Digital age

Watch webinar: Flexible working in the digital age - Is everyone a winner? 

To, 13/06/2019
To, 13/06/2019

On 13 June 2019 from 15.00 – 16.30 CET, Eurofound hosted a webinar on Flexible working in the digital age – Is everyone a winner? to discuss its latest research findings on the growing number of ICT-based mobile workers, or workers who are not tied to a particular work location as they use a tablet, laptop or phone to connect the company network via Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). 

Moderated by Irene Mandl, Head of the Employment Unit at Eurofound, this 90-minute webinar aimed to bring together practitioners and policymakers to illustrate experiences and share innovative approaches aimed at addressing issues arising from this employment form. It was an opportunity to hear from those on the ground and to explore the advantages and disadvantages of telework/ICT-based mobile work for employees, employers and the self-employed. Oscar Vargas Llave, Research Officer at Eurofound, presented fresh findings and a panel discussion delved deeper into this largely demand-driven employment form, pointing to the many advantages for both workers and employers and some of the downsides. If everyone is to be a winner, it is critical that safety nets are in place. 

Examples of new developments included legal initiatives such as the French right to disconnect (le droit à la déconnexion), safeguarding the health and well-being of workers, work intensification and increase in work-life conflicts for self-employed workers. This webinar was aimed at all workers in Europe affected by or interested in flexible digital work arrangements, including the social partners, EU institutions and national government representatives, as well as academics and civil society.

Take-aways

Take-aways from #Eurofoundlive webinar 13 June 2019

  1. Technology is developing fast and is a powerful tool to help organise work better. The ability to work somewhere other than a fixed workplace, enabled by ICT, has created genuine opportunities for one fifth of the workforce. 
  2. While there are many advantages associated with ICT-based mobile work, not least flexibility in work organisation, recent studies have shown it can also lead to increased stress for workers. These workers, pressurised both by their own work ethic or their manager, can often find it difficult to decide when to stop and switch off. Being conscious of the risks and creating an awareness about how we manage this way of working is important if we are to reap the benefits of its use.
  3. ICT-based mobile work typically involves higher cognitive demands – for example, 77% of those working with ICT all the time report that their work involves solving complex tasks compared to 42% of those who do not work with ICT – and higher levels of work intensity. The main health and safety concerns are the psychosocial effects linked to the blurring of boundaries between work and private life.
  4. Technology alone is not responsible for this work intensity: for example, the decline in support functions and the reassignment of administrative and clerical tasks lead to an increase in workload and necessitate regular training in how to use new and updated software. Workplace demands heighten the effects of ICT use.
  5. ICT-based mobile workers are more likely to continue working when they are ill. According to case studies carried out by Eurofound, workers who have access to remote working arrangements tend to telework from home rather than applying for sick leave. While this may have the positive outcome of getting work done, it can have long-term negative consequences for a worker’s health and performance. This ‘virtual presenteeism’ deserves consideration in future initiatives aiming to improve working conditions.  
  6. ICT-based mobile work is developing fast and regulation in this area is lagging behind. There is a growing need to review current legislation to ensure it is ‘fit for purpose’ in a constantly evolving work environment. The EU Working Time Directive has contributed to better working conditions in the EU but could be updated to address issues presented by ICT-based flexible working: for example, a greater emphasis on psychosocial risks. The European Autonomous Framework Agreement on Telework (2002) addresses flexible working conditions; however, as flexible work has expanded hugely since the signing of the  agreement, any update would need to include all forms of ICT-based flexible working, not just regular telework. 
  7. Attention should also be given to implementing and enforcing rules around ICT-based mobile work at company level. One of the main ways employers can allow an employee to disconnect is through workload adjustment, releasing the employee from the obligation to connect outside working time to carry out tasks. The employer has a central role to play in helping to enforce the right to disconnect. 
  8. Integrating technology better into education is essential and the next generation needs to  be made aware of the multiple advantages and challenges inherent in ICT use.
     

