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IBA/bso Study 2015

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More than half of the employees in Germany work in an office

A representative telephone survey of employees in the office sector.

  • Conducted by: forsa Gesellschaft für Sozialforschung und statistische Analysen mbH on behalf of IBA (formerly bso)
  • Publication: December 2015

In each one of four survey phases taking place from April 2014 to September 2015, 1,000 employees in the office sector were asked questions about the following topics.

  • April 2014: Type of office space, satisfaction
  • April / May 2015: Equipment of the office spaces
  • July / August 2015: Use and equipment of home offices
  • September 2015: Communication areas

The proportion of employees in the office sector compared to total employees in Germany was evaluated several times.

The most important results

  • <i>Share of employees in the office sector compared to total employees in Germany </i> 1 / 7 Share of employees in the office sector compared to total employees in Germany
  • <i>Proportions of different types of space </i> 2 / 7 Proportions of different types of space
  • <i>Proportions of different types of office chairs </i> 3 / 7 Proportions of different types of office chairs
  • <i>Proportion of sitting/standing tables </i> 4 / 7 Proportion of sitting/standing tables
  • <i>Noise pollution</i> 5 / 7 Noise pollution
  • <i>Availability of alternative communication areas</i> 6 / 7 Availability of alternative communication areas
  • <i>Working in a home office</i> 7 / 7 Working in a home office

Most employees work at an office workplace:

50% of all employees in Germany work in the office sector. An additional 2% work (exclusively) in a home office.

Equipment of the office workplaces

The percentage of sitting/standing tables doubled between 2012 and 2014. Today one fourth of employees work at a desk whose height can be adjusted between the levels for seated and standing work. But although some companies are significantly improving the quality of their office workplaces, in other companies the low quality has remained almost unchanged. This can be seen in companies’ overall inventory of office chairs, for example. Whereas the products used in just over half of all companies are constantly being improved, the chairs used in 39% of companies do not even comply with the basic ergonomic requirements.

This negligence could turn out to be a mistake. It’s harmful in the short term, because a work environment that doesn’t measure up to the requirements inevitably affects employees’ ability to do good work. It’s also harmful in the long term, because inadequate equipment has a detrimental effect on employees’ health and well-being. What’s more, companies with antiquated workplaces risk having employees who look around for more attractive offices. Some 62% of employees in Germany say that if they were changing jobs they would pay particular attention to the environment in which they would be working in the future.

In fact, most employees in Germany are generally satisfied with their workplaces in their present jobs. However, they believe there is considerable room for improvement in the details — namely, in terms of ergonomic equipment, design and the prerequisites for effective communication.

The status quo of communication areas

The surveyed employees currently have access to meeting and conference rooms as well as one or two alternative communication areas. As a rule, these alternative areas are kitchenettes or coffee bars with seats or high tables, as well as meeting tables located near the employees’ desks. However, seating ensembles with sofas or armchairs and high tables for short meetings are still the exception.

Although most companies offer several communication areas for their employees, the number of thoses areas is often rather small. Almost 20% of the respondents complained that often no spaces for having spontaneous meetings were available to them.

Working in the home office

In addition to workplaces in companies, the home office is developing into a regularly used option for many employees. Some 40% of all office workers also work at home from time to time, but only one fourth of these homeworkers use their home offices for more than 50% of their total work time.

Nonetheless, many employees set great store by having a well-equipped home office, even though less than one tenth of them receive support from their employers when they are buying the necessary furniture. 21% of home offices are equipped with sitting/standing tables. 46% of home offices have a swivel chair for dynamic sitting.

Room design

Room design has undergone the least amount of change. In spite of the trend toward larger office units, 58% of all employees work in a room for one or two people. One reason for that is the high cost of restructuring office space. Employees’ general reluctance to move into a larger office space probably also plays a role. All the same, this does not justify the conclusion that employees want to keep their present work environment unchanged at any cost. One fifth of all employees could imagine giving up a workplace that is assigned to them personally and then moving into a larger office unit, as a rule, if the change were connected with a noticeable improvement of their office equipment.

One initial conclusion is therefore:

The transformation of office work is gradually becoming evident in the area of office equipment as well. At least the first steps have already been taken.

The study can be downloaded in German at IBA Publications.