Teleworking

6 December 2021

Shutterstock image of man teleworking on laptop

Teleworking refers to 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, as defined inRead more

Teleworking refers to 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, as defined in the European framework agreement on telework. The characteristic feature of telework is the use of computers and telecommunications to change the usual location of work.

ICT-based mobile work can be defined as the use of information and communications technologies (ICT), such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and/or desktop computers, for work that is performed outside the employer’s premises.  For most employees, mobile work could be considered a variation of telework, where workers carry out their job from a fixed location outside the employer’s premises. The difference is that ICT-based mobile workers work in a range of locations and specifically use ICT to connect to shared company computer systems. Different levels of telework/ICT mobile work intensity and range of places at which individuals work might potentially have different consequences for working conditions.

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EU context

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Information and communications technologies (ICT) have revolutionised work and life in the 21st century. Advances in ICT have opened the door to new ways of working.Read more

Information and communications technologies (ICT) have revolutionised work and life in the 21st century. Advances in ICT have opened the door to new ways of working. Teleworking and ICT-based mobile work have become subsumed into a package of flexible working arrangements aimed at modernising the organisation of work. Policymakers in many EU countries are debating the rapid change in the way we work and the knock-on implications on other aspects of our daily lives, like work organisation, work–life balance, health and well-being.

The European framework agreement on telework, signed by the EU-level social partners in 2002, defines telework and sets up a general framework at European level for the working conditions of teleworkers. It aims at reconciling the needs for flexibility and security shared by employers and workers. Since then, technological developments have contributed to expanding this work arrangement and paving the way for a higher level of mobility of workers to work remotely. In June 2020, the EU-level social partners signed a framework agreement on digitalisation, which outlines relevant provisions on the 'modalities of connecting and disconnecting', to be implemented at national level in accordance with the procedures and practices specific to management and labour in the Member States.

Since early 2020, as a result of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has rapidly spread far and wide across the globe, many employers and employees have defaulted to teleworking, which may potentially alter the way we work into the future. This shift provides opportunities for businesses and helps workers to keep their employment, but also presents challenges around health and work–life balance linked to the blurring of boundaries, long working hours and constant availability. In response to the pandemic, national administrations and EU institutions have also activated business continuity plans and requested the majority of their staff to telework for the foreseeable future. Being in a position to telework has allowed many organisations and businesses to retain jobs and many workers to improve their work–life balance in situations of school closures. 

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European Industrial Relations Dictionary

Research

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In 2015 in the EU, around one-fifth of workers did some form of telework from home or engaged in ICT-based mobile work, meaning they work, either occasionally or regularly, from somewhere other than a main place of work, heavily depending on mobile devicesRead more

In 2015 in the EU, around one-fifth of workers did some form of telework from home or engaged in ICT-based mobile work, meaning they work, either occasionally or regularly, from somewhere other than a main place of work, heavily depending on mobile devices. COVID-19 has increased this figure. 

Drawing on previous research, as well as data from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), Eurofound analysis on telework and ICT-based mobile (TICTM) work looks at how flexibility of working time and worker autonomy impacts on employment and working conditions in this digital age, focusing on how it affects work–life balance, health, performance and job prospects.  

Joint research by Eurofound and the International Labour Organization (ILO) examined the impact of telework and ICT-based mobile work at various locations (home, office or another location) on work–life balance, also drawing on EWCS data. ICT-based mobile work is also one of several new forms of employment on the rise in the EU being studied by Eurofound. 

The challenges go beyond work–life balance: the blurring of boundaries, constant connectivity and long working hours can represent a problem for the mental and physical well-being of workers. With the exponential growth of teleworking due to the COVID-19 pandemic, measures related to the right to disconnect have become more relevant than ever. Based on case study research, in 2021 Eurofound has explored the implementation and impact of the right to disconnect at workplace level.

Teleworking and COVID-19

Eurofound's unique e-survey, Living, working and COVID-19, provides a snapshot of the impact of the changes that occurred during the pandemic on people's lives, with the aim of helping policymakers shape the response to this crisis. Three rounds of the survey have been completed to date, allowing for comparison between the first round in April, when most Member States were in lockdown, the second round in July, when society and economies were slowly reopening, and the third round in March 2021, almost a year into living through the pandemic. A range of questions focus on people's work situation, their level of teleworking during COVID-19, experiences of working from home and the impact on work–life balance. 

    The challenges go beyond work–life balance: the blurring of boundaries, constant connectivity and long working hours can represent a problem for the mental and physical well-being of workers. For this reason, more and more countries are contemplating measures related to the right to disconnect. 

    The full impact of the pandemic remains to be seen, but COVID-19 could permanently change teleworking and ICT-based mobile work in the EU and beyond. 

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    Key messages

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    • Teleworking has taken off in all EU countries with over a third of those in employment starting to work remotely at the outset of the pandemic, many with limited or no previous experience of working in this way. In July 2020, nearly half of respondents teleworked at least some of the time and a third worked exclusively from home.
    • The number of teleworkers in spring 2021 fell as more workers returned to the office. Despite this, the desire to telework has not waned, as most EU workers expressed a preference to work from home several times per week in the long term. 
    • The rise in telework during the pandemic has highlighted the blurring of lines between work and private life. It will be critical for governments and social partners to introduce ‘right to disconnect’ initiatives in order to prevent large segments of workers becoming at risk of physical and emotional exhaustion.
    • Home-based teleworkers are twice as likely to exceed the 48-hour working time limit as workers onsite and are significantly more likely to work in their free time. Following the shift to telework during the pandemic, this is likely to lead to more hybrid working arrangements in the future, putting the spotlight on whether existing labour legislation is fit for purpose.
    • If teleworking is to continue across the EU, social partners must seek to include provisions for workers on the voluntary nature of telework or the suitability of specific tasks to teleworking in any legal frameworks or agreements. Clarification about how employers can contribute to expenses linked to working from home, as well as guarantees of equal pay and access to training for those working remotely will also be critical. 
    • Women also continue to face a disproportionate impact and remain less optimistic about their future than men – this gap widening further between April and July 2020. The pandemic has also affected the work–life balance of women more than men. In particular, the burden of care responsibilities increased during the pandemic for women.
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    Publications & data

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    The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic. 

    • Publications (73)
    • Data
    • Ongoing work (5)

    Eurofound publications come in a variety of formats, including reports, policy briefs, blogs, articles and presentations. 

    Data

    A selection of related data on this topic are linked below. 

    Ongoing work

    Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles.