Home office forever? Here's how Prague companies are handling the second wave

We spoke to HR representatives and spokespeople about their policies in light of the spike in numbers; here's how to successfully request home office from your employer

Samantha Tatro

Written by Samantha Tatro Published on 15.09.2020 13:58:06 (updated on 15.09.2020) Reading time: 5 minutes

Back in March, roughly 35 percent of the Czech Republic was working from home in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. By May masks were no longer required in offices and for many staffers, it was back to business as usual.

A number of Prague-based businesses, however, made home office a more permanent option, bracing for the inevitable second wave and an uncertain future.

Jonathan Appleton, the managing director of ABSL, an IT and business organization that represents more than 120,000 employees, ran a member survey on the topic of working from home. The numbers revealed that 30 to 50 percent of companies polled allowed employees to return to the office over the summer but that only a small percentage of them actually did.

“People work well from home, they don’t have to waste time commuting, they work at a time that suits them best and they have maximum support from employers,” Appleton said, adding that many companies in the business and IT sector saw similar or higher productivity when their employees worked from home.

With coronavirus numbers soaring in the Czech Republic, Appleton believes home office is an important tool against the spread of the virus. And yet despite the spike in numbers, the Czech government has yet to encourage working from home, though face masks are required in offices where social distancing isn’t possible.

We spoke to HR departments and company spokespeople from a cross-section of different Prague-based companies to find out their policies in light of the spiking coronavirus numbers:

Avast: Work from home, permanently

Prague-based antivirus company Avast Software, a major firm headquartered in Prague, was one of the first companies to insist their employees work from home when the pandemic started.

In June, some employees returned to their offices in Prague, Brno, and Slovakia, but only for a few weeks before everyone went back to working at home.

The company announced recently that their employees will never have to return to the office — if they don’t want to. An internal survey showed that at least 20 percent of staffers don’t want to return to the office, saying they would feel safer at home.

Pavel Baudiš co-founder of Avast, photo via Wikipedia CC / @Milan Bureš

“Anyone who wants to go to work in a normal situation and will have his desk set aside,” Pavel Baudiš, one of Avast’s founders told Seznam Zpravy. “But many people will have shared office space and will only go in once or twice a week. And the rest of the time work from home.”

Avast said it plans to make changes to accommodate employees who work from home, allowing staffers to take home office furniture, for instance.

Appleton’s survey found that many IT companies offered similar assistance to ensure productivity: not only lending out desks and chairs but IT equipment.

Deloitte: A home-office pioneer

Michal Malysa, head of PR and Communications at Deloitte CZ, said the company has offered its employees the home office option for years. To that extent, the pandemic did not drastically affect their office operations. He said that most of the company has become accustomed to home office at this point.

“Not much has changed for us during the spring and summer, except maybe more people stayed at home during the period,” Malysa said.

“At the same time the office remains open and we have implemented thorough hygiene measures to provide a safe working environment for anyone who wishes to work from the office, of course in accordance with the government and health authorities guidelines.”

Deloitte, Prague – photo via Facebook / @DeloitteCZ

ExxonMobil: A hybrid approach

ExxonMobil Communications Manager Dagmar Cisarovska told Expats.cz that the company shut down their office when the pandemic began and offered their employees options such as an ergo specialist to help make their home office more comfortable.

Prior to the pandemic, the company had a flexible office culture, and employees were allowed to work from home from time to time.

In June, the company re-opened its offices again, but employees returned on a voluntary basis. Going forward, employees have the option to work from home or work from the office — it all depends on arrangements made with a supervisor.

“There is a percentage of employees who prefer to work from home but still there is a wide section of employees who want to come to the office as they find it useful for social interaction and cooperation, for teamwork purposes,” Cisarovska said.

ExxonMobil business support center Prague / photo via Exxonmobil.com

Grafton Recruitment: Keeping office population low

Jitka Součková, Marketing Manager, Grafton Recruitment, said their company works partially from home and partially from the office to ensure their workspace is never at full capacity. She said that the recruitment industry as a whole has seen widespread changes during the pandemic, with interviewing and even onboarding taking place remotely.

She has also seen a number of companies in the field of business services taking a mixed approach when it comes to having employees in the office.

“After the lockdown, we saw different strategies. Some companies invited at least some of their people to the office, some companies all of them, and some recommended to home office till the end of the year,” she said.

With the number of infected people on the rise, Součková says many companies are advising employees to work from home once again.

Getting clearance to work from home

On a legal level, home office is not directly defined by the Czech Labor Code, it’s based on a case-by-case agreement between the employee and employer. “An employer cannot force the employee to work from home, legally, and the employee cannot work from home against the employer’s will,” said Iva Čípová, a lawyer for MACEK.LEGAL, a firm that specializes in employment law.

So what does that mean for those who currently don’t feel comfortable working from home but are asked to come into the office anyway?

Čípová says that when asking for permission to work from home compromise and mutual agreement is important.

“In our experience,” said Čípová “a number of employers agree to home office with employees only orally, but it’s better to have a written agreement so that both parties know where they stand.”

She recommends that employers write up a special contract or make an amendment to the employees’ existing employment contract, to avoid any ambiguity about expectations when working from home.

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