Adopted by Eurocadres Executive Committee 20 April 2021.
The past year has shaken up the way we work. Suddenly, teleworking and working from home have become a new reality - primarily for white-collar workers. Employers have had to reorganise the way work is carried out and allow it. On one hand there are positive sides with teleworking, like greater flexibility and efficiency due to shorter transition between meetings, easier work-life organisation and less commuting time. Furthermore, employers can save on office space and costs. On the other hand, the consequence of teleworking from home is the blurring of boundaries: working time and leisure time easily become mixed up, leading to increased psychosocial ill health.
Nevertheless, there is now an opportunity to develop and update legislation on telework at EU level. The Framework Agreement for Telework was signed in 2002 when the world was far from being as digitalised as it is today. The new 2020 Framework Agreement on Digitalisation only vaguely mentions telework. Several reports have been carried out on telework under COVID-19 and it would be appropriate to have more detailed and updated guidelines and legislation at European level post-pandemic. The Work-Life Balance Directive allows for some flexibility in working arrangements and the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive includes provisions regarding the place of work and work patterns. The Working Time Directive limits weekly working hours, but on the other hand still contains a working time derogation for many professionals and managers.
In the 2002 Framework Agreement, telework is defined as “a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/relationship, where work, which could also be performed at the employer's premises, is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.” Before the pandemic, teleworking was mostly popular in Northern Europe and dominantly in ICT and knowledge-intensive sectors, but the pandemic forced around 40% of the EU workforce to work fulltime from home. In 2015, only around one-fifth of workers did some form of telework occasionally. It is inevitable that the pandemic will lead to permanent changes on how and where our work is organised. In July 2020, Eurofound discovered in its survey that over three-quarters of EU employees want to continue working from home at least occasionally.
Due to the abnormal situation, where our societies have been in partial or full lockdowns during the past year, especially women have taken a hit. Women have ended up with larger caring responsibilities, unequal shares of housework and many lost their jobs, while others in essential sectors have been overburdened with work. In "normal" situations, telework has been seen as an opportunity for, in particular, women to juggle work-life balance. When starting to shape new policies, we need to take these challenges into account, to avoid further pitfalls.
Going back to pre-covid times of 100% office work will most likely not happen. A vast majority of organisations will adopt hybrid models, allowing more time for telework and remote working. Therefore it is highly important that social partners negotiate the terms in social dialogue to ensure that all specific circumstances are taken into consideration.
Eurocadres suggests that telework policies take into consideration the following:
- Flexible working arrangements
- Respect of working time vis-à-vis leisure time
- Problems of over-connection
- Measures to respect the right to disconnect
- Gender aspect, especially the burden of care responsibilities that mostly fall on women
- Psychosocial health risks
- Work organisation and work management
- “New” forms of management / remote management (mangers need training to lead people remotely)
- Use of premises
- Equal treatment between teleworkers and workers on site
- Reimbursement of costs: equipment / electricity / housing (office space at home), heating, etc.
- Making facilities available to the employee representatives to be able to exercise their rights effectively, i.e. providing the right digital tools for it
- Surveillance , privacy, personal data protection & GDPR
Challenges and prospects in the EU: Labour market change: Trends and policy approaches towards flexibilisation, Eurofound 2020
Digital age: Telework and ICT-based mobile work: Flexible working in the digital age, Eurofound 2020
Policy Brief: Telework in the EU before and after the COVID-19: where we were, where we head to, European Commission JRC, 2020.