Working from home is crucial to commercial success

A new study from Aarhus BSS suggests that companies which keep the option to work from home following the COVID-19 crisis are more efficient and innovative than the ones which send their employees back to the office on a full-time basis. One of the researchers behind the study recommends that we talk about our workplace culture so as not to lose the advantages in innovation created by the crisis.

Even though we have returned to our daily routines in the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns and remote work, it is not a great idea to reinstate forced on-site attendance at the workplace. A combination of working from home and working on site seems like the best way forward. Photo: Adobe Stock

Most managers want a workplace where employees get stuff done and come up with new ideas so that the company may develop and achieve good results.

Even so, a lot of managers insist that their employees should return to their office chairs on a full-time basis following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But this is not necessarily a good idea if you strive for efficiency and innovation. At least, our study shows that the companies that succeed in the long term are the ones that strike a balance between letting their employees work from home and attend the workplace on site. Those who never meet on site fail. And those who spend all their time on site are less successful than those who retain the option to work from home,” says Franziska Günzel-Jensen, associate professor at the Department of Management, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University.

The crisis has revealed so many useful tools and new opportunities for collaborating in different ways. If we do not take advantage of these, it will pose a problem to business as well as employee well-being

Associate Professor Franziska Günzel-Jensen, the Department of Management, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University

Innovation during a time of crisis 

Together with fellow researchers Katharina Scheidgen, Ali Aslan Gümüsay, Miriam Wolf and Gorgi Krlev, she has conducted the study ”Crises and entrepreneurial opportunities: Digital social innovation in response to physical distancing.” It examines how 10 German entrepreneurial businesses succeeded in being innovative during the COVID-19 crisis.

“According to theory, it is difficult to find the necessary resources to invent something new during a time of crisis. But in our study, we find that these German companies succeeded in bringing innovation to market during COVID-19, even though their employees did not work together on site. So, the assumption that innovation is only possible when people spend time together in person does not hold up. However, the study also shows that to succeed, it is important that the employees occasionally meet and work intensely together before parting ways again,” she says.

Read more: How to get the best out of your employees

Hybrid working as the future way of working 

According to Franziska Günzel-Jensen, this knowledge may benefit companies on a global scale even though the study in question was conducted in Germany, because this type of innovation has taken place all over the world during the COVID-19 crisis – including in Denmark. In all these places, similar effects of working from home have become apparent. In addition, larger companies should also be able to learn from these experiences.

“In this study, we examine entrepreneurial businesses, but a number of large companies have moved in a similar direction and found that it has opened lots of opportunities for them internationally,” she says and mentions Airbnb as an example.

Seeing as the two years of remote work during the pandemic have been some of the most productive years for the company, Airbnb recently abandoned all location-specific requirements to its employees and introduced five new rules for working from anywhere: 1. The employees are free to choose between working from home or in the office, 2. they may move anywhere in the United States and bring their full pay with them, 3. they may live and work abroad for up to 90 days a year, 4. they must meet in person with their colleagues for a week each quarter and 5. they must work in a highly coordinated manner with a high level of planning.

"This case is extreme. But still, this model is becoming increasingly common – at least in the United States. And it has plenty to offer during the transition to hybrid working as the future way of working,” says Franziska Günzel-Jensen, referring to a term for combining working in the office with working from different locations as well as the combination of working online and meeting on site.

“This way of working provides better conditions for a diverse and international group of employees, who are able to be innovative and efficient because they have the opportunity to switch between working together and on their own, choosing what works best for them individually,” she says.

Read more:Virtual work requires creative management

Food for thought

Still, a lot of companies insist that their employees should turn up at the office every day now that they are once again able to, and this is a cause of frustration to Franziska Günzel-Jensen. She fears that we will lose some of our competitiveness if we do not seize the advantages in innovation handed to us by the crisis.

“The crisis has revealed so many useful tools and new opportunities for collaborating in different ways. If we do not take advantage of these, it will pose a problem to business as well as employee well-being,” she says.

The companies which figure out a good hybrid solution are much better equipped to deal with the next crisis than those which just return to on-site attendance as usual. And if an employee wants to move to Copenhagen but would like to keep his or her job in an Aarhus-based company, why not utilise all the great opportunities for handling this situation which we have recently discovered? Especially when our workplace culture in Denmark leaves little room for socialising, as we tend to leave the office as soon as the workday ends. Perhaps it would be better to spend a whole weekend building relationships with your colleagues 3-4 times a year?

“It is time to consider our workplace culture. And for the companies to talk about which processes worked well during the crisis and which worked less well. What are the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid working? And how can we best utilise these experiences in a way that will benefit both the company and its employees?” asks Franziska Günzel-Jensen.

Read more: Open-plan offices can reduce job satisfaction

A different solution than before

Hybrid working is the next normal, and so far, our study shows that companies which do not adjust lose employees.

“Employees want to leave – among other things because they feel stressed by returning to the office on a full-time basis. This underlines the importance of allowing for individual considerations as much as possible. Especially right now when it is difficult to find highly qualified labour. Otherwise, employees will leave and the company will lose some of its ability to innovate,” says Franziska Günzel-Jensen, who hopes that Danish companies will set aside the necessary time for reflection.

“Denmark has developed a great deal during the crisis, and we have been good at surviving. But if we do not learn our lessons in relation to remote work, we will lose our head start. Naturally, models similar to the one at Airbnb only work for some companies, so everyone needs to figure out their own solution. One thing is certain, however: The solution is not to keep doing the same thing as usual,” she says.

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2: In a subsequent study, the researchers followed 18 entrepreneurial businesses from summer 2020 and until now – nine completely new ones and nine well-established ones.



What the researchers did

The researchers came up with the idea for this study because they were fascinated by how companies which were experiencing a shortage of resources due to COVID-19 nevertheless succeeded at developing their business and driving innovation during the crisis, even though the employees could not meet in the usual ways.

  • First, the researchers collected online information about almost 100 entrepreneurial ventures.
  • Based on this list, they selected 10 German businesses – five established ones and five new ones – and conducted focus group interviews to understand how they had operated in order to foster social innovation during the crisis – that is, new ways of collaborating.
  • Subsequently, the researchers followed 18 German entrepreneurial businesses from different industries – nine established ones and nine new ones – from summer 2020 and until today to understand the long-term effects of innovating during a time of crisis.
  • The focus group interviews were supplemented by secondary online data.
  • The study concludes that both new and existing companies may help develop a solution to the crisis in different ways. Interestingly enough, it also shows that while the crisis led to resource constraints in many companies, it also made it possible to mobilise new resources such as access to new employees and experts by working from home. The companies that allow their employees to combine working from home with working at the office have found a way to transform these new resources into long-term benefits for the company’s ability to innovate.


Type of study: Longitudinal inductive multiple case study design

External collaborators: Katharina Scheidgen, University of Göttingen, Gorgi Krlev, Heidelberg University,  Miriam Wolf, Vediso, Ali Gümüsay, Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society and University of Hamburg

External funding: None

Conflicts of interest: None

Other: Katharina Scheidgen, University of Göttingen

Gorgi Krlev, Heidelberg University

Miriam Wolf, Vediso

Ali Gümüsay, Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society and University of Hamburg

Link to the research article: and

Contact: Associate Professor Franziska Günzel-Jensen Email: