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Mobile working: Work organisation

Recommendations on the organisation of work

Mobile working poses a great challenge to work organisation, both in terms of organisational occupational health and safety as well as in terms of leadership and communication, the design of mobility or the organisation of working time. In addition, the self-organisation of employees plays an important role.

Mobile working poses particular challenges for the organization of work, as fundamental structures and processes have to be designed differently. On the one hand, this applies to the regulation of traditional elements such as working hours and availability. The design of communication and collaboration is also important; new (virtual) management concepts must be tested and developed. Many requirements also arise directly from "being on the road" and should be well organized when designing mobility, e.g., on business trips. In addition, mobile working places greater demands on the self-organization and participation of employees. Mobile working therefore also poses a challenge to occupational health and safety and must be given greater consideration here in numerous instruments, such as risk assessment.

A woman sits in front of a laptop showing a calender with a weekly planning while answering a phone call. © Uwe Völkner/Fotoagentur FOX, Lindlar

Research findings show that working from home or mobile working entails many opportunities and risks, which should be taken into account through active design in companies. Concrete rules and agreements in the company make it possible to coordinate the various needs and interests. The following recommendations are intended to support the safe and healthy design of relevant aspects of work organization in mobile work.

Organisational occupational health and safety

Mobile working poses special challenges for occupational safety and health and workplace health promotion. On the one hand, mobile working must be additionally taken into account in the classic occupational safety measures, e.g. in risk assessment. On the other hand, the organisation of occupational safety and health changes as a result of mobile working in companies. For example, the participation of employees in occupational safety and health plays an important role.

  • Risk assessment for mobile work: Just as for stationary activities, employers must also carry out a risk assessment for mobile working (§§ 5-6 Occupational Health and Safety Act). The risk as-sessment should be preceded by an inventory of all occupational mobility requirements: How many and which employees are affected by which forms of mobility and with what intensity? What stresses and hazards occur with the forms of mobility? What technical, organisational and personal measures can be taken to reduce the risks? How can the success of the measures be monitored?
  • Occupational health screening: Employers must implement occupational health screening measures to detect and prevent work-related illnesses, including occupational diseases, at an early stage and to maintain employability (§ 1 Ordinance on Occupational Health Screening, ArbMedVV). In the case of computer-assisted mobile work, this includes, for example, the preventive care offered for an examination of the eyes and eyesight during VDU work.
  • Invisibility of workers for occupational safety and health: Mobile working involves the risk of workers being invisible and their burdens for occupational safety and health. The employees' duty to cooperate therefore plays an important role (§ 15 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act). At the same time, employers also have the main responsibility for the occupational safety and health of employees during mobile working (§ 3 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act).
  • Instruments of occupational safety and health and hierarchy of measures: Due to the diversity of workplaces in mobile work, the provision of suitable technical work equipment and the organisation of working conditions and personal measures are of great importance.
    • Technical equipment: Good information and communication technologies as well as high-quality mobile network technology are absolutely necessary for reliable access to necessary data regardless of the location (see digital work equipment).
    • Instruction: Employees should be instructed about the health effects and the healthy design of mobile work. Important topics here are working hours and accessibility, ergonomic workplace design or the proper use of technological work equipment.
    • Prohibition: Working conditions that are particularly hazardous to health may have to be limited or prohibited by employers. For example, work in certain work en-vironments (e.g. on trains or outdoors) can be limited to a certain extent (e.g. by a maximum number of hours per day or a maximum number of days per week, month or quarter).
    • Raising awareness of the importance of occupational mobility: Information events for all stakeholders (occupational safety and health, company medical services, managers and those affected) on the topic of occupational mobility, advantages and disadvantages, risks and dangers, prevention options.
    • Strengthening mobility competence: training e.g. to improve personal time management, offering training on health behaviour on the move (e.g. healthy eating, organising breaks on the move, etc.), enabling employees to recognise interested self-hazards in themselves, presenting impact connections with health, training on higher requirements for data protection and data security, in mobile work.
    • In-service training for managers: e.g. on healthy or health-promoting leadership, health for managers (self-leadership) or leadership at a distance and trust-based leadership styles (see topic Leadership)

(Virtual) Leadership, Communication and Information

The management of employees who work mobile goes hand in hand with less direct control and supervision through presence and is therefore mostly result-oriented and trust-based. At the same time, mobile work and managing at a distance often represent a considerable source of extra work for employees and managers. In order to actually be able to achieve the agreed goals, work targets should be clearly defined and, above all, realistically achievable, i.e. without extra work and too much pressure to perform. A (too) high intensity of work has a negative impact on the health, well-being and job satisfaction of employees. The following points are important here:

