As a consequence of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many people in Germany are finding that their work situation has drastically changed. All of a sudden, millions of people are working from home and the Denglish term “homeoffice” is the buzzword of the day here in Germany. How does this work situation, which in some cases is unfamiliar to those concerned, affect work performance and mental health? What can supervisors and employers do to foster a productive and healthy work environment at home?
Professor Florian Kunze and Sophia Zimmermann, organizational researchers at the University of Konstanz, have started an empirical longitudinal study to explore these questions. On 30 March 2020, they conducted a corresponding online survey with a representative sample of the working population in Germany. Around 700 employees currently working from home answered a detailed questionnaire with 83 questions. In order to be able to assess better how their work situation is developing, the respondents are answering selected questions every day over the course of the coming fortnight. The results of the initial survey have now been evaluated.
Work situation at home
So far, Germans are not overly familiar with working from home: For about a third (35 percent) of the respondents, working from home is a completely new situation and a further 50 percent have only little experience to date of this type of working. Nonetheless, most people said that they were satisfied with both their work situation and the resources available – sufficient space, a place to work undisturbed, a good Internet connection; this was confirmed by two thirds of the study participants.
Florian Kunze and Sophia Zimmermann also asked about communication with colleagues and superiors, which is a very important factor. For the great majority, relatively conventional means such as email (90 percent) and telephone (71 percent) were enough. Only half the respondents stated that they regularly use chats and only a good quarter (28 percent) use video tools.
Productivity when working from home
Other than some might have feared, employees’ performance does not appear to suffer – at least in their own perception 45 percent stated that they are very productive when working from home. A good three quarters of the respondents (77 percent) consider that working from home facilitates the compatibility of family and career, traditionally an important argument for remote work. However, a third of respondents reported that working from home made them feel socially isolated.
Between commitment and emotional exhaustion
For all employers, a high level of commitment on the part of staff is desirable. At the same time, it is important to prevent emotional exhaustion. It may be the case that the new work situation presents particularly difficult challenges for those employers with a large number of staff working from home. “That’s why we’re especially interested in factors connected with employees’ commitment and their mental health when working from home,” says Kunze. “Our first results indicate that supervisors’ conduct is particularly important for employees’ commitment,” adds his colleague Sophia Zimmermann. “Leadership behaviour should focus on both structure, individual regard and good self-management as well as good equipment and all the resources necessary for working at home.”
In order to prevent their staff working from home from showing signs of emotional exhaustion, supervisors should above all take care of them individually. In this context, conflicts between work and family life are to be avoided. “We were somewhat surprised to discover that – wherever possible – not too much communication should take place via video channels,” says Kunze, adding: “These are, however, in the first instance results which are only based on a cross-sectional analysis – so we’re talking about a snapshot of the situation.” Data will be recorded on eight further occasions during the course of the study. In this way, the researchers want to arrive at concrete practical recommendations for employees, companies and supervisors on how working from home can be designed in a productive and healthy way – in times of the coronavirus pandemic but also beyond.
- Professor Florian Kunze is professor of organisational studies at the Department of Politics and Public Administration and principal investigator in the Cluster of Excellence “The Politics of Inequality” of the University of Konstanz. His research work centres on digitalization and new forms of work, demographic change in public and private organizations and effective leadership behaviours.
- Sophia Zimmermann is a doctoral researcher at the Chair of Organisational Studies. Her research priorities are concerned with the development of staff skills in the context of digital transformation and efficient design of remote work.
- The online survey was conducted by Respondi, an online survey institute, and included 699 respondents as a representative sample of the working population in terms of age and gender. The questionnaire for the initial survey comprised 83 questions; the participants are answering selected questions in follow-up surveys each working day over the course of two weeks.
- The researchers have summarized the most important results in a fact sheet. It can be downloaded from uni.kn/broschueren/pdf/factsheet-homeoffice.pdf.
- The survey stemmed from the project “Digitalization, Automation and the Future of Work in Post-Industrial Welfare States” in the Cluster of Excellence “The Politics of Inequality".