When a number of tech giants announced earlier this year that home working would be the norm until 2021, many were surprised. Now that most of us are still in some sort of lockdown, this has proven to be a foresighted decision because one thing we do know is that instability adds to the stress that many are already experiencing during this period. Making an early decision to maintain home working arrangements until 2021 gave some employees much-needed predictability as to their working arrangements.
The question on the agendas of employers across the globe is likely to be what to do with home working in the long term, beyond any pandemic-related measures. Although full-time home working may not be the answer for all employers, it seems likely that a ‘hybrid workplace’ will increasingly become the norm.
Views on working from home are still rather positive. As a recent Eurofound survey reveals, most employees in the EU reported a positive experience of teleworking during the first phase of the pandemic, but very few of them wish to work in this way all the time, with the preferred option being a mix of teleworking and presence at the workplace.
Since a number of countries had a pre-crisis home working regime (which some will be tempted to flex post-crisis), long-term/permanent home working will generally be permissible beyond the period covered by COVID-19 measures, upon certain conditions being satisfied. The most important and common condition, certainly in Europe, is the need for consent (either at the individual level through an appendix to the employment contract, or at collective level through a works agreement or a collective bargaining agreement, depending on the jurisdiction). Most jurisdictions do not recognise a general statutory right to work from home beyond any COVID-19 related measures.
Building on the year so far, Freshfields has prepared a Q&A document (PDF) to help employers in assessing their options and deciding on a long-term strategy in respect of the hybrid workplace. Finding the right balance between home working and use of the company premises will be challenging as many influencing factors and views must be considered. For example, permanent home working gives rise to several HR and compliance issues such as necessary health and safety measures and working time arrangements. Existing regulations in these fields may be insufficient to protect employees’ mental and physical health, or may be impracticable while also trying to meet the desire for a more flexible approach on work.
Another growing issue is the costs of home working. Very few jurisdictions have binding regulations in their local legislation clarifying responsibility for the costs of electricity, wifi or office equipment when working from home. And even when they do, a number of them leave it to the social partners to negotiate on the issue. This has led some employers to issue their own cost related policies but many struggle with rather vague legislative requirements and the absence of best practice.
Employees may want to work from home where ‘home’ is in a different jurisdiction than the regular place of business. Some countries are even promoting themselves as home working heaven, offering a long-term visa to employees wanting to work from sandy beaches. As tempting as this may sound, this is yet another complex issue, as there will be tax, immigration and regulatory issues to consider. The Q&A looks at all these issues and more (including access to the company premises, the need for new/updated HR policies and the role for governments and social partners going forward).
This Q&A is part of our WorkLife 2.0 initiative, which considers the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic that may transform the future of work, reflecting on what the new working environment will look like.