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Working from home: The basics
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Home office guide: Everything you need to know about working from home!

The coronavirus crisis has forced many employees to work from home as their new working environment. Rising infection figures suggest that this will not change in the coming months. The switch from the office to working from home has worked in most companies without any major loss of productivity. Many employees would therefore like to be able to work from home in the long term if necessary.

Meanwhile, the right to work from home is also being discussed intensively at a political level. We have compiled the most important information and answers to frequently asked questions below.

Definition - What does home office actually mean?

Colloquially, the term home office usually refers to the workplace in one's own home, be it a separate study or just a desk in the guest room. By definition, however, the term is less about the place where work is done. Rather, home office is synonymous with teleworking and describes a flexible organizational approach to choosing where and when to work.

Teleworkplaces are workstations permanently set up by the employer in the private area of the employees, for which the employer has agreed with the employees on weekly working hours and the duration of the set-up.
Definition of teleworking

A distinction is usually made between 3 forms of teleworking.

Telecommuting

Telecommuting refers to the permanent workplace of employees in their private sphere. The work is carried out entirely outside the company's premises. There is no workplace at the company's premises.

Alternating teleworking

If employees regularly switch between the workplace at the company location and the workplace at home, this is referred to as alternating teleworking. There is no general indication of which part of the working time is performed at which workplace.

Mobile teleworking

Mobile working or mobile office is when work takes place neither in the office nor at home. However, the employee has a connection to the company through information and communication technology. Thanks to modern devices such as laptops, smartphones or tablets, work can take place anywhere and at any time.

Who is the home office suitable for?

Whether working from home is a suitable or even possible form of work naturally depends on the area of activity of the employees, but also on the infrastructural conditions in the company. 

For employees in the manufacturing industry, salespeople or carpenters, presence at the production and sales location or at the customer's premises is a necessary prerequisite and the home office is logically not really an option. For office workers, on the other hand, working from home is usually a possible alternative. Even moving the office to a café or abroad is often possible without any problems. The only necessary prerequisite is that employees have the opportunity to communicate with colleagues and access the documents and records they need.

Regardless of whether the above-mentioned conditions for working from home are met, every employee should consider whether the conditions in their private space also allow them to work effectively and productively. A high level of noise pollution, for example from road traffic or schools, not only affects productivity, but also health. Aspects such as sufficient daylight should also be taken into account. Last but not least, employees should be able to work at set times without being disturbed by other family members, for example.

Working from home: advantages and disadvantages

Home office guide - Everything you need to know about working from home - Productive workplace

For many employees, working away from the office without stressful colleagues or regular inquiries from their manager sounds like the fulfillment of a dream. At the same time, many employers still fear a noticeable drop in productivity if they allow their employees to work from home.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working from home for both employees and employers?

Advantages

  • Cost reduction
  • Productivity increase
  • Employer branding
  • Positive social effects (work and family)
  • Strengthening confidence
  • Self-determined work
  • Time saving
  • Increased satisfaction

Disadvantages

  • Increased effort for organization
  • Increased IT and data security requirements
  • Negative impact on team spirit and sense of unity
  • Less control over working hours
  • Additional requirements for contract design
  • Social isolation
  • Dangers of distraction

As the current debate shows, there are numerous arguments both for and against working from home. It is not possible to make a blanket statement about whether working from home is beneficial for everyone involved. Rather, employees and employers should discuss the issue openly and find a joint solution for working from home.

Is there a right to work from home?

Based on the findings from the coronavirus crisis, a right to work from home is currently being discussed at a political level (as of October 2020) and corresponding draft legislation has been presented. However, there is still no right to work from home. Until there is a legal basis, it is up to employers to establish appropriate regulations within the company. Conversely, the current legal situation also means that a company cannot send its employees to work from home against their will.

