Home office guide: Everything you need to know about working from home!
The Corona crisis has forced the home office to become the new working environment for many employees. Rising infection figures suggest that this will not change in the coming months. The switch from office to home office has worked in most companies without much loss of productivity. Many employees would therefore like to have the option of working from their home office in the long term.
Meanwhile, a right to home office is also being intensively discussed at the political level. We have compiled the most important information and answers to frequently asked questions below.
Definition - What is actually meant by home office?
Colloquially, the term home office is usually understood to mean the workplace in one's own home, be it one's own study or just the desk in the guest room. By definition, however, the term is less about the place where work is done. Rather, home office is a synonym for teleworking and describes a flexible organisational approach to choosing the place and time of work.
A distinction is usually made between 3 forms of telework.
Teleworking is the permanent workplace of employees in their private sphere. The work is done completely outside the company's premises. A workplace at the place of business is not provided.
Employees who regularly switch between the workplace at the place of work and the workplace in the private sphere are referred to as alternating teleworkers. There is no general indication of which part of the working time is performed at which workplace.
Mobile working or mobile office applies when work takes place neither in the office nor at the workplace 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 regardless of location and time.
For whom is the home office suitable?
Whether the home office is a suitable or even possible form of work depends, of course, on the employees' field of activity, but also on the infrastructural conditions in the company.
For employees in the manufacturing industry, salespersons or carpenters, presence at the production and sales location or at the customer's is a necessary prerequisite and the home office is logically not a real possibility. For office workers, on the other hand, the home office is usually a possible alternative. Even moving the office to a cafe 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, each employee should consider whether the conditions in the private sphere also allow for effective and productive work. High 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, for example by other family members.
Home office: advantages and disadvantages
For many employees, working outside the office without exhausting colleagues or regular requests from their superiors sounds like a dream come true. 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 home office for employees and employers?
- Cost reduction
- Productivity increase
- Employer branding
- Positive social effects (work and family)
- Confidence building
- Self-determined work
- Time saving
- Increased satisfaction
- Increased effort for organisation
- Increased requirements for IT and data security
- Negative effects on team spirit and sense of unity
- Reduced working time control
- Additional requirements for contract design
- Social isolation
- Distraction hazards
As the current debate also shows, there are numerous arguments both for and against the home office. It is not possible to make a blanket statement about whether the home office is beneficial for all parties involved. Rather, employees and employers should openly discuss the topic and find a joint solution for the design of the home office.
Is there a right to a home office?
Based on the findings of the Corona crisis, a right to home office is currently (as of October 2020) being discussed at the political level and corresponding draft laws have been presented. However, there is still no right to home office. Until there is a legal basis, it is up to the employer to establish corresponding regulations in the company. Conversely, the current legal situation also means that a company cannot send its employees to a home office against their will.
If work from home is granted, the arrangements made should be laid down in a contract. This can be done in the form of a supplementary agreement to the actual employment contract or in a separate telework contract. The following points, among others, can be stipulated in the agreement:
- Working and accessibility times in the home office
- Equipment of home office workplaces
- 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 home office at a general level. This must be done in consultation with the works council. All topics - prerequisites for working in a home office, exclusion regulations, contact persons, etc. - should be laid down in a company agreement.
Claudia Knuth, a lawyer for labour law, gives an overview of the current legal status regarding the home office in our interview:
Apply for a home office - This is the best way to go about it
As long as there is no legal entitlement or company agreement for working from home, employees must obtain consent from the employer themselves. This can be done in a personal interview or in the form of a written request. Employees who wish to apply for a home office arrangement should prepare arguments in favour of the home office in advance. This increases the chance that the boss will agree to the request.
Show your employer that working from home does not have any disadvantages in terms of your productivity. Convince your manager that you can be reached at any time, even at your home office, and that you have the appropriate space to work effectively and in a concentrated manner. Also emphasise the advantages for both you as an employee and your company. Some tasks require full concentration, which is often easier to achieve in a home office than in an open-plan office.
As is often the case in life, timing can be important when asking for a home office arrangement. Also check your own work performance. The chance that your application will be approved increases if you have demonstrated that you are fully committed to your work even when working from home.
Occupational safety and health protection in the home office
In order to introduce home office, occupational health and safety must also be observed in the private rooms and the legal requirements for health and safety must be met.
In order to ensure this, according to the Workplace Ordinance, the employer has to take care of the necessary equipment for his employees. The same requirements apply here as for workplaces on the employer's premises. These include, in particular, the ergonomic requirements for VDU workstations, e.g. the size of the desk or the size of the screen.
You can find out in detail how to optimally equip and furnish your home office workstation in our guide:
Who bears the costs of the home office?
Working in the private sphere results in additional costs for the employee. When assessing who has to 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 his/her work. It follows 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 the individual items, the common and pragmatic approach is to also record the treatment of the costs incurred in the supplementary agreement.
Is the employer allowed to look at the home office workplace?
In order to fulfil its duty to assess the workplace for occupational safety or health hazards, the employer has the right and duty to inspect the workplace in private. However, this does not mean that the employer has unannounced access to employees' private spaces. Instead, the access authorisation should be agreed in writing via the supplementary agreement. This defines when and how often the employer can check whether the occupational health and safety requirements are being met.
Working and break times in the home office
Whether home office or work in the office - the Working Hours Act does not differentiate 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 per cent of the normal working hours must be worked at short notice.
Note: The documentation of the hours worked in the home office is the responsibility of the employee. It must be possible to present this to the employer upon request. The documentation can be in the form of a timesheet.
The right to break times also remains unaffected by the home office. From a working time of 6 hours, there is a right to a 30-minute break. If the working time exceeds 9 hours, a 45-minute break is mandatory.
One topic that is particularly important in the home office is the time between workdays to take a break. When the computer is within reach, people tend to check their e-mails or do a task for their boss in the evening. However, 11 hours of rest between workdays is mandatory.
Home office and data protection
Working in a home office creates additional challenges for data protection. This is because the processing of personal data in the private sphere of employees increases the risk of unauthorised access by third parties. In addition, the danger increases when employees use their own technology (laptops, smartphones or tablets) for work.
To ensure data protection, the employer must take organisational and technical precautions. Employees are obliged to comply with technical and organisational 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.
To the interview: Home office and data protection