I am currently doing my master's thesis in cooperation with a company. I set myself a deadline to submit the thesis for review by my supervisor at the university at the end of June. Besides the fact that the deadline might be way to optimistic for my current progress, I also have problems concentrating at work. This has to do with some personal reasons (wanting to just finish the thesis/lack of motivation because of interest in other things, unhappiness, etc), but also with the work environment. Based on a new project, my office (which inhabits 3 other employees) is often filled with other team members discussing different topics. Under normal circumstances, this is not a problem for me; however, because I must write in a foreign language (English), I have problems concentrating and getting into a flow, making me extremely inefficient in writing. Furthermore, I am not used to write in academic content at all, which complicates it as well. To compensate the lack of work accomplished I am also writing at the weekend in the university library, which works very well but is draining at the same time because of no rest. Last week I also went to the library directly after work to get at least something done.

Now to the work-related part: My boss has no problems with me working at home (or in the university library) if I ask my supervisor at the company’s site for permission. However, my supervisor thinks that I should be working at least the 8 hours per day. I already stated to him, that I can only concentrate properly in the morning before everybody arrives (which is from 6.20AM to approximately 8) and after everyone left the office (no clue when that is because I leave at 3PM). Therefore, he proposed that I come for 4 hours in the morning and for 4 hours in the evening with plenty of free time in the middle. In my opinion that could work but is also extremely draining as well because I waste a lot of time driving home and back to the company (it costs me no money or fuel, but time is valuable for me). In my opinion it would be good if I could have the morning free to work in the university’s library and show at the company in the early afternoon to present my progress or discuss problems that hinder me continuing working on my own. After I proposed this, he just answered that I should be working at the company for 8 hours per day - which made me think because of his repetitive answer without even arguing. I guess that he is afraid that I will not accomplish enough work when working on my own. The background is that we did this already for some time and I did not perform that well, based on the personal issues I already mentioned.

I think my boss would be on my side because he stated several times that he understands that you need a quiet work environment to write and read academic work. On the other side I don’t want him to overrule my supervisor, because of obvious reasons, therefore I want to talk to my supervisor first.

My question is: How can I convince my supervisor that working at home is the better choice for the success of the thesis without directly going to my boss? I am also okay with admitting that I lacked motivation when working alone the first time, but I would prefer not to if possible.

I am interested in your approaches and probably you can also elaborate what further thoughts of my supervisor are.


I talked to my supervisor a second time and both the answers' points were mentioned. First, I stated that I am unhappy with doing the master's thesis because of personal reasons, not because of the company. Then I mentioned that I have a really hard time to concentrate and that it makes me nervous being so unproductive. Since we had an actual meeting room for the discussion instead of an office with other colleagues (this was the case the first interaction), the discussion was different. It felt my supervisor had more time to listen and to understand. After I stated my problems I asked my supervisor what he would propose to finish the thesis as fast as possible with the best quality, given the mentioned problems and finally we agreed on the following points:

  1. I work 6 hours at home/library
  2. I come in daily for 2 hours to discuss the process
  3. We do this for a trial period as proposed by @Sourav Ghosh (1 week)
  4. My supervisor also mentioned writing in German and translating it to English with the intention of getting into a writing flow as proposed by @nvoigt

Additionally, there was some miscommunication between me, my supervisor and my boss. My supervisor thought work at home is only permitted for exceptions while I thought it is generally accepted with a good reason.

  • I should be working at least the 8 hours per day. and I should be at the company for 8 hours per day are not same, which one your superior wants, clearly? – Sourav Ghosh May 27 at 8:25
  • @SouravGhosh Obviously, they want me to work 8 hours per day. But are you trying to make a point with that question or are you pointing out that i might misphrased something? – Jens May 27 at 8:38
  • No, these two are different requirements, we need to be sure which one is expected. – Sourav Ghosh May 27 at 8:53
  • A couple of questions: is your thesis of a kind where your supervisor can actually judge your work after you were home for 4 hours and got back with a result? Do you get paid for this? Does you employer have any benefit from your thesis when you are done? Do all your colleagues see that you are "special" or do they treat you as equal (which means they would want to have work-from-home privileges as well if you get them)? – nvoigt May 27 at 9:26
  • @nvoigt 1) Yes he would be able to judge my work, if he takes the time to read it (however, he is quite busy) 2 & 3) I get paid a fixed fee for doing the thesis in the company, therefore, the results are handed over to them as well; they have a benefit 4) I would not say that I am special and work from home is not part of the company culture. I want to add that I am there as a student which have different privileges compared to the permanent employees. My contract has no fixed number of hours per week and my boss doesn't care about that if I get the thesis done. But working 40h/week is assumed – Jens May 27 at 9:37

How can I convince my supervisor that working at home is the better choice for the success of the thesis without directly going to my boss?

