According to the European framework agreement on telework, teleworking is:
'a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/relationship, where work that could be performed at the employer’s premises is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.'
The characteristic feature of telework is the use of computers and telecommunication to change the usual location of work.
- European social partners: Framework agreement on telework (PDF)
Over the past decade, with rapid advances in Information and communications technologies (ICT), teleworking and ICT-based mobile work have become part of a package of new working arrangements that are an integral component of the digital economy. A 2017 Eurofound report examined the impact of these new ICT-based ways of mobile working on work–life balance.
The research found that across the EU about 17% of employees were engaged in either telework or ICT-based mobile work, with most workers performing it occasionally rather than on a regular basis. Although the report highlighted the benefits of these new forms of work – such as a reduction in commuting time and greater time flexibility, which can facilitate a better work–life balance – it pointed out that this new mode of working can also lead to working beyond normal or contractual working hours, with work and personal life often overlapping.
Telework and COVID-19
The COVID-19 health crisis prompted governments to take the unprecedented step of shutting down all workplaces, apart from those providing essential goods and services, to control the spread of the virus. As described in a 2020 blog post published by Eurofound, ‘every worker who was able to do so began to work from home, initiating a social experiment of a type and on a scale unseen before’.
According to the April 2020 edition of the most extensive real-time survey source in Europe – Eurofound’s Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey – over one-third (39%) of EU27 employees indicated that they were working from home during the pandemic, compared with 20% who had been working from home at least ‘several times a month’ pre-pandemic. By June/July 2020, the share had increased to 48% (34% working exclusively from home and 14% in conjunction with working from other locations, including the employer’s premises). The experience of working from home appears to have been a positive one for most employees who did so. It is predicted that there will be a growing demand for teleworking among employees when the crisis abates. Overall, 78% of employees indicated a preference for working from home at least occasionally in the absence of COVID-19 restrictions. 
In June 2021, the Council of the European Union adopted conclusions on telework that refer the issue of regulating telework to Member States. Member States are invited to establish ‘national action plans or national strategies addressing the opportunities and risks related to telework’. They should consider ‘amending their policies regulating telework or issuing guidance where appropriate’, with regard to such considerations as health and safety, the organisation and monitoring of working time, effective checks by labour inspectorates and allowances to cover the costs of teleworking. The social partners are asked to promote and raise awareness about ‘the importance of having adequate sectoral and company-level regulation and of respecting the applicable rules on working time for teleworkers to allow them to effectively disconnect’.
- Council of the European Union: Conclusions on telework
In its EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021–2027, the European Commission announced that revisions of the directives affected by digitalisation and the recourse to teleworking (Council Directive 89/654/EEC of 30 November 1989 and Council Directive 90/270/EEC of 29 May 1990) will be carried out by 2023.
- European Commission: EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021–2027 – Occupational safety and health in a changing world of work
If the high rates of telework are maintained, there is likely be an increase in cross-border teleworking – something that is currently not addressed in national or EU law. A future European initiative could establish minimum standards aimed at better protecting workers’ health and employment conditions. This could be achieved in part by adapting the social partners’ autonomous framework agreement on telework or by adopting new legal instruments at EU level. 
Framework agreement on telework
The 2002 autonomous cross-industry agreement on telework established a general framework at EU level and was the first agreement implemented by the social partners and Member States themselves, ‘in accordance with the national procedures and practices specific to management and labour’. It defines a teleworker as a person carrying out telework, according to the definition of telework provided above. The agreement states that the signatory parties view telework as a way for employers to modernise work organisation and a means for workers to improve their work–life balance and to achieve greater autonomy in the workplace. The agreement regulates areas such as employment conditions for teleworkers, health and safety, training and collective rights. In 2006, the social partners published a report on the implementation of the telework agreement. It found that the adoption of a large number of initiatives had enabled the agreement to be implemented in virtually every European country. In general, implementation has been through collective agreements or other bilateral agreements by social partners, or by legislation or other types of tripartite activities.
- European social partners: Report on the implementation of the European framework agreement on telework (PDF)
In 2008, the European Commission issued its own report on the implementation of the agreement. It concluded that while the agreement had been successful – with key provisions being implemented in 21 Member States – there was still scope for improvement, including a more extensive definition of telework; ensuring equal treatment for teleworkers; and increasing awareness of the agreement among certain groups and countries.
- European Commission: Report on the implementation of the European social partners’ framework agreement on telework