Work: After Corona: What lures us back to the office?

Many office workers are expected to return to work after the Corona years.

Work: After Corona: What lures us back to the office?

Many office workers are expected to return to work after the Corona years. "On average, employers want to be more present than the employees," says Bernd Fitzenberger, director of the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research (IAB) in Nuremberg, the dpa.

"Managers have to think hard about how they can make office work attractive." Because: Among the employees there is still a very great desire to work in their own four walls. "Many applicants even make working from home an important criterion when looking for a job," says Fitzenberger.

In the home office, 65 minutes are saved per day

One reason against the office: On average, employees in Germany save more than an hour if they open their laptop at home and do not drive to work. This is the conclusion of an international study published by the US science network NBER in January. In Germany, more than 2,000 employees in the Corona years 2021 and 2022 indicated how many minutes their journey to the office would take. Then they broke down how they were spending the time they gained instead.

The study was supported, among others, by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Ifo Institute in Munich. According to the results, 65 minutes are saved per day in the home office. 20 minutes of the time gained are therefore used for additional work, 10 minutes for the household and 5 minutes for childcare or caring for relatives. Most of the time, around 30 minutes, is used by Germans for their free time, for example reading, watching TV or doing sports outdoors.

So what does it take for employees to give up this extra free time again - and to get back to the office? Good coordination, explains IAB Director Fitzenberger. Managers would have to organize who actually comes into the company and when. "If you're just alone in the office and have virtual meetings with colleagues working from home, that could be sobering," says Fitzenberger. Managers could combine a fixed attendance day a week with social offers, for example. "It can be lunch together or a relaxed team meeting." This is the only way to achieve a "return on presence".

"Company or office central place for personal exchange"

The Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) emphasizes that the working life of many office workers will consist of a combination of home office and office work in the future. "86 percent of all companies where mobile working is fundamentally possible want to continue or even expand it," said the BDA. This contributes to personal job satisfaction, but also to employer attractiveness and the recruitment of skilled workers. "Nevertheless, the company or office remains a central place for personal exchange and collaborative work."

The Verdi union also advocates making the office a "social place" again. This requires new spatial concepts, for example, explains Verdi consultant Christian Wille from the Innovation and Good Work department. "Many employees have fled the offices because the working conditions there - such as the volume, the equipment, too many tasks at the same time - were perceived as negative." At home one was then often able to work undisturbed. "Without addressing the working conditions in the offices, the problem will only get worse when people are supposed to come back," warns Wille. In addition to group offices and meeting rooms, individual offices, quiet retreats or telephone boxes should also be offered.

In addition to office events, SAP offers childcare

In addition to modern office environments, many companies are trying to find other benefits - for example in the IT industry, in which a particularly large number of people have switched to working from home. According to a company spokeswoman, the software group SAP offers not only office events, but also childcare and sports facilities. The IT service provider Bechtle provides a laundry service, among other things. And in the canteen, employees can take a ready-made dinner to take home, according to a spokeswoman. This should "enable time savings and thus bring professional and private life into line".

"I keep hearing the demand that the employer has to offer me something so that I'm ready to come back to the office," says Susanne Böhlich, Professor of International Management at the IU International University in Bad Honnef. However, she does not believe that certain benefits are enough to get employees back into the office. "In our euphoria for working from home, we completely underestimate the incredible value of being present."

Instead, Böhlich advocates transparency and honesty on the part of managers. "The employees should be able to understand why they should come to the office and feel that the process is fair," says the professor. For this, however, managers would have to create clear and consistent rules. "And those affected should be able to have a say in the decision-making process," demands Böhlich. "Only then do you get the acceptance to return to the office."