  • Transparent task definition and coordination: Clear delineation of tasks, what is the personal responsibility of the mobile workers and on which points there is a need for coordination with the manager. Realistic target agreements should be formulated precisely and unambiguously in individual discussions with the employees and reached by mutual consensus. There should be a regular exchange of information about tasks, workload and successes. This helps to prevent overload and to make employees aware of their performance. Feedback and exchange in case of problems and wishes of the employees are possible on a low-threshold basis. The definition of concrete tasks and scope for decision-making (by managers and employees together) and the formulation of realistic goals prevent excessive work pressure.
  • Role model function of managers to comply with working hours, accessibility rules, breaks and recovery times, prioritisation of non-work matters.
  • Do not work too intensively: link realistic goals to mobility, provide time buffers and recovery periods. Realistic assessment of the resources and framework conditions necessary to achieve the goals. Regular review and, if necessary, adjustment of the staffing ratio.
  • Substitution rules/substitute systems so that employees can switch off with a clear conscience during holidays, illness or their rest periods after longer assignments.
  • A culture of trust instead of leadership through presence and control is an important prerequisite.
  • Informational integration of mobile employees into the company organisation: organise communication and information under the condition of absence - integration into company matters, access to knowledge exchange, but also organisational guidelines on accessibility, team meetings once or twice a month in physical presence, plan time budgets for the personal exchange of colleagues.
  • Use of different information channels adapted to the communication needs. The appropriate communication channel depends on the timeliness, necessity and scope of the information to be shared as well as the number of participants.
    • The information is urgent and complex: immediate, synchronous communication (telephone, video) is a good idea.
    • The information is urgent but not complex: Information can be passed on via a short dialogue (chat).
    • The information is not urgent, but complex: In this case, asynchronous communication (for example e-mail or exchange of documents) is advisable.
  • Ensure formal and informal exchange within the team (and if necessary with customers), observe higher demands on communication (virtual communication), adapt common meeting times to team mobility, enable more team events and team-building measures to strengthen cohesion and social support.
  • Duty of care and role model function: Managers should provide their employees with precise and unambiguous information as part of their duty of care, e.g. on rights, duties and expectations in mobile work (e.g. regarding accessibility). This information can be translated into binding regulations in the form of guidelines, company or service agreements. Managers should always be aware of their role model function (e.g. working time framework).
  • Training for managers: Employers should provide training for managers: Information on how to systematically promote supportive/empathetic leadership; information on ways to address concerns and problems of coping with work and everyday life; training on virtual leadership communication and on the use of a communication medium appropriate to the content.

Mobility design

A high degree of mobility can negatively affect social relationships, informal and professional, at the workplace. In addition, mobile work can have an impact on personal life, for example, when regular overnight stays away from home are required. When designing mobility, the following recommendations can help:

  • Voluntariness: Mobile work should be voluntary. Involuntary mobile work can have a negative impact on the health, well-being and satisfaction of employees.
  • Individual and life-stage differences: workers differ in how much they feel the need to combine work and private life or to clearly separate the two areas of life. The individual preferences to combine or separate the spheres of life can also change over the course of one's (working) life, e.g., changes due to marriage, the birth of a child. These differences should be taken into account when planning job-related mobility.
  • Co-determination of employees in job-related mobility: Employees should be involved as far as possible in the planning of mobile working, e.g. with regard to the duration, frequency and timing of mobile working. It is also advisable to give employees a voice in route planning, choice of transport and hotel booking.
  • On-site presence days in the company: Regular presence in the company on site (if necessary, also with presence days) can facilitate contact with colleagues or the manager and social exchange, especially for informal, non-technical communication.
  • Equipping employees for mobile working: Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees are adequately equipped with suitable mobile devices; the technology provided for working on the move should be closely aligned with the state of the art (see "digital work equipment"). If work is done from home as part of mobile working (working from home), the workplace at home should be oriented as far as possible to the requirements of VDU workstations or teleworking workstations ("Telearbeitsplatz", § 2 (7) Workplace Ordinance or Annex 6 Workplace Ordinance).
  • Transition phases and time buffers for travel: Employees who travel extensively in the course of their work should be able to take sufficient rest periods between travel and resumption of their normal work the next day after business trips, especially when returning from travel on non-work days.
  • Designing favorable travel conditions: Particularly for frequent travelers or for long-distance trips, there should be flexibility with regard to arrival and departure dates, lightening the burden of traveling by having assistants make operational travel arrangements.
  • Company offers for employees with a high degree of job-related mobility: Survey existing needs for time- and location-flexible work and derivation of missing support offers. Mobile workers and their managers must also be integrated into the planning of occupational health management measures.
  • Company mobility management: Mobility-related, uncomplicated technical and organizational support for problems that arise, e.g., with travel organization or mobile technology.

