Work is work, wherever you do it, according to a new Covid-inspired philosophy. And it’s one that’s not going away. The trick is to provide the environment where this type of working actually works.29 Mar 2022
Remote or hybrid working is unlikely to be a fad. Too many employers and employees have seen the benefits to ensure it will remain a legitimate part of business practice for some time to come. In fact, many employees have been moving jobs to ensure they keep the benefit, a movement that has become known as The Great Resignation. Some firms have tried to incentivise their staff to come back by only agreeing to home working if they accept a pay cut. But whatever the practicalities and the politics, it’s a movement that has changed the way we want our homes to function.
Real estate agents used to joke that, when they’d show a family around a house, the wives would be sold on the kitchen, the husbands the garage and the children would make a case for some space, somewhere, they could call a playroom. These days, there’s a bigger priority on which they all agree: the need for an office. And whether that is because one or both of the parents have been forced to work there full-time, need somewhere to retreat to as part of their hybrid arrangements or have simply got used to needing such flexible space, it’s now a deciding factor in purchasing decisions.
Approaches vary from country to country, according to either individual government attitudes or social and cultural norms. While recent research saw the number of home workers rise from five per cent pre-pandemic to 12 per cent across Europe as a whole, some countries have eagerly embraced the concept. Finland, for example, has the highest share of remote workers in Europe, with more than a quarter of its workforce doing so from home.
Luxembourg and Ireland take a similar approach, both having home working shares of over 20 per cent. Other countries, such as Poland, have become meccas for a growing band of nomadic workers, freed from geographical commitments and keen to find somewhere to live that offers the best home-working experience. Krakow, for example, is popular because it has WiFi speeds which eclipse continental averages by 23 per cent, meaning that people can stay connected easier despite being hundreds of miles away.
By contrast, this applies to hardly anyone in Eastern Europe and it’s practically unknown in Bulgaria and Romania where the share is just 1.2% and 2.5%. Germany, where the Government has strict home office-rules for anyone using their own space for work, nevertheless experienced a country-wide pandemic-related boom in flexibility with an estimated one in two forced to work from home by their employer with or without complying at one stage, a trend fuelled by major employers such as Microsoft and supported by the likes of Mindspace and Satellite Office helping freelancers find affordable co-working spaces.
How firms moved quickly to adapt
Other software giants such as IBM and SAP, did the same. The DAX-listed SAP group, quickly began pilot schemes in London, Sydney and Zurich and sent an e-mail to roughly 100,000 employees in June, promising a “100 per cent flexible and trust-based workplace as the norm, not the exception”, something supported by 94 per cent of the staff, according to Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer Julia White.
She emphasised that the new approach was a major advantage when recruiting new talent. She was the evidence of that. In March, she had actually been recruited by Walldorf-headquartered firm from Microsoft in a process that took place entirely remotely. It was only on the end of May that she travelled to southwestern Germany for the first time to meet her fellow board members and the CEO.
I spoke to several leading industrial names this summer who had all made arrangements for staff to relocate to their homes. Some had been keen to point out how effectively that had been embraced.
I can recall Nikolaus Krueger, Head of Sales at Switzerland’s Endress +Hauser telling me productivity had been positively affected now people were no longer commuting and offices had morphed into meeting and social spaces. A survey by the German university, TU Darmstadt, looked at the opportunities and risks of expanding work-from-home schemes, interviewing 952 office staff from across Germany with one surprise finding.
Andreas Pfnür, Head of the Real Estate Management explained: “How people live says a lot about whether they can work successfully from home. Living conditions are more meaningful than the type of job or the number of children. We didn’t expect that. The more satisfied survey participants were with their living situation — the location and the layout of their home — the more satisfied and productive they were with remote working.”
And he warned: “Home office could pave the way for a two-tier society. “On the one hand, there are employees with attractive jobs who can enjoy themselves in a comfortable apartment,” he said.
"On the other hand, there are those who live in unstable or unviable working conditions, who will struggle to make remote working successful. Working from home is on the way to becoming a status symbol for the winners of the new working worlds."
In the UK, where few similar rules exist, many staff struggled to adapt quickly and there were many reports of rising mental health issues among those who were feeling isolated, something many firms, particularly major financial institutions, raised to the top of the agenda. This is where the German model came into its own. Setting guidelines for desk height, work surfaces, leg room and reflective surfaces ensured a correct approach, along with other aspects that may not have been obvious, such as placing printers "and other vibrating devices" on separate surfaces.
There were also directives on room temperatures (ideally, about 22 degrees C) and the screen settings for PC screens (400 to 600 lux). The changes have been social as well as corporate and the interiors world has been on the case, producing high-quality designer desks and chairs and office accessories that add visual value as well as structure to ordinary homes while creating atmosphere and delineation.
And it’s been happening all over Europe; producing the sort of furniture that works in multiple environments, either serving as entirely functional and fit for purpose or that blends into traditional living spaces, adding a touch of flexibility: from the practical, clean lines of those produced by the German Rauch Möbelwerke to the art-deco influenced Waltz range of the Portuguese manufacturer, PullCast, or the expressive Caoscreo range by the Italian design brand Terenzi Srl. As for the philosophy, entrepreneur Jason Fried, co-author of the bestseller, Rework, suggests it’s simply a question of mind-set. "If working remotely is such a great idea," he said. "Why isn't everyone doing it? I think it’s because we've been bred on the idea that work happens from 9 to 5, in offices and cubicles. It’s no wonder that most who are employed inside that model haven’t considered other options or resist the idea that it could be any different. But it can."
But that in itself requires effort. Alex Turnbull, Founder and CEO of the customer service platform Groove said: "Successfully working from home is a skill, just like programming, designing or writing. It takes time and commitment to develop that skill."
Author: Richard Burton / Worldshow Media
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