to counteract the psychological disadvantages of the home office in many different ways. For one thing, we have a fixed appointment in the office where we meet there every other week and report on what we’re currently dealing with, what we’re doing, and simply see each other live once in a while. We also have a chat roulette, which is, so to speak, our substitute for the chat in the coffee kitchen, which it can’t replace completely, but at least a little bit. In the morning, we draw lots to determine who should make a call with whom about a topic that is completely detached from work during the course of the day. Then you make an appointment and most of the time it turns into a conversation about God and the world.
Every few weeks we also do a survey about how we are doing, what our expectations and wishes are. And last but not least, we have the opportunity to work in the office whenever we want. The seats are free, coffee and water are available and you can also see in the weekly schedule which of your colleagues will also be there. And if it gets a bit too crowded in the office, you can switch to one of the large co-working spaces or the Betahaus café.
As my research progressed, it became more and more clear to me that my husband actually works in a home office. He sits at his desk in our study every day with all his equipment. He has a perfectly equipped workstation with laptop, screen, printer, scanner, an extra stool against back pain, the door is lockable, all danger zones like cables lying around have been removed. I, on the other hand, work on the move, flexibly sitting down wherever I can work best, and after a hard night’s sleep, that can also be at the kitchen table next to the coffee machine with a mountain of cookies.
Your Sandra Kade