You probably cannot.

There are countries where working from home is more common, Germany is not one of them. Most German companies will have their own horror stories of how it went wrong when they tried. How nothing came out of it, how the employee was lazy or produced the wrong result after all this time spent. And it's both sides fault. There were many who abused those privileges and there were (and still are) many companies that don't understand that even if people are not physically in the office, regular communication is key. If you don't communicate, the work produced will not be good enough, the same way it would not be good enough if you skipped all meetings even while in the office. So it's not your fault, but twenty years of trying and failing badly have left their mark. Nobody wants to be the fool that takes another try.

So this seems to be a normal German company, unprepared for work-from-home setups. You cannot change this company's culture in the next few weeks as a student.

So what can you do?

First you can adjust. You said it's hard to do your work in English. Then do it in German first and later translate it. So you break it down into the language and the academic part. One might be easier to do even while distracted. Maybe you can get noise-cancellation headphones. I know they don't work well with single voices, but if it's a constant chatter in the background, it might work well.

Second you can come up with constructive ideas how to improve the situation inside the companies framework. If remote working is not an option, spell out what you need. You need an office that is not somebody else's meeting room. Maybe they can take a meeting room for their discussions. Maybe you can take a meeting room while they discuss in your office. Maybe they can meet later in the day when you are gone anyway. Either way, don't say you need to work from home. Present the problem, present possible solutions, one of them being work-from-home.

Then have a meeting with your supervisor and boss and find a solution that works for everyone. If they think letting you work from home was their idea, you might have a chance. But as a normal German supervisor, you don't want to be caught dead having allowed an employee to slip your supervision needlessly by agreeing to their wish to work from home. Again, not saying that's right or smart, just saying that's how it is right now. Others before you, both employers and employees, poisoned the well.

  • I really like how you approached the part with improving the own work environment by splitting up the part in language and academic. I was afraid that it will cause additionally work but I like the idea because it might make me more productive, overcoming the additional overhead. However, I did not like the part with suggesting improvements as they already did a lot for me office-wise (but I didn’t mention it in the question). +1 because we found a solution that worked for everyone! – Jens May 27 at 12:31

As from your description, it's evident that your supervisor is really adamant to implement the "rule", irrespective of the outcome.

I can think of three possible scenarios (but all of them involves involving your boss in a discussion with your superior):

  • Case 1: There's a rule for "8 hour presence in office" and it is applicable for you, too:

    In this case, you need to have an exception made for you which your boss can do / take it forward, so you need to inform your boss about the problem, the proposed solution and wait for them to take any actions.

  • Case 2: There's a rule for "8 hour presence in office" and it is not applicable for you:

    In this case, maybe your supervisor is not clear of the applicability of the policy, your boss can make it clear.

  • Case 3: There's no rule for "8 hour presence in office", it's about 8 hour of work:

    In this case, it'd be clear that the supervisor was trying to push you unnecessarily.

You should request for a formal discussion, involving your superior and manager. Be prepared to present your points and add pros and cons for the existing approach vs. your proposed approach, and show why your proposal is better.

You can even propose to have your idea implemented tentatively, for a trial period (2-4 weeks) and then have a review on accomplishments and productivity.

  • +1 because it turned out that Case 2 is the case. By discussing my problems with my supervisor (and without my boss) I realized that my supervisor is not aware of the policy. Now we agreed on a strategy and he will also talk to the boss about the misunderstandings. In the case that I was wrong about it, it will clear up as well. This way my supervisor kept his integrity and I will be productive again. I used the strategy of doing a trial period and reviews as well. Thanks! – Jens May 27 at 12:38
  • @Jens You're welcome. Glad it helped. Also check this – Sourav Ghosh May 27 at 12:39

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