Telework is defined in the 2002 European cross-sector social partners’ framework agreement on telework (PDF) as
a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/relationship, where work, which could also be performed at the employer’s premises, is carried out away from those premises, on a regular basis.
The agreement also defines a teleworker as a person carrying out telework according to the definition given. The characteristic feature of telework is the use of computers and telecommunications to change the usual location of work.
The 2002 agreement states that the signatory parties view telework as a way for employers (in both the private and public sectors) 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. The agreement established a general framework at EU level and was the first implemented by the social partners and Member States by their own means ‘in accordance with the national procedures and practices specific to management and labour’.
On 28 June 2006, the Social Dialogue Committee adopted a joint report (PDF) by the social partners on the implementation of the telework agreement. The report found that the adoption of a large number of initiatives had resulted in the agreement being implemented in virtually every country of the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). In general, implementation has been through collective agreements or other bilateral agreements by social partners, or by legislation or other types of tripartite activities. A few Member States, however, opted to implement the agreement via national legislation (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta and Portugal).
In 2008, the European Commission issued its own report on the implementation of the agreement (PDF). 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;
- increasing awareness of the agreement among certain groups and countries.
In the past decade, as technological advances gathered pace, teleworking has become subsumed into new ways of working, homeworking and the digital economy, and is seen as part of a package of flexible ways of working. A 2017 report detailing joint research by Eurofound and the International Labour Organization (ILO) examined the impact of telework/information communications technology (ICT) and ICT-mobile work (T/ICTM) at various locations (home, office or another location) on work–life balance. ICT-based mobile work was one of several new forms of employment identified by Eurofound in a 2015 report.
The Eurofound/ILO study distinguished between:
- regular home-based teleworkers;
- occasional T/ICTM workers, with mid-to-low mobility and frequency of work outside the employer’s premises;
- high mobile T/ICTM, with high frequency of working in various places, including working from home.
The research found that, across the 28 Member States, an average of about 17% of employees are engaged in T/ICTM. In the majority of countries, most workers do T/ICTM occasionally rather than on a regular basis. T/ICTM is more common among professionals and managers, but is also significant among clerical support and sales workers. In general, men are more likely to perform T/ICTM than women. However, women carry out more regular home-based telework than men. This suggests that country-specific gender roles and models of work and family life all play a role in shaping T/ICTM.
Although the report pointed to the benefits of T/ICTM, such as the reduction in commuting time and greater flexibility in time organisation, which can facilitate a better work–life balance, it seems that it can also lead to working beyond normal or contractual working hours, with work and personal life often overlapping.