Organisation of working time

Mobile working can be accompanied by an extension of working hours into the evening (overtime), excessive fragmentation of working time or atypical working hours and a reduction or interruption of the statutory minimum rest period. In the long run, such working hours can impair the balance between work and private life and have negative health consequences. Regardless of the form of mobility, it is therefore important to ensure healthy working hours (according to the standards of the Working Hours Act) with active regulation of breaks and rest periods:

  • Maximum working hours (§ 3 Working Hours Act): In order to avoid mistakes and accidents and not to impair concentration or performance and health, the daily working time should not exceed eight hours as a rule. The working time may be extended to up to ten hours a day, but then a compensation of the overtime to an average of eight hours must be ensured within 24 weeks. Regardless of the length of the compensation period, it is recommended that the increased working time be compensated as soon as possible.
  • Rest breaks (§ 4 Working Hours Act): Regular breaks serve to maintain performance and help prevent one-sided stress. In addition to the legally prescribed break (at least 30 minutes for a working time of six hours or 45 minutes if the working time exceeds nine hours), additional short breaks are advisable, especially in mobile work contexts. If possible, the time of the break should be freely selectable and the break should be freely arranged.
  • Minimum rest periods (§ 5 Working Hours Act): In order to enable rest, a statutory rest period of at least eleven consecutive hours after the end of the daily working time before starting work again also applies to the various forms of mobile working. Even short interruptions of the rest period (e.g. to check e-mails or telephone calls) have a negative impact on the quality and duration of sleep, recovery and performance the next day, as well as health and absenteeism due to illness.
  • Atypical working hours (evening work and night work): Work in the evening (usually 8 p.m. - 11 p.m.) or night work (usually 11 p.m. - 6 a.m., cf. § 2 (3) Working Hours Act) should be avoided if possible. Evening work often occurs when employees work long hours or overtime, or take longer breaks from work during the day for private reasons. Working in the late afternoon and evening occupies socially valuable time for private and family life or leisure activities and should be avoided if possible. Starting work too early should also be avoided, as this often reduces performance. As (night ) shift work does not normally occur with mobile working or teleworking, recommendations on this are not made (for health aspects of night and shift work, please refer to the S2k guideline)
  • Atypical working hours during the week (work on weekends and public holidays): Work on Sundays and public holidays is generally only permitted in exceptional cases (§§ 9 and 10 Working Hours Act). Weekends and public holidays are particularly valuable for recreation but also for social integration. In the best case, Saturdays and Sundays should be continuous days off. In the case of business trips, travel days on weekends and public holidays should be avoided as far as possible.
  • Employee-related flexibility (room for manoeuvre in terms of working time): As a rule, mobile working also goes hand in hand with greater room for manoeuvre in terms of time, i.e. employees can, for example, freely choose the start and end of work, schedule their breaks themselves and flexibly take hours or days off, e.g. by crediting working time accounts, influencing working time, elective working hours or rosters that can be individualised. However, the flexibility options should be within a certain framework so that the maximum daily working hours, minimum rest and break times are respected (see above).
  • Flexibility requirements or predictability of working hours: If working hours and work assignments change at short notice, the predictability and plannability of employees is reduced, especially for private, family, social and leisure activities. Working hours should be predictable, especially in the case of mobile working, as short-term assignments place high demands on mobility (short-term absence, little preparation and planning time).
  • Avoid being available outside working hours: A clear separation of working time and rest time or free time is important to many employees and therefore an important prerequisite for recovery and restoration of performance. Maximum working hours and minimum rest periods also apply to mobile working and business trips (see above). It is therefore important to avoid being reachable or contacted outside working hours, even during mobile working. Rules on availability and non-availability that are developed in a participatory manner and comply with the Working Time Act can support this. Telephone diversions and absence notes, as well as clear communication of presence and absence times are helpful in this regard (cf: INQA: Selbstcheck Ständige Erreichbarkeit).
  • Recording of working time (§ 16 Working Time Act): Recording working hours helps to ensure compliance with break and rest regulations and helps to maintain an overview of the working time worked - both for employees and companies. This is supported by an appropriate and binding regulation of the recording of working time, if possible electronically and also while on the move. Travel times are work-related times and should be recognised as working time where possible, but in any case should be taken into account in the risk assessment on working time.

Self-organisation

Mobile work places high demands not only on occupational safety and health and the relevant actors, but also on mobile workers themselves. How well do they have their own self-control skills and strategies so that mobile working does not lead, for example, to a lack of boundaries or self-harming behaviour? Through individual training offers, e.g. on time management, health behaviour, work organisation, etc., employers can specifically support their employees in their self-organisation and thus strengthen personal resources.

  • Qualification/training offers: Targeted training offers can sensitise employees to possible stresses and hazards and support them in ensuring that mobile working is designed in a healthy way.
    • Segmentation: Basically, employees have different ideas about how they can reconcile work and professional life. Employers are advised to take this into account in order to maintain job satisfaction and motivation among employees. If mobile workers prefer a strict separation between work and professional life, they can achieve this in many ways:
    • Ensure spatial and temporal separation between work and private life.
    • Technological separation by separating private and official devices.
    • Cognitive-emotional strategies help to mentally switch off from work. Routines or regular leisure activities, for example, support this.
    • Agreement on mutual accessibility (expectations) with the manager and within the team. In this context, the manager with his or her role model function plays a decisive role (see above, "Leadership").
  • Health behaviour:
    • Time management: Employees should consciously plan and implement appropriate regular break and recovery times, even during mobile work. Employers can offer appropriate training, e.g. to impart and consolidate knowledge of the Working Hours Act (see above, "Working hours").
    • Health literacy: Employers can strengthen the health literacy of their mobile workers through health behaviour training. This enables employees to reflect on and adapt their own health behaviour. Promoting employee self-management and resilience can be other key objectives.

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