If working from home is granted, the arrangements made should be set out in a contract. This can be in the form of a supplementary agreement to the actual employment contract or in a separate teleworking agreement. The following points, among others, can be recorded in the agreement:

  • Working hours and availability in the home office
  • Equipment for home office workstations
  • Assumption of costs incurred
  • Data protection and data security

In addition to individual agreements with individual employees, the company can also define the framework conditions for working from home at a general level. This must be done in consultation with the works council. All topics - requirements for working from home, exclusion regulations, contact persons, etc. - should be set out in a works agreement.

Claudia Knuth, a lawyer specializing in employment law, provides an overview of the current legal status of working from home in our interview:

Applying for a home office - the best way to proceed

As long as there is no legal entitlement or company agreement for working from home, employees must obtain their own consent from their employer. This can be done in a personal meeting or in the form of a written application. Employees who wish to apply for a home office arrangement should prepare arguments in favor of working from home in advance. This increases the chance that the boss will approve the request.

Show your employer that working from home has no disadvantages in terms of your productivity. Convince your supervisor that you can be reached at any time, even when working from home, and that you have the appropriate space to work in a concentrated and effective manner. Also emphasize the advantages for both you as an employee and your company. For example, some tasks require full concentration, which is often easier to ensure in a home office than in an open-plan office.

As is so often the case in life, timing can also be important when applying for a home office arrangement. Also check your own work performance. The chance that your application will be approved increases if you have proven that you are fully committed to your work even when working from home.

Occupational health and safety in the home office

In order to introduce home office, occupational health and safety must also be observed in private rooms and the legal requirements for health and safety must be met.

To ensure this, the Workplace Ordinance requires employers to provide the necessary equipment for their employees. The same requirements apply here as for workstations on the employer's premises. These include, in particular, the ergonomic requirements for VDU workstations, e.g. size of the desk or screen size.

You can find out in detail how to optimally equip and set up your home office workstation in our guide:

Who bears the costs of the home office?

Working from home incurs additional costs for the employee. When assessing who must bear the costs, the following applies in principle: The employer must pay for all costs that are necessary to enable the employee to carry out their work. This means that the employer must bear the costs of equipping the workplace, office supplies and the costs incurred for electricity, water and internet.

While the costs for the work computer or printer paper can be determined quite easily and clearly, this is much more difficult with the costs for electricity and water. In order to avoid having to check all individual items, the common and pragmatic approach is to also record the treatment of the costs incurred in the supplementary agreement.

Can the employer view the home office workplace?

In order to fulfill its duty to assess the workplace for occupational health and safety hazards, the employer has the right and duty to inspect the workplace in private areas. However, this does not mean that the employer has unannounced access to employees' private areas. Instead, the access authorization should be agreed in writing via the supplementary agreement. This defines when and how often the employer can check whether the health and safety requirements are being complied with.

Working and break times in the home office

Whether working from home or in the office - the Working Hours Act makes no distinction in this respect. For most employees, this means a basic working time of 8 hours a day. If the order situation makes it necessary, overtime of up to 10 percent of normal working hours can be worked at short notice.

Note: Employees are responsible for documenting the time worked in the home office. It must be possible to present this to the employer on request. The documentation can take the form of a timesheet.

The right to break times also remains unaffected by working from home. Employees who work 6 hours or more are entitled to a 30-minute break. If you work more than 9 hours, a 45-minute break is mandatory.

One issue that is particularly important when working from home is taking breaks between working days. Because if the computer is within reach, it's easy to check your emails again in the evening or complete a task for your boss. However, 11 hours of rest between working days is mandatory.

Working from home and data protection

Working from home creates additional data protection challenges. This is because the processing of personal data in the private sphere of employees increases the risk of unauthorized access by third parties. The risk also increases when employees use their own technology (laptops, smartphones or tablets) for work.

To ensure the protection of data, the employer must take organizational and technical precautions. Employees are obliged to comply with technical and organizational security measures via the supplementary agreement to the employment contract. Furthermore, access to data within the company network must be possible via secure communication channels.

In our expert interview with Alexander Ingelheim, co-founder and CEO of datenschutzexperte.de, you can find out more about data protection in the home office.