In the past few days, many employees reported anonymously that they had to go to the office every day despite Corona. Quasi: forced presence, although you could work at home without infecting yourself or others with the virus.
The Greens have already submitted a motion to the Bundestag to oblige companies to offer home offices wherever possible. Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CDU) also spoke out in favor of targets that should apply to all companies.
But instead of specific home office requirements, the federal government wants to continue to rely on the voluntary nature of companies. So far it has only been appeals from politics.
In the latest federal and state resolutions, it was said, for example, that employers were “urgently asked to create home office opportunities”. Even after discussions with several DAX30 HR directors, Hubertus Heil (SPD) stayed with friendly requests instead of sharp warnings: “We need the opportunity for employees to work from home wherever possible, wherever it makes sense and possible right away.”
But how do companies see it? NewsABC.net asked DAX 30 corporations such as Siemens and E.ON, but also Knorr-Bremse and C&A, what they think of the obligation to work from home and how they are currently implementing the home office.
That is what companies think of government regulations
Siemens: The technology group does not consider a legal regulation for mobile working to be necessary, said the group spokesman at our request. Siemens as a company would have found a good company-specific regulation and is currently developing it further.
The regulation at Siemens currently provides that all employees who can do this work in the home office, i.e. primarily outside of production. On average, that is 140,000 of around 293,000 employees worldwide. For comparison: in Germany alone, the group employs around 90,000 people.
Siemens had already made company agreements on mobile working before the pandemic, said company spokesman Wolfram Trost. According to this, Siemens employees in Germany have already been able to do a fifth of their work on the move in consultation with their manager. Even after the pandemic, the future goal should be for all employees worldwide to be able to work mobile two to three days a week on average.
E.ON: The German energy company E.ON wrote on request that in Germany all employees should be in the home office for whom it was possible to work from home. For this reason, other government regulations currently play a subordinate role for the group. However, the group was unable to name a specific number of employees who actually work from home. The reason: the decentralized setup. The prerequisites for the majority of employees to be able to work remotely at the same time would, however, exist.
Knorr brake: The manufacturer of brake systems Knorr-Bremse pointed out that the AG has been offering corresponding regulations for mobile working in the group since 2019. Employees could work up to 40 percent of their working hours from anywhere. Furthermore, the company speaks out against blanket regulations: The pandemic will increase the pressure on companies to offer home office solutions, which will result in a rethink even without legal regulations.
In addition, the manufacturer Knorr-Bremse refers to the limits of the home office: In the current discussion, it is easy to overlook the fact that there are enough jobs, for example in the production areas or in research and development, which require a presence in the company. In the company itself, the rule currently applies that a maximum of 50 percent of employees may be present in the office. Most employees used the opportunity to spend more days in the home office than required, i.e. more than 50 percent of their working hours. How many that were in concrete terms remained unanswered. The company employs around 29,000 people.
Adidas: Sports manufacturer Adidas did not comment on the obligation to work from home, but wrote that of the around 5,400 employees who would normally work in the Adidas headquarters, currently almost all – i.e. over 95 percent – work in the home office. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, special regulations have also applied that enable such flexible work, also in accordance with the company agreement. Even before the pandemic, it was possible to work 20 percent of the working time outside of campus.
C&A: The fashion manufacturer C&A also did not comment on possible home office requirements. In one answer, apart from a few factually unavoidable exceptions (e.g. IT and building security, etc.), all employees in the main administrative offices in Belgium and Germany had been working completely from home since March last year. “More home office” is therefore not possible for C&A. C&A has around 35,000 employees in Europe.
The critical voices about home office requirements predominate not only among the companies themselves, but also among business associations, industry representatives and economists: They defend themselves against stricter requirements for companies, such as a home office obligation.
Associations and economists point out the limits of the home office
In a public announcement, Bertram Brossardt, Managing Director of the Association of Bavarian Business (vbw), already pointed out the limits of the home office, for example in production or in the service sector. Loss of productivity and creativity is already occurring, which – at least in the medium term – gives rise to concerns about a considerable loss of competitiveness for companies. The members of the association include BMW, Lufthansa and Deutsche Post.
On a nationwide level, the President of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) made it clear that the use of home office had to be decided by the parties to the company on site. The industry appeals to all companies to use the home office as much as possible, said Russwurm. “And a lot of them do that too.” What works and what doesn’t work, but nobody knows better than the local company. “Welding from the home office” has not yet been invented by anyone.
In addition to associations, however, leading economists also warned against intervening in the home office decisions of companies: “We can not only run companies from home,” said Michael Hüther, economist at the Institute for German Economy (IW) on Deutschlandfunk. He advocated maintaining the economy where it has high added value. Where there are findings, the closure of the problematic areas would have to be financed, said Hüther.
The advantages of office closings due to the pandemic have been proven by a study by the University of Mannheim. The scientists came to the conclusion that home office is one of the most effective measures to contain the infection rate. There it says that one percentage point more employees in the home office can reduce the infection rate by up to 8 percent.