Eurofound: Workers want to telework but long working hours and isolation must be tackled
Eurofound report about teleworking: The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a surge in telework, with dramatic increases in the number of employees working from home (teleworking) in many European countries.
What for many employees started out as a mandatory move seems to have transformed into a preference among the majority for part-time or full-time telework.
Considering the expansion of telework, policymakers need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this arrangement so that they can put the right policies in place to ensure that working conditions continue to improve in the future world of work.
This article is based mainly on Eurofound’s Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey conducted in 2020 and 2021.
It shows that during the pandemic remote working posed many challenges for workers, mainly in relation to the organisation of working time, but issues also arose around the work–family interface (the myriad ways families and workplaces intersect), well-being and the physical work environment.
During 2020, the first year of the pandemic, telework increased in most EU countries but to different extents. Figure 1, which charts data gathered by the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) on working from home, shows that rises in this arrangement were relatively higher in countries in southern and central–eastern Europe.
The change greatly impacted Malta, Italy, Hungary and Greece. Even though they had relatively small numbers of teleworkers prior to the pandemic, the proportions doubled in all these countries compared to 2019. Other countries with relatively high increases were Ireland, Germany and Spain.
Interestingly, countries with high shares of workers teleworking before the pandemic – the Scandinavian and Benelux Member States – had the lowest percentage increases in 2020 (compared to 2019 figures) but remain the countries with highest prevalence of telework.
Working conditions at home
Many of the risks associated with telework were known before the pandemic. Some of these relate to working time:
long working hours, constant availability, blurring of boundaries between work and home life, and work–life balance challenges.
Others relate to health and well-being, such as anxiety and eyestrain.
Further exploring the working conditions of ICT-based mobile workers and home-based teleworkers
The Living, working and COVID-19 e-surveys confirm that some of these risks were also present in the obligatory or recommended telework setting during the pandemic.
In this article, apart from the working time challenges, other issues that were not necessarily high on the policy agenda or in the public mind in pre-pandemic times are also highlighted.
These include employers’ provision of work equipment, work–family conflicts arising from the additional burden of caring and home-schooling on parents, and feelings of isolation. For methodological reasons, the findings presented below focus on employees working full-time (35 and more weekly hours), so that the results are not affected by different working time arrangements or employment status. Other categories of employees are considered in some analyses, however, for comparison.