Home office: that's the advice of an expert

Terms such as home office or remote work have determined the working lives of many people since the corona pandemic. An expert gives tips.

For months, many employees in Germany have been working from home because of the Corona crisis. A new home office regulation has only just been passed, according to which employers – wherever possible – must offer this type of employment. The news agency spot on news asked an expert for advice on teleworking. Teresa Hertwig is the founder of "GetRemote", has been working from anywhere for more than seven years and her new book "360 Grad Remote Work" is expected to appear in April. She explains what one understands by "remote work", what advantages and disadvantages it has and gives tips for employees and employers.

Ms. Hertwig, you are an expert in remote work. What is meant by this?

Hertwig: Remote work is much more than home office. Remote work or the German equivalent "mobile work" means that the work on yourself and the company, its work culture and work processes are structured in such a way that it does not matter where I work. Because communication, transparency, social exchange among colleagues, solidarity and productivity are given at all times and in all places.

What are the advantages of this mobile working?

Hertwig: For the employees that is especially the flexibility they have gained. For example, I can work according to my own biorhythm and no longer have to drive to my workplace every day. Saving the commute time is an enormous gain in quality of life. And maybe I am also more creative if I don't have to sit in the same place at the same time every day and can choose whether I can do a job better in the home office, in a café or in the office.

For employers, very motivated and loyal employees are a great advantage. Because when I, as an employer, place this trust in my employees, it often creates a loyalty that is usually not achievable with a higher salary, a corner office or company car. I also have the advantage that I can find employees who live outside the very close radius of my company location. A point that is becoming more and more important with a view to the shortage of skilled workers, especially when my company is not in a metropolitan area but I need young talent. Then the likelihood that I will find good employees if I also partially offer mobile working is significantly higher. Another great advantage for employers is the opportunity to optimize workflows and processes. We absolutely need that so that mobile working can work.

And what are the disadvantages?

Hertwig: Possible disadvantages of mobile working for employers are that their company is not yet mature enough for mobile working to work properly. Every company is allowed to take a very conscious look at how far the employees and executives have already and then to readjust at one point or another and then to empower the employees and change the processes. Disadvantages for employees can be that it is not easy for every employee to separate professional and private matters – self-organization also plays a role here. While I had a predefined structure in the office before, I have to create it anew when working on the move.

Due to the corona, numerous companies have switched to home office. Many employees lack spontaneous communication with bosses and colleagues. Do you have any tips?

Hertwig: Spontaneous communication is a very important element. That is why we cannot let them fall under the table in this Corona home office phase either. It should be said here that email is simply not the right communication tool for virtual collaboration. It is still the right means of external communication with customers. But internally, if I want to replace talking across the desk with employees and colleagues, cooperation tools are better suited for this, for example a so-called office chat. There are tools for this like Slack or Microsoft Teams, and here we can map this spontaneous communication in writing in a chat – similar to WhatsApp. This enables us to reach colleagues in real time or at short notice.

Another idea is to set up a virtual office with a video tool. Often we only meet for meetings in a video tool, but we could also say, for example, that we will meet in our virtual meeting room for two hours one morning. Everyone works there for himself, but we are connected and everyone can ask a question at any time. This is a means that complete remote teams, i.e. those that work 100 percent remotely, also use. I recommend the creation of this virtual office, in which you can log in, ask a question from time to time and also receive an answer, to every company and every team.

How do employers manage to satisfy their employees despite the distance?

Hertwig: The best thing employers can do is to first place trust in their employees. That is the basic requirement. But this trust must not be a one-way street. It must be present in both directions. To do this, it is important to communicate a lot. If you are new to the home office, it is essential to talk about what the dos and don'ts of mobile collaboration are, what expectations do we have of each other and how can we be reached. All of these things have to be discussed together once. Because we lack a complete sense in the home office: seeing. We have to make up for that.

Employers often worry that their employees will not work from home as they should. How can you take this worry away from them?

Hertwig: Here employers have to realize that even when they are in the office, they don't sit next to their employees all the time and see what they are doing to the second. In my experience, employees want to work. If someone wants to avoid work, they can do it in the office as well as when working on the move. But then the question arises as to whether you really hired the right employees. In any case, the mere presence has never said anything about how qualitatively or quantitatively an employee works.

In the end, this is a question of leadership. It is the job of a manager to make it very clear which goal and which result the employee has to achieve. If I can't see that, I should first question my leadership style. This means that it is up to the employer and the managers to design a structure and culture in which it is clear which results are expected and achieved.

You can often read that employees working from home are less productive. How do you manage to increase your productivity?

Hertwig: At this point I would definitely like to point out that we are in a crisis phase. We don't have normal mobile working. People often went to work from home unprepared and we also have homeschooling. It is completely normal for productivity to suffer. In spite of this, many companies actually notice a constant or even increased productivity.

In order to be productive, employees need focus phases. This means that they do not always reply immediately to every incoming e-mail, but sometimes stay away from any communication channels for an hour or 90 minutes for a task and record very clear communication times, but also focus phases, in order to be able to work more productively. This is exactly what is difficult to implement, for example, for parents with homeschooling tasks. Children don't stick to focus schedules. If productivity suffers as a result, it is not due to the general way of working, but to the crisis.

Work in the home office often suffers from everyday distractions such as neighbors, children, postmen or laundry. How can you stay focused anyway?

Hertwig: Establishing small rituals can help a lot here to stay focused, i.e. to set very clear working and break times. Of course, flexibility is great, but very clear times that we set for ourselves can often help a lot. During the break, I can just go to the fridge, get something to drink, turn on the washing machine. But in the work and focus phases I stay at my desk and ideally don't change tasks. The good old Pomodoro technique is very helpful here – for example, work 25 minutes of concentrated work and a five-minute break or 50 minutes of concentrated work and a ten-minute break. This interval work helps immensely.