Especially in the last 5 years, the importance for virtual teams and home office in companies has increased. Especially compared to the early 2000s, real growth can be seen here. In the meantime, almost every employee works virtually with his colleagues in some form. This is often done via e-mail or set home office days.

The clear advantage of this way of working is clearly the independence of the location. It enables companies to put together teams of experts who can work together in an intact system beyond country, time and business boundaries.

I would like to explain in more detail in this article what factors have become key drivers of these working methods. All information is reflected in a summary from Chapter 1 of my book Virtual Teams and Homeoffice from Springer Verlag.

Four key drivers for virtual teams and home office

The restructuring of old working methods or the integration of new working methods over time is usually based on trends, changes or external influences and events.

If you take a closer look at the time interval of the last five years, it has been found that virtual teams and home office are based on these 4 drivers in particular:

  • Arbeit 4.0 / New Work / Homeoffice
  • COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020
  • Outsourcing
  • Facilitation of technology

In the following, I would like to go into more detail about each individual driver and examine its relevance and influence in more detail.

Work 4.0 and Homeoffice

Arbeit 4.0

The term “work 4.0” often also in conjunction with the synonym “New Work” describes the work in the digital age. In addition, there is also the increasing use of technological aids in the general structures of companies.

The driving force behind this shift from traditional working methods to a modern work concept is generation Y (born 1980-1995). This places a comparatively stronger emphasis on the work-life balance. In the course of this, it is specifically looking for employers to meet these demands (based on the results according to the study by Xing from 2019; more information on page 2 of my book Virtual Teams and HomeOffice).

In particular, in connection with the prevailing shortage of skilled workers, Generation Y finds itself in a strong negotiating position, forcing companies to test special flexitime and trust working time models as well as virtual teams and home offices and to offer them as an integral part of the employment contract.

Homeoffice

In particular, the latter aspect of the possibility of home office or remote work has become an estimated factor in the search for employees. in principle, this working method describes the option of being able to carry out the activities carried out outside the company in a freely chosen environment. This trend can be seen in particular in the following figure:

Study on Homeoffice (Lindner 2020)

The graphic is based on a study carried out in the context of one of my books (see Lindner and Niebler 2018). The participants were asked whether they felt that the time in the home office was sufficient or whether more time was desired.

Based on the results, it is clear that the majority of employees already use home office. In principle, there is also a desire for an increase, although this only exists up to a maximum of 2 days per week. In some cases, however, it also emerged that some employees do not even want a home office.

COVID-19 pandemic in 2020

At the moment, however, the COVID-19 pandemic in particular has become a major factor, contributing to an increase in the ability of employees to use home office.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

According to a study by the Institute for Labour Market and Occupational Research (see IAB 2020), 25% of employees in Germany are now working entirely in the home office during the peak phase of the pandemic (see chart below). This represents an increase of 20% compared to the period before COVID-19. However, it turns out that as the pandemic weakens, the home office rate also declines significantly. It is estimated that it will even fall back to 7.5% (see p. 4 of my book Virtual Teams and Homeoffice).

Share of employees in the home office (Lindner 2020)

Opportunities of the COVID-19 pandemic

However, the government wants to start right here and use the pandemic as a guide for new working methods. For example, Federal Minister of Labour Hubertus Heil (SPD; cf. Zeit 2020a) plans to firmly enshrine the home office option in the labour law in the future.

According to a study by the Federal Association of Digital Economy (2020), many companies are still reluctant to offer work from home as a permanent option. At the same time, however, almost 60 percent of all employees want this option (more information see page 4 of my book Virtual Teams and HomeOffice).

The main reason for doubt and restrainness on both sides is the great inexperience. The pandemic and the compulsion to work remotely have clearly shown that many companies are virtually still on an old standpoint. In particular, the technical infrastructure and clear regulations were lacking here.

At the same time, however, the employees had to completely reorganize the work from home. Firstly, against the background of the lack of childcare. In particular, however, due to an inadequate workplace in your own home.

In addition, mistrust on the part of employers (since work performance can be less well checked) and the currently comparatively less efficient work (e.g. due to children’s shouting in the background) make it difficult to trust in the permanent introduction of a home office option.

Outsourcing

But the outsourcing of many companies has also become a driver for virtual teams and home office. In particular, this refers to the transfer of company levies to external, often foreign, partners.

Outsourcing in Europe, also known as nearshoring, is often easier to organise than offshoring (worldwide) thanks to lower barriers such as time, cultural and linguistic differences. This is because the employees of a company have to meet significantly more requirements if they cooperate virtually with the outsourcing provider.

Surveys such as Statista’s (2020) also show that outsourcing is increasingly being anchored as an integral part of the structures of German companies. At the same time, virtual teams and home office are also gaining massive importance (see 5f for more information. my book Virtual Teams and Homeoffice).

Facilitation of technology

But access to technology also plays an essential role when it comes to implementing virtual teams and home offices sustainably. In order to be able to work well with each other outside the well-equipped corporate structures, the right mobile software and hardware is required.

What was considered a real cost problem a few years ago has now gone in the opposite direction. Thanks to low-cost software packages such as SaaS (Software as a Service), the right equipment for the workforce has long since ceased to be a cost-intensive factor. Instead, all important applications can be used over the Internet for comparatively low fees. With the help of a mobile device and after creating a user account, it can also be used quickly and accessible from anywhere.

And even in the area of hardware, companies no longer have to spend huge sums in order to equip their employees sufficiently for virtual teams and home offices. After all, mobile hardware such as laptops can now be purchased cost-effectively for several hundred euros.

Virtual Teams and Homeoffice: Conclusion

Currently, working methods such as virtual teams and home office are still in the running shoes. Until now, they have only been established in an inferior way in companies or have not even been offered at all. But this state of affairs is in a revolution, even if many employers are still shying away from the deep cuts that come with them.

Virtual teams cut deep into business processes, which is often not approved in the company (Lindner 2020)

Nevertheless, it has been shown that some factors can be crystallized as decisive drivers in the growth of these modern working methods.

While drivers such as Work 4.0, outsourcing and technological perks are already developing over a longer period of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a new trend. In particular, it will continue to have a significant impact on virtual work in the coming years. As a result, many companies have been and will continue to be forced to focus more on virtual teams and home offices.

Tip: Read my new book: virtual teams & home office at Springer Gabler or book me for a talk.

Lindner, D. (2020) – Virtual Teams and Home Office – Guide to Technology, Working Methods and Leadership. Springer Verlag

Image source: https://pixabay.com/de/illustrations/covid-19-arbeiten-von-zu-hause-4938932/

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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