Thursday, 13 August 2020 18:52

Telecommuting in the EU: The New Normal?

Written by More By Us

As the novel COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, some countries have accomplished a greater defeat of the virus than others. Many countries in the European Union (EU) see the numbers of infections dwindling, and even the absence of deaths from the deadly infection. Still, precautions remain in place to protect workers in other civilians from further spread. 

One of these precautions persists throughout the world: telecommuting. Researchers and industry leaders have seen a gradual rise in telecommuting in the EU over the last decade. Yet, now that COVID-19 has forced workers into their homes worldwide, many believe that this new remote working model will become the new norm, even throughout the numerous member countries of the European Union. 

The New Wave of Working from Home in the EU

When JRC (Joint Research Centre) conducted a study on the prevalence of teleworking across the EU, they discovered some interesting disparities. Although this type of work setting has been growing in popularity over the last several years, some countries are having a more difficult time transitioning than others. For example, as of last year, Sweden was the leading country in the EU for working from home, while Bulgaria saw the habit extremely infrequently.

One factor contributing to the difficulty in this transition is that many of the workers (36%) who had adopted this lifestyle previously had done so as a byproduct of self-employment. Those who were not self-employed generally have a more difficult time acclimating to the remote work environment than employees of traditional business models. 

Of course, the industry in which these demographics worked also directly influenced the level of experience they had in this type of working environment. For example, workers in ICT- (Information and Communication Technology) intensive services are equipped with much more experience working remotely than those in administrative roles or manufacturing.  

Still, even some of the professionals who were familiar with working primarily with computers and cloud-based technology did not find it easy to switch over to a virtual office. Many early-career professionals found it difficult to adapt to the newfound autonomy allowed by work from home (WFH) format since their work is typically closely supervised by an authority and the physical office. 

As time is granted for individuals to get used to their brand-new virtual offices, the EU sees unprecedented advantages of the newly adopted system. The rapidly growing countries within the widespread telecommuting practice include Portugal, Estonia, and Slovenia, indicating that there are unique returns on investments that some are reaping more than others. What could be the factors that are influencing the massive growth of telecommuting in these countries versus others in the EU?

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Economic Advantages of Telecommuting

In the words of the author, Joana Briedenbach, “This old hierarchical model which we have been living for the past century… fits in the industrial national age, but… not… a mobile digital age which is by itself much more fluid, much more flexible, much more decentralized.” Founder of TomorrowToday Global, Van Leeuwen, celebrates the new push to virtual workspaces as well, primarily due to the idea that it will shift focus to the quality of work being completed, rather than the time spent completing it. 

This represents the first benefit that companies are experiencing as they transition to the new WFH standard: heightened productivity with better quality results. This, and related advantages are fleshed out below:

    • Reduced Expenditures: Office Space. There is no longer the need to rent or purchase a building to host employees on-site. This massive monthly or annual payment has been completely made away with teleworking policies. 
    • Office Equipment. Whether it be computers or janitorial materials needed to maintain the work area, without a physical storefront or other business-related campuses, the need for expensive office products and site maintenance dissolves. 
    • Improved Returns on Investment
    • Productivity. Due to the increased convenience and comfort of employees’ ability to work in a familiar space, companies may see a substantial increase in staff productivity levels. Employees will have greater control over their work-life balance by personally managing interruptions and distractions.
    • Talent Acquisition.  Business owners will no longer be restricted from acquiring talent within a certain distance of a physical office. There is now freedom on behalf of business owners to seek out the necessary talent without the risk of potentially losing money on lesser qualified individuals due to geographic limitations. 


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How EU Companies Can Take Advantage of WFH Savings 

As these advantages come to fruition, the money saved can then be redirected into investments in cloud-based working technologies and other telecommunications software. Business owners will also see notable savings as it relates to the expenses of benefits packages, for example. Without the risks attributed to physical offices such as injuries or property damage, insurance policies, such as certain workers’ compensation standards, can be removed from company standards.

The expectation of working from home turns a blind eye to the reality that many people cannot achieve the same quality and quantity of work. 

Business owners may need to tread carefully in this area. Still, there are many things that company leaders can do to ease the new telecommuting practice for their employees. For example, the newfound savings can be applied to employ retreats in the future, when more countries are able to lift their shelter in place restrictions. There can also be investments made into learning and development opportunities to sharpen the skill sets of existing staff, thereby improving productivity and, consequently, boosting revenue. 

It is clear that WFH has become the new normal for the EU and the entire world. SO, business owners in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and other such countries that lagged behind in the teleworking trend as of last year will have to bolster their efforts to acclimate workers to the new standard more than others.

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