27 July 2021

The digital opportunity to work from home - Its success depends on us as a community of workers

The year 2020 will be remembered not only as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the year of the digital revolution in the job field for millions of people. Governments in many countries have implemented social distancing measures and lockdowns to counter the spread of the virus, resulting in many people working from home instead of going to office.

For the past 6 months I have been working for GEYC as a trainee entirely from home, via online tools and from Italy, 1500 kilometres away from Bucharest. At first the experience was strange, perhaps a little alienating as I had never seen my colleagues in person. But with time and habit, I managed to find the balance with the GEYC team. Working from home has allowed me to better develop new digital skills, learn how to use new platforms, interact with my colleagues in new ways, and learn something new about human interaction every day. Working from home has also proved to be a great way of reconciling work and personal life. Above all, flexibility makes it possible to use peak productivity times to produce better, reducing lost time and benefiting family relationships.

But the fact that my experience of working from home has been optimal should not lead me to believe that there are no problems with this mode. If we really want to implement smart working even after the pandemic, a change in the corporate and job mentality, both on the part of managers and workers, is necessary.

Large companies with thousands of employees have since February 2020 closed their offices and started to reschedule their daily work from home. In a note of 12 May, Twitter said that if its employees wanted to continue working from home after the pandemic, they could do it. [1] Other large companies have also proposed similar solutions. This is an 'obligatory' choice which, if it really becomes the new reality, poses major challenges with psychological, cultural, environmental and urban consequences.

Before the pandemic, working at home was the exception. According to Eurostat, in 2019, 5.4% of employed people aged 15-64 in the European Union usually worked from home. [2] In 2019, the Netherlands and Finland topped the ranking of EU Member States for remote working. Right behind were Luxembourg and Austria. At the bottom are Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria. Now, with the lockdown measures, this percentage has risen significantly in many countries. According to Eurofound, the pandemic has forced almost 40% of European citizens to work from home. [3]

Percentage of workers who started work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, via Eurofound

In a report published by the Joint Research Centre (the scientific service of the European Commission), it is stated that already before the arrival of the virus in some sectors the share of people working from home was over 20%, 30% and in some cases 40%. [4]

Prevalence of remote working by type of jobs in the EU (% values), via Joint Research Centre

A further difference can be seen in the income level. Many high-skilled, well-paid workers who do most of their work with a computer and have high levels of autonomy were already accustomed to remote jobs and therefore probably responded better to the crisis. In contrast to those with low incomes, who have low digital skills. In this context, according to the report, the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities between those who can easily switch to working from home and those who cannot. The latter, according to a study by the International Monetary Fund, have a higher chance of having their wages reduced or of being fired.[5] Among the reasons for this situation are the inadequate technological structures of companies that make it difficult to reorganise work and the fact that in several EU countries many employees had no previous experience of working remotely, nor adequate digital skills.

In the short term, these shortcomings can lead to possible negative implications on employment and the psychological and physical well-being of the employees themselves. According to a survey published in July by Lenovo - carried out between 8 May and 14 May 2020 and involving more than 20,000 workers from the US, Brazil, Mexico, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, China, India and Japan - 63 per cent of respondents said productivity was not affected by remote working. At the same time, 71% of the sample reported a worsening of their physical and mental situation. [6] The employees interviewed also reported other problems: reduced personal contact with colleagues, greater difficulty in separating work and home life, an increase in group calls and greater difficulty in collaborating remotely. In addition, a total of 72% of respondents were concerned about their privacy. In fact, working from home has developed the interest of some companies to invest in surveillance technology for their employees.

If working from home were to become a new normality, it would force a rethinking of certainties acquired over time, such as the division between home and office. Before the lockdown, the home was thought of primarily as a place to go for recreation alone or with the family. In smart working, on the other hand, we have realised that we need to use the home to live well and we need spaces to work in decent conditions. These changes also affect urban design. Large cities are home to a large number of companies, offices and businesses that will have to deal with the fact that thousands of people will no longer be travelling to work. Governments and communities need to pay attention to these processes, trying to combine technology and opportunities with a sustainable and socially just vision of urban spaces.

In conclusion, we need to be aware that the sudden shift of millions of people to working from home can have all these negative implications. Issues that governments will have to address. In order to avoid exacerbating the inequalities already present in the labour market, we need not only income support policies for the weakest groups but, above all, policies to disseminate new technologies and vocational training for the most vulnerable workers so that remote work is an opportunity for all and not a choice for a few. Deficiencies in digital skills can, on the one hand, reduce the speed of adaptation of our labour market and, on the other, increase the risk of segmentation and inequality. Eurostat data show that the development of e-skills is a problem in the old continent: in 2019, less than 25% of companies in the EU as a whole provided technological training to their staff. [7]

Working from home could reasonably become a widespread, truly alternative form of work organisation, but any abuse and misuse must be prevented. The problems that have emerged in recent months must be tackled responsibly: equipment, guaranteed connectivity and platform security, and the right to disconnect, in order to not nullify some of the oldest achievements of traditional work.


[1]Blog.twitter.com, May 12, 2020, Keeping our employees and partners safe during coronavirus

[2]Eurostat, 24 April 2020, How usual is it to work from home?

[3]Eurofund, 6 May 2020, Living, working and COVID-19

[4]European Commission, 2020 Joint Research Centre, Telework in the EU before and after the COVID-19: where we were, where we head to

[5]Quartz, 17 July 2020, Teleworking is widening the income gap around the world

[6]Lenovo News, July 2020, Technology and the Evolving World of Work Global Research Study

[7]European Commission, 2019 EU Science Hub, The changing nature of work and skills in the digital age