With the appearance of the coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown, teleworking has been forced upon us. But will teleworking tend to become generalised in the long term? We talked about it with the Minister of Labour.
With the appearance of the coronavirus, teleworking has suddenly become a reality for most professionals, as a result of the lockdown. It has been the subject of much discussion in the Grand Duchy for a number of years, but teleworking became an unavoidable reality from one day to the next in the everyday lives of the workforce in the Grand Duchy and elsewhere.
Teleworking has more than tripled
The coronavirus has changed all our habits, but it has had a particularly marked effect on the way we work. Empty offices and meeting rooms, no traffic on the motorways or anywhere else, building sites closed down. The pandemic has brought everyone up short. At least that's what you might think at first sight. But in fact, most workers have continued working from home.
In the Grand Duchy, about two thirds - 69% - of all employees have switched to teleworking since the start of the lockdown in mid-March 2020. It's nothing short of an explosion, since the figure for 2019 was only 20%. It is in public administration (75%) and education (96%) that the figures for teleworking are highest. That is what is indicated by the latest STATEC study on teleworking, published in May.
According to the survey, about half the people concerned were teleworking full time, and 21% on an alternating basis. Only a third (31%) carried on working on their employer's premises.
An overall positive experience
It's not just that teleworking has become more widespread as a result of the health crisis; it's more that it has reshuffled the cards. Almost four months after the start of working from home as an emergency measure, the experience has left its mark. Although the reduction in working hours imposed by the pandemic is a source of employment insecurity for 1 in 16 residents - according to STATEC - the current experience of teleworking actually suits most of the people concerned. According to the survey, working from home is considered positive (55%) or neutral (30%); only 15% consider it to be negative.
This positive feeling is more widespread in public administration and administrative and financial services (60%), while the negative feeling is strongest in education (29%). Another aspect that has emerged is that the type of housing "doesn't seem to impact working conditions".
Those in favour and those against
Since the start of the lockdown, teleworking has become the default setting for working. The pre-COVID-19 situation was not particularly conducive to the development of teleworking, for many reasons. According to the LISER, 88% of employees said they did not have the option of teleworking, either because of the nature of their employment (52%) or because their employer did not allow it (36%) for cultural, technical or legal reasons. But that was before.
The current experience has shown that a different way of working - one that is more flexible and less stressful - is possible. There are those who have noticed a better life-work balance, and those who have noticed a better quality of life, with none of the travelling and traffic jams that are often a source of frustration. And there are those who have seen that the lockdown measures have had a beneficial impact on fauna and flora.
But there is always a down side - working from home adds to the risk of the disintegration of society and makes it harder to keep up team spirit. STATEC also notes that on average teleworkers work four hours more than everyone else, often in the evening and at the weekend. The figures show that 55% of teleworkers also work in the evening, compared with 33% of those who stay at the office.
What does the future hold for teleworking?
These days, thanks to the new technologies, it's possible to telework efficiently. There are nevertheless a number of hindrances that need to be overcome, and discussions about the future stages will need to be clarified. According to the trade unions, it's important to set a careful framework for teleworking. Their watchword is 'protect the employee'.
Even if businesses were prepared to continue with teleworking, there are other barriers that need to be overcome at the political level. Cross-border workers, for example - their teleworking could be hindered if the Grand Duchy and its three neighbours are unable to reach an agreement on tax rules.
What is certain is that the health crisis has had an impact on the way we work. But what will our working environment be like in the post-coronavirus era? Minister of Labour Dan Kersch will give us some explanations.
Three questions for ...
Dan Kersch, Minister of Labour
1. What conclusions do you take away from teleworking during the coronavirus crisis?
At the start of the crisis, once the Government had decided on the lockdown, many businesses had to adapt very quickly to the new situation. Even in places where teleworking was not known as a way of working, managements were able to set up the necessary arrangements so that their companies were able to continue with at least part of their activities. Even the difficulties encountered during the crisis period will have a positive effect in the end, because they will help us to put clear, precise rules in place for the future.
2. Teleworking was not widespread before the lockdown. But it has proved its worth in the context of the health crisis. Is it the effect of exceptional circumstances, or is teleworking going to become more common in the future? And if so, what form will it take?
The crisis has certainly speeded up the process, making teleworking much more widespread now.
Although many businesses will gradually start operating normally again, with more people in the offices, the crisis is bound to have a lasting effect. I think many companies will introduce teleworking as a generalised principle for their employees. But it is obvious that we will then need clear, precise rules for teleworking. That means that the agreement between the trade unions and the Union of Luxembourg Businesses (Union des entreprises luxembourgeoises - UEL), which currently defines the framework for teleworking in the private sector, needs to be adapted to current circumstances.
I think it is vital to create precise rules on the right to disconnect. Working from home should not under any circumstances mean that employees have to be available for contact at all times. But I am optimistic that we'll come up with some appropriate solutions.
Teleworking has both positive and negative effects, not only for employees but also for the economy in general, so it's important to analyse every aspect of teleworking and then decide on the best middle path.
3. Working from home has been extremely popular during the coronavirus period. In the post-COVID context, coworking offers an alternative somewhere between teleworking and office working, and could be another way of lessening the pressure of working. Will you be promoting coworking?
The crisis period will without a doubt change the way we work and accelerate the developments that were already emerging. These developments also include the growing popularity of spaces for coworking. To my mind, one thing is clear: There must be a clear, precise framework for all forms of working.