Is the Home Office just a fad?

Is the Home Office just a Fad?

A few weeks ago the german news website welt.de published an article with the headline “The Home Office Trend does not exist” (German: »Den Trend zum Home Office gibt es gar nicht«). Apart from the fact that this article is almost a copy from an article that was published 15 months ago at welt.de (»Home Office is Just an Illusion« – German: »Das Home Office ist eine Illusion«), both articles suggest that people are more often going to the office instead of working at home from time to time.

And so it’s not a big surprise that this article – just like the one from last year – causes quite some confusion. A lot of companies that are thinking about giving their employees more freedom regarding work time and work place decisions are irritated.

I could easily start and name many reasons why this conclusion falls short. But it is more helpful if we take a closer look to the micro-census questionnaire on which the analysis is based welt.de authors are using for their articles: Questionnaire Micro-Census 2014 (German: Fragebogen Mikrozensus 2014). The decisive question about working from home is on page 20, question number 64:

Did you work from home during the past three months?
(German original: Haben Sie Ihre Erwerbstätigkeit in den letzten 3 Monaten zu Hause ausgeübt?)

For the answer there were three options available:

Yes, and indeed (Ja, und zwar …)

… during the majority of work days (half or more)

… in less than half of the work days

No

So far so good. Below the question text you will find a little hint pointing to additional information for the interviewer:

See also on page 58: 7 „Working from Home“

And that’s the point where it is gets interesting. If you flip on page 58 and take a closer look to the text you will realize that it narrows the question about home office.

„Working from home“ is mostly done by self-employed people in artistic professions or by freelancers who work partly or fully in a part of their apartment that is furnished for professional purposes (e. g. artist’s workshop). Doctors or tax accountants are not working from home if their office is in direct neighborhood to their living areas and having a seperate entrance. Same is valid for farmers who are working on their fields or in a shed or other areas or buildings that are not part of the living area.

I see. „ […] is mostly done by self-employed people in artistic professions or by freelancers […]“.
And what is about permanently employed people who work partly from home? They drop out?

Ok – don’t make a big deal about and forget this restriction for a while. In that case the result from the micro-census might really vote against a home office trend.

But at this point we should take a closer look to our today’s working world. Especially self-employed people and freelancers rather work in a coworking space than alone from home. Our technology (Notebooks, Tablets, Smartphones, mobile internet access) allow us to work from any place at any time we want. So the conclusion easily is that the home office becomes one possible work place among many others! And from that point of view it is completely irrelevant if the numbers of home office users increase or decrease. The well-known couple corporate and home office got many offsprings in the past years.

In the end it is important that people have the freedom to decide where they want to work. Whether this is supposed to be in the office, at home, in a café or while being on a business trip is secondary at all. Knowledge work can not be planned and steered in advance like manufacturing work. An employee who needs to sit on his desk from 9 to 5 will hardly be creative or innovative – not even very productive with routine work – while there is a sick child waiting at home or if he or she urgently needs to go to an administrative office or having any other kind of private matter in mind. Give knowledge workers freedom and they will deccide for a work place that suits their current working needs in the best possible manner.

It’s not only our own research at Fraunhofer which shows that autonomy has a great impact on several success measures associated with knowledge work. In Dan Pinks book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us you will find a lot of other research that shows how big the influence of autonomy is especially on motivation.

So my final conclusion is that the home office is just a part of an increasingly diverse work place mixture. By theoretically having the opportunity to work from any place at any time you want our potential work places become more and more diverse. Maybe it is true that the usage of the home office as a work place is decreasing but that doesn’t mean that people do not want to decide on their own about where they want to work.

In the past: Home Office and/or Corporate Office. Today Home Office = Part of the work place potpourri.