How 2020 has impacted how employers think about remote work

COVID-19 has changed everything companies thought about remote work

By Ana Kauz, HR @Project A

In 2016, remote work was still treated rather carefully in Germany: 66% of all employees wanted to work from home, only 42% had a job that allowed remote work, but only 8% actually worked remotely. 35% of all employees in Germany would even change their job for more flexibility to work from home, according to recent findings by the German Institute of Economic Research (DIW).

This year, COVID-19 has changed everything and it was the only responsible option for employers to allow their employees to work from home — if the industry allowed it. According to an ifo Institute study, around 61% of the employees worked from home in Q2 2020. However, technically the possible share of people working remotely lies at 80%.

While it is actually not feasible in some professions, there are companies that have other reasons for not fully taking advantage of their remote work potential.

In the wake of the pandemic, it was (and is) up to companies to protect their employees. A “new normal” was put in place, and many companies were not prepared for it. The pandemic also heavily influenced the public mindset on remote work: several employees now feel that if their work can be completed without physical presence, then they also expect to be allowed to do so and view this as normal. In any case, allowing your employees to work remotely has become more than a commodity, it has become a necessity this year — for both, companies that have a neutral/positive stance and by critics.

A major reason for skepticism among employers towards remote work is the assumption that productivity is lowered once people work remotely — 45% of employers report such a conviction, according to the ifo Institute & Randstad study.

But in fact, employees report higher productivity and 6% increased working hours, based on self-evaluation — as stated by a study by the University Basel.

Contradicting a common skepticism among employers regarding productivity in a remote work setting, a study by the Bertelsmann Stiftunghighlights that 87% of organizational experts from digitization, technology, and AI industries believe that employees work the same amount of time or even put in slightly more hours when they work from home.

Further research, by the National Institute of Economic Research, e.g. showed significantly increased productivity and noticeably reduced sick leave due to remote work. There’s no common agreement about the weighting of the reasons behind these numbers: People can choose the environment that suits their needs, office small talk has decreased, impacting both effective working hours and concentration, and energy and time necessary for commuting have dropped drastically.

Advantages and Disadvantages of remote work for employees
Source: Homeoffice: Vor- und Nachteile für Arbeitnehmer

The pandemic forces companies to try new structures and create new solutions for daily work.

Traditionally most managers insisted on a culture of presence before the crisis, leaving employees little room for making their own decisions regarding how and where to work together. The current situation, however, makes it necessary to completely overhaul familiar patterns and to open up to new ways of working and leading. Old working methods have to be rethought, sometimes in a time-consuming manner and converted to digital solutions.

Furthermore, employers have to react to the increasing social distance between their employees — keeping the connection among them is a need of both employers and employees. Also, a lot of employees perceived the implementation of remote work as some kind of forced social isolation. We at Project A found countless new ways to socialize through different video conferencing tools: virtual happy hours, pub quizzes, chat roulettes, online games, etc. But these are no one-size-fits-all solutions: Every company has to discover what works for their culture and what is wanted by the team. Months of this all-encompassing remote work showed employers that using mobile working exclusively is still inferior to office communication. Amongst others, this applies to communication within and between teams, contact with their manager, and the effectiveness of workshops. Even a perfectly designed remote setup does not compensate for the office work spirit.

What changes and effects has the pandemic caused in the work environment and will they shape our everyday professional life in the long term?

92% of the respondents from the IT industry agree that COVID-19 accelerates the digital transformation of the corporate working world increasing the pressure on companies to create the digital infrastructure for home-based work. 85% of those believe that remote work will establish itself as an alternative form of work in the future, according to the study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The ability to work remotely can be considered as a new and impactful benefit in the never-ending war for talents and employers who are not willing to meet people’s needs in this respect have to expect a drastic disadvantage in this competition.

Every company has different working methods and management styles, but in the future, those will have to be based more on trust. 44% of experts believe that management culture has to and will change from control to trust. Furthermore, the study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung suggests that 72% expect that everyday office life will be dissolved as the standard way of working. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that there won’t be a single model determining the way we work, but that a balance must be found between remote work and presence at the office.

Implementing new methods is hard — employers have to let go of control and learn to trust. Hiring the right people — people that can be trusted — will be a prerequisite for this change. Employees on the other hand have to learn to work remotely (as a team), to learn new ways of self-management, and to find a balance between private and professional life within their own home.

There are great challenges still ahead of us. But change is coming and a new working culture is developing. To prepare for the future we have to embrace the inevitable. Especially right now it is important to be open to new things and to flexibly adapt to the current situation and beyond.

Take part in the change

You’d like to experience what virtual gatherings at Project A feel like? Or you’d like to know more about how to foster a good company culture? Join us at the Project A Knowledge Conference on October 30 for a full day of knowledge sharing and networking with and from experts from every area of digital operations. The virtual conference has something in store for everyone who is interested in digital innovation. Some of our top sessions include:

  • Lea-Sophie Cramer (Amorelie) with her session “Because it’s 2020: Why we need to make our economy more diverse, courageous and human”
  • Alena Stock (Homeday) with her talk about “How mindfulness helps to increase employees’ performance”
  • Rainer Berak (Project A) with his session “Your life, your job, your career: 5 reasons to work at Project A”
  • the Project A talent acquisition team with a panel discussion about “How to get hired — Everything you want to know about recruiting”

No matter what team you’re in, we’ll have something for you: You’ll get insights on subjects like marketing, development, sales, communications, recruiting, and data science. In other words, all the knowledge you need to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow.