Working remotely in Germany – from nuts to normal?
by Britta Spachtholz
As long as you are not employed as a craftsman of any kind, working in Germany means going to an office and spending your workday there. Actually as an employee you have the obligation of a mandatory attendance at your stipulated place of work. Working remotely or from home hasn´t been heard of as an option for many years. A right to work from home does not exist.
In 2013 I was working for an international company in Munich: part time – which was a hurdle my employer back then crossed relatively easily – but on top of that, I had asked for three remote days per week (because I had a small child at home and a husband who was working full-time and abroad a lot). Although nobody ever spoke out loud about it, it was considered a little too much. In the end we were able to settle things for the benefits of all parties and I got three remote working days per week granted but the amendment to my employment contract was a long one. So many things had to be stipulated: from data protection to adequate occupational safety to working time measurement and so on. In the end things worked out really well – I loved the mix of onsite working in Munich and working in my home office and my employer was also happy because he realized that my work was well done with no loss of quality or success.
When I joined Xenion in 2015 the issue of remote working took a completely different turn: Xenion is based in Frankfurt, 400km away from my home and due to personal reasons moving there was no option. I was torn because I wanted to work for this company and prepared myself for discussions why I would dare asking for completely working remotely. And guess what? There was no single discussion at all – at Xenion everybody was working completely remotely: from Brussels, Zurich, Cologne and with me from Munich.
Giving it a closer look remote working definitely has productivity benefits compared to working in an office – if, yes if, one is able to self-organise and structure a workday. For those capable of this working remotely is heaven on earth: no disturbances by colleagues just popping by your office, to just say hello or chat or looking for someone to join them on their coffee or smoking break. No ad-hoc meetings (sometimes held out of mere operational procedure rather than well-considered reasons) which interrupt a working process suddenly. It costs even more time after such an interruption to find your way back into your workflow once more.
We live and breathe our values at Vario Germany where everybody works completely remotely, we are actually living what we are selling to our clients: efficient remote support through our Varios in the knowledge that legal support is at its best when the person providing it is undisturbed and can focus on the legal questions at hand.
Nevertheless things are a little different in Germany, let alone in the German legal market which was and still is very conservative. Most clients insist on having their Varios as well as their own employees onsite. For them, not seeing their human resources gives them a sense of loss of control… or a lack of trust. In many cases a request for remote working simply was considered to be nuts. Only in very few cases it is a technical issue.
While we were often struggling to convince our clients that remote working should be embraced by modern businesses, we got help from an unexpected source: COVID-19 sent almost everybody into a new home office. Suddenly there was no other option to carry out work and soon employers realised that business and processes kept on working and that the quality of work was the same standard.
A recent poll in Germany states that 89% of those who had to work remotely loved it. This is really a significant number.When Microsoft Germany closed some of its offices in Germany a few years ago, declaring “the classical office job to be dead“ and offering more than 1,000 people to work completely remotely this caused a real stir. It was an incident unheard of.
Now in between COVID-19 waves it was Siemens AG one of the largest, most successful and in many ways, very conservative German companies which announced that in the future about 145,000 people worldwide would be working remotely from their homes.
My parting question therefore is, when companies like Siemens with their reputation and their influence, declare something like that a new age for employees is dawning and working remotely eventually turns from nuts to normal, shouldn’t we all be embracing the new remote working phenomenon?