Teleworking, teletravail, teletrabajo… Who is working remotely?

In Washington D.C., metro ridership is only 30 percent of the 2019 ridership. The hustle and bustle of the city has not returned as employers are uncertain on when and how to reopen offices due to the Delta variant and at present Omicron. A Capital Covid survey conducted by the Greater Washington Partnership revealed that less than half of employees were expected to be back in the office on an average workday this fall. The slow return to work in the Washington region highlights new trends in work-from-home and hybrid arrangements becoming the business norm.

Across the world, employers and workers alike are coming to terms with more flexible working arrangements. In 2020, employers were not ready for their entire workforce to work remotely. Prior to the pandemic, about 17 percent of American’s worked remotely 5 days a week. Today, 45 percent of full-time employees in the United States were partly or fully remote in September 2021 per Gallup’s monthly employment trends update. About two-thirds of white-collar workers remain working from home (41 percent) and/or with a hybrid option (26 percent).[1]

In Europe, highly skilled professionals were more likely to be working from home (WFH) pre-pandemic than other workers. Approximately, 5 percent of EU nationals worked from home before Covid-19 while now that figure stands at 12.3 percent who do “home office” as it is called in Europe per Statista data. These figures vary depending on where in the European Union workers find themselves.

Home-based work is nearly non-existent in Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania with less than 3 percent working remotely. In comparison, one in four Finnish workers do home office (25 percent) followed by Luxembourg and Ireland with about 20 percent teleworking. In countries such as France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal between 10 to 15 percent partake in WFH.

Unsurprisingly, the prevalence of remote-based work also varied by industry and profession pre-pandemic. Knowledge workers or those in ICT-intensive sectors in the Netherlands and Sweden (about 60 percent) did some form of telework, while less than 30 percent did so in Italy, Austria, and Germany.[2]

Yet, this is not an option for workers in professions that require face-to-face interactions such as healthcare, hospitality, retail, and education. The gap between those who are WFH and in-person appears to create societal cleavages making society more unequal – as is currently seen in public debates in Switzerland.

On the employer-side, remote work brings new challenges to companies that rely on knowledge and creativity to spark new ideas and drive innovation. Workers miss out on face-to-face contact or “water cooler” chats that foster collaboration and help employees share information in ways that are limited or siloed by Slack channels, chat rooms, and email. Many executives also believe WFH cannot replace personal interactions that foster company culture. Productivity gains may also suffer in the long-term as collaboration declines amongst workers.

But so far, the Economist Intelligence Unit finds divergent views on workplace productivity. Nearly 39 percent of executives believe WFH has increased productivity while 33 percent find it has declined.

Globally, the study finds that company size and nature of the business impact productivity more than geographic location. Larger firms have more resources and digital tools to allow business continuity remotely – so, perhaps smaller firms without ICT uptake witnessed a productivity decline during the pandemic.

The uptake of remote working was accelerated by the pandemic, yet it remains more pronounced in the United States than Europe – even as EU countries encourage home-based work a few days per week due to the nascent Omicron variant. Overall, American workers report being happier with the more flexible WFH lifestyle and improved well-being, coupled with lessened commute times. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace reveals that 91 percent of U.S. workers who work at least partially remote hope to continue splitting time between the office and work. Hybrid work is favored by 70 percent of workers partially on WFH and almost half of those fully on-site with jobs that can be feasibly performed from home. Only 6 percent of fully remote workers stated wanting to return to the office full time.[3]

Reevaluating work and the hybrid paradox

It has been nearly two years since the world heard about Covid-19. In that time, organizations and employees have been nimble to embrace all the surrounding complexities and disruptions to work life. The pandemic upended individual’s relationship with work and made many rethink not only how they work but also when and where.

While the United States witnessed the “Great Resignation”, worldwide about 40 percent of workers considered leaving their current job in 2021. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index points towards a new social contract between organizations and employees. Successful organizations are those likely to appease to individual’s different work styles. Globally a “hybrid paradox” appears to be gaining momentum with workers – people want to work from anywhere yet crave in-person connection.

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[1] Saad and Wigert. October 2021. Remote work resisting and trending permanent. Gallup News.
[2] European Commission.  2020. Telework in the EU before and after the COVID-19: Where we were, where we head to. Science for Policy Briefs. Brussels.
[3] State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report. Gallup.