Terminology

  • EWCS: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey paints a wide-ranging picture of Europe at work across countries, occupations, sectors and age groups. The EWCS has been carried out approximately every five years since its launch in 1990. Its aims are to:
    • assess and quantify working conditions of both employees and the self-employed across Europe on a harmonised basis
    • analyse relationships between different aspects of working conditions
    • identify groups at risk and issues of concern as well as of progress
    • monitor trends by providing homogeneous indicators on these issues
    • contribute to European policy development in particular on quality of work and employment issues.
  • ICT: Information and communication technologies
  • ICT-based mobile workers: Workers who are not tied to a particular work location as they use a tablet, laptop or phone to connect the company network via information and communication technologies (ICTs). 
  • ICT-enabled autonomy: The ability to work somewhere other than an employers’ premises, enabled by increasingly sophisticated ICTs.
  • Nomophobia: The fear-of-missing out syndrome. When a person suffers severe anxiety if separated from a phone, laptop or tablet. Nomophobia is a combination of the words no, mobile and phobia.
  • OSH: Occupational Safety and Health covers a multi-disciplinary field which deals with the safety, health and welfare of people at work. 
  • Psychosocial risks: Refers to those aspects of the design and management of work, and its social and organisational context that have the potential to cause psychological or physical harm. 
  • The right to disconnect: In 2017, new legislation was introduced in France to provide workers with the right to disconnect from work. The aim is to provide workers with a right to limit the negative aspects of work arrangements. This has been done, in most cases, by encouraging social partners to adopt agreements at company or sectoral level, giving workers the possibility to avoid working long hours and being able to combine work and family responsibilities.
  • Virtual presenteeism: Presenteeism is when employees go to work despite being sick. It is often related to the employee’s fear of the negative consequences if they miss work. However, ICTs are increasingly facilitating people to work from home when they are unwell, i.e. virtual presenteeism, which can impair performance and impact the recovery process and long-term health.

Panellists

Irene Mandl is Head of the Employment Unit at Eurofound. She is mainly involved in research on labour market developments (including new forms of work and employment, digitalisation, restructuring and related public policy approaches) and topics at the intersection of employment and entrepreneurship (such as job-creation, workplace practices, small and medium-sized enterprises, business start-ups and scale-ups and internationalisation). Before joining Eurofound, she worked in policy-oriented socioeconomic research in Austria in the fields of employment and the labour market, as well as entrepreneurship and industry analysis. She holds Master’s degrees in international business administration and in business and law.
Oscar Vargas Llave is a research officer in the Working Life unit at Eurofound and manages projects on working conditions and related policies. He specialises in topics related to the organisation of working time, health and well-being, and ageing issues. He is also interested in social and occupational inequalities. His current activities include research related to digitalisation and working conditions. Before joining Eurofound in December 2009, he worked as project coordinator in the field of health and safety and was responsible for the professional card scheme for the construction sector in Spain at the non-profit Fundación Laboral de la Construcción in Madrid. He has a background in industrial sociology, holds a Diploma in Social Science Research Methods from the University of Cardiff and has a Master’s Degree in Health and Safety from the Autonomous University of Madrid.
Emmanuelle Brun manages foresight work on new and emerging challenges to occupational safety and health (OSH) at EU-OSHA, where she has worked since 2004. With others, she was responsible for four expert forecasts on emerging physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial risks to OSH and has been coordinating EU-OSHA’s activities related to nanomaterials, green jobs, alert and sentinel systems for the identification of work-related diseases and (since 2016) digitalisation. She started her career in environmental chemistry at Rhône-Poulenc in North Carolina, (US) and moved to the German Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of German Social Accident Insurance (IFA) in 2001. She holds an MSc. in Chemistry.
Anne-Marie Nicot is a research manager at the French agency for improving working conditions (ANACT, Agence Nationale pour l’Amélioration des Conditions de Travail), a tripartite body of the French Labour Ministry. She is mainly involved in studies on the impact on working conditions, in particular on health matters, of new forms of organisation. These new forms include platform work, public sector reforms and cooperative partnership systems such as the development of fair trade initiatives and participatory governance models. She holds a PhD in Economics.
Sabina Martínez Moreno has been self-employed since 2007 and set up her own engineering and architectural company 10 years ago in Ibiza. For the past six years, she has run the Balearic Islands office of Capmar, a Barcelona-based company specialising in information systems for public transport. Her main clients are in the public sector, where she is working on the digitalisation of public transport. She also provides technical services to the construction sector. As an ICT-based worker, she has a workspace at home and an external office for team and client meetings. She is a graduate of Girona University in Engineering.
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