A question I have been asked many times when talking about the advantages of mobile office is: “Well, can you work when your child is at home?”. The answer to this is very simple: “No!”
Mobile office = housekeeping?
Of course I can’t. I’ll work when my child is being looked after. If I am at home, the best I can do is check my e-mail on my work phone. Sorry, I am just not very talented in multitasking.
Before joining TÜV Rheinland, I worked for a long time in the UK. There, the concept of home office was already common and uncomplicated in the 2000s. Back in Germany, I was often surprised how great the reservations still are in this regard. The above-mentioned initial question also shows that for many people, working in a mobile office seems to be synonymous with childcare, spring-cleaning, or mowing the lawn.
Commuting is the trend
Fortunately, I have noticed for some time that this attitude is changing. Which is great! To give a personal example, without the opportunity to work in the mobile office for one or two days per week, my husband and I would commute an incredible total of 2,150 kilometers per week in a 5-day week, and spend an average of 33 hours commuting. It is questionable whether we could cope with this burden over a longer period of time in terms of our health and family matters.
I know, this is the pure madness of modern times. But statistics prove that we are in good company. A current analysis of data from the Federal German Employment Agency (BA) shows that the trend towards commuting is clearly on the rise. Currently, 12.6 million German employees work outside their city or district and therefore have to commute. Similarly, the average distance to and from work has increased since 2000 from 14.8 to 16.9 kilometers in 2018 according to Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs, and Spatial Development.
Mobile Office: Win-win for health and climate
Certainly, those who have to be on-site for their work cannot benefit from the advantages of the mobile office. But for me my one day of mobile office per week has made life so much easier. What’s most important to me on this day is that my travel time is predictable. For the school run, I simply hop on my bike instead of panicking that I miss the pick-up time while being stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway. The positive effect on my health is noticeable. Having one day less of being stuck in the car gives me more exercise and I have experienced fewer back problems since then. Really great is that I also feel less stressed and more relaxed in general. Driving can be very strenuous, especially in the dark in bad weather conditions, and one day a week without the hectic pace of rush hour traffic makes me feel good.
It also makes sense for climate protection. An assessment by the Institute for Applied Work Science (ifaa: Institut für angewandte Arbeitswissenschaft) has shown: If 10 percent of the working population in Germany were to work from home one day a week, around 4.5 billion kilometers of commuting and about 850 million kilograms of CO2 could be saved per year. If everyone would leave the car at home sometimes, this would generally equalize traffic in metropolitan areas.
On site and in the mobile office – variety is important
Of course the mobile office also has its pitfalls. I understand that not everyone can cope with it well, as it requires discipline and you sit alone at home. After a day in the mobile office, I appreciate all the more the infrastructure available in the office and the opportunities to meet colleagues in person over lunch.
But in times when teams are distributed globally and you sometimes have more contact with your international colleagues via Skype and telephone than with your direct office colleagues, it is no longer so important whether everyone is sitting at the table in the meeting or is connected via Skype.
Not long ago the unspoken office rule “Whoever stays the longest wins” seemed to be a reliable foundation to advance on the career ladder. Nowadays the situation is much more nuanced. In my direct work environment and in conversations with friends, I notice that supervisors are increasingly rethinking long-established beliefs. Managers don’t necessarily judge the value of their employees anymore by how long they stay in the office, but by how they get involved in their job and what their outcome at work is like.
Times are changing – that’s good!
How fortunate that my supervisor at TÜV Rheinland himself sets a good example and understands and appreciates this form of work organization. That takes the pressure from us staff members to justify ourselves when working flexibly at home.
By the way, I also noticed that something has changed because no one has asked me for a long time whether I could work when my child is at home. The answer is still: “No!”.