Home office requirements

"The time of fixed workplaces is over"

This month, the home office obligation ends in Germany. But what happens now? We spoke to the labour engineer Prof. Martin Schmauder of the University in Dresden.

Mar 14 2022

Prof. Schmauder, the home office obligation expires this March. Against this background, how do you assess the future of this working model? 

The home office will remain a model for the future. Admittedly, the legal regulations favouring working from home are expiring as things stand. In many companies and administrations, however, there are now internal agreements that home office work can and should continue even after the pandemic. However, it depends on the scope, the activities and the individual conditions – not everything works at home. 

Where do you see the difficulties? 

Some find it very exhausting because of the difficult conditions at home and are happy to have stable conditions in the office again. The blurring of private and professional life is also criticised. In my estimation, however, there are more people who see home office as a model for the future. Ultimately, it depends on the concrete arrangement and that the work tasks there are well coordinated. 

What legal framework conditions are (still) needed for a good work arrangement in the home office? 

The possibility of teleworking has existed for a long time, where companies provide their employees with equipment to work at home. In the pandemic, the legally undefined term home office was deliberately used for mobile working. There are no detailed requirements for this, although the Occupational Health and Safety and Working Hours Act also applies here. The employer's duty of care towards the employees is not nullified in the case of mobile working.

Swivel chair and secretary for the home office © Thonet GmbH

What else is there to consider legally? 

With regard to the legal framework for home office, I would otherwise stay at the level of recommendations and define what a very good, a good and an acceptable workplace at home looks like. With a very good workplace that does not differ from the one in the office, home office would then theoretically be possible all year round. In other cases, one would have to think about limiting work from home. 

What requirements must be placed on equipment if the home office is to establish itself as a permanent alternative to office work? 

Good work requires good tools and conditions. A workplace at home should therefore be designed in the same way as in the office. There are specific standards there that have been developed on the basis of years of experience. At home, for example, it should be possible to adjust the table to the body height, either variably or in steps. A height-adjustable chair is absolutely necessary. Here I observe that manufacturers have reacted to the situation and are also bringing more homely work chairs onto the market. 

What about the technical equipment? 

Home office primarily means screen work. Of course, a notebook at the kitchen table is not a permanent solution. A minimum requirement here is that the screen and keyboard are separate from each other. A docking station at home is no longer a technical marvel. 

"Bene for Home" collection © Bene GmbH/Flo Mooshammer

What findings do you have with regard to ergonomic design? 

We were able to prove via an ergonomics simulation that people reach the so-called "yellow" stress range after about two hours under the most unfavourable conditions at home. From the point of view of occupational science, an ergonomically designed workplace is therefore necessary from an activity time of two hours. Perhaps training should also be offered or even made compulsory. Just as employees in the trades learn to keep their tools in good condition, employees should be able to set up their workplace as optimally as possible. 

What does the office of the future look like to you? 

With office space in cities becoming more expensive, it's about making the best use of it. Ideas for open-space solutions and non-territorial workplaces have been around for a long time. In my opinion, the time when employees had a fixed place in the office is over. The demand for a personal workspace in the office is also increasingly dwindling when I can work at home in a private feel-good ambience. Therefore, creative landscapes with flexible possibilities for collaboration are increasingly emerging in companies. 

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martin Schmauder holds the Chair of Labour Engineering at the TU Dresden.  

Author: Broekmann+Partner

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