Debates over the trade-offs of remote work arrangements have tended to focus on challenges related to maintaining worker productivity, building company culture, and upholding boundaries between work and home. Now, employers are faced with an additional challenge: complying with a growing set of regulatory frameworks governing remote work.
For most workers, working from home was once a seasonal perk or a special arrangement their employer offered. Now, what started as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become routine. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people working primarily from home increased from 5.7% to 17.95% of all workers in the United States and from 14.6% to 24.4% in Europe.
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With new data showing that remote work could save companies up to $10,600 per employee annually, and major employers such as 3M, SAP, and Spotify committing to making remote work programs permanent, the trend looks like it’s here to stay.
But the increased flexibility and cost savings of remote work also mean that employers no longer have the kind of control over the safety and stability of their employees’ work environments that they used to. Employees also might find it harder to separate their work and personal lives. These issues have prompted a surge in new regulatory developments aimed at making sure remote workers, home workers, and teleworkers are protected under existing environmental, health, and safety legislation and guidelines and that employers are not running afoul of labor laws.
Flexible Working Modalities: One Concept, Many Dimensions
The growing web of regulatory minutiae governing flexible working arrangements around the world poses an acute challenge for multinationals. These companies must now contend with different compliance requirements in different jurisdictions, depending on how governments define and interpret terms like remote work, teleworking, and work from home. For example, in Spain, remote work is defined as a work activity that is performed either at the worker’s home or at another place of their choice at least 30% of the time over a period of three months. Teleworking is a subcategory of remote work that requires the job to be carried out through telecommunications systems. All of this is mapped out in detail in Spain’s Law 10/2021 on remote work.