In March 2020, Carlos left his office with the computer under his arm and the papers he was working on. Coronavirus cases soared in Spain in what would later be titled “the first wave” of the virus. Because they followed up to five more, for now. “Then we thought that teleworking was going to be a much shorter period,” recalls the worker, a researcher in a public body, who in the end has been working from home for a year and a half. This September he returns to the office, where he will face some new colleagues whom he does not know yet. “Before the pandemic, we did not telework, except for some exceptions, and now we can choose a few days to work from home,” explains the young man, who prefers to remain anonymous.
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Carlos’ bosses have opted for the moment for what is known as the “hybrid” formula, which combines teleworking and face-to-face work. The rule will be to go to the office again, but employees can request several days of remote work if they wish. “They have adapted the program in which we ask for vacations and now we can ask for the days there, formally,” he says. Carlos will ask, “online with colleagues”, to work from home for “two or three days.”
“Teleworking has good things, you save a lot of transportation time, you can organize yourself better and it takes away a lot of interruptions from the office. You are more focused on yours and it spreads more. But it also has cons, such as not seeing your colleagues, the feeling of isolation and for some things it is more agile and productive to speak to the face. For that reason, I would like to have both options, “he argues.
Silvia (not her real name) also left her workplace at the beginning of the pandemic and will now step on it again this September. At the moment, with face-to-face work only two days a week. Your company has implemented a new organization of rotating workstations, with which the capacity in the office has been reduced, with more distances, and the employees will alternate in the available places.
“I find it strange to return after so long. You enter into an inertia of working at home and now it is difficult to think about leaving early every day, taking public transport, returning home at a thousand …”, reflects Silvia, who in In reality, he believes that many days he spends more hours teleworking from home than when he was at the office. “It was easier to cut at the end of the day, now it is more difficult to disconnect, the work floods everything a little,” he values.
On the other hand, the worker misses seeing her colleagues, both personally and professionally. “That if you have a question and want to comment on something, know another opinion of what you are doing, you can talk to someone who is by your side, not having to write for a chat, which sometimes you do not do so as not to disturb,” he says . In these months, his work has been more individualized and he acknowledges that he has been fed less of the collective knowledge of his colleagues than in the past.
Some days at home and others at the office
The hybrid or “mixed” model is one of the trends that will spread in September among companies that have maintained remote work to date, completely or quite extensive, due to the pandemic. After the measure was forcibly and massively implemented with the outbreak of the coronavirus in Spain, some companies were reversing the measure when “the worst” happened. Others, in the face of successive waves of the virus, have chosen to significantly maintain teleworking these months. Given the great advance in vaccination, the ‘return to course’ of 2021 is seen as a new attempt to return to a greater normality in many offices.
“Although the vaccination rate is very extensive, it must be remembered that the planned goal of 70% has not been reached and there are new variants that complicate things,” recalls Andreu Cruañas, president of Asempleo and member of the executive committee of the CEOE employer. . These reasons also explain a certain “prudence in the return”, adds Cruañas, with some companies that anticipated the return after the summer, but for the moment they are going to wait to see how September begins.
This is the case of Jesús (not his real name), a worker in the banking sector. “In my company they are taking it with caution. At the moment they have told us that we are still the same, we know that we are going to return to the offices, but they have told us that they are not going to rush,” he explains. In his case, after “three or four” months of teleworking every day, the company implemented a shift system: they formed bubble groups and teleworked for two weeks and one went to the office. “If someone gets sick, the entire office is not infected and there is that two-week window at home for the symptoms to appear,” he says.
But in general, business organizations do detect the trend towards a “mixed model” of face-to-face and home work in the coming months, in which “teleworking will still be marked by a health motivation, not properly work organization” , Andreu Cruañas points out. “This extraordinary situation due to the pandemic has not yet ended and we believe it will last for a few months. In June of last year the great discussion was whether there would be a second wave. Now we are discussing whether there will be a sixth wave and whether a third vaccination will be necessary. This has not ended. “, reflects the business representative.
In addition to being cautious about the health situation, some companies have seen teleworking as a result of the pandemic as a very profitable option for their pockets. “Misunderstood teleworking, without compensating expenses or providing material to workers as required by law,” clarifies Cristina Estévez, secretary of Institutional Policy and Territorial Policies of UGT. The Distance Work Law approved last year exempted part of the new requirements for companies to apply it as a measure to contain the pandemic, but a large part of the companies have taken it as a free way to avoid paying labor costs and let them fall to the employee.
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Jesús trusts that the bank will allow him to telecommute more than one day a week, his situation before COVID. In this regard, there is no desire to return to pre-pandemic normality. “Teleworking gives you more flexibility and in my case it helps me to reconcile with the child. I have the nursery ten minutes from my house, I can take him a moment and come back. In addition, I value the time I save when traveling to the office. That time to go and another to return, two hours that go a day. When you telecommute, if you finish at 6 o’clock in the afternoon, you are already at home, “says the worker.
The president of Asempleo and member of the CEOE considers that, after the pandemic, the Teleworking Law and the conditions of remote work that are currently being agreed should be “revised”. Before, remote work “was an option, but we have been able to see how far it is possible to implement it in this extreme situation. Now it is a question of seeing how conditions are agreed between the company and the worker to find the greatest mutual benefit. A win-win“, he maintains.
Jesús believes that the pandemic has put an end to one of the greatest fears of employers regarding this work formula: the loss of control. “You can perfectly control whether people work or not, even if they are not in the office. You can measure results,” he considers. Although, sometimes, the rejection persists even without concrete reasons. According an Adecco surveyExcluding companies whose nature does not allow remote work, 51.7% of companies assured that they will not provide their employees with the possibility of working remotely once the health crisis is over, compared to 48.2% who do. is willing to offer that possibility. It must be remembered that before the coronavirus, teleworking in Spain was residual. Regarding the reasons for not allowing it, the most selected answer – by one out of every four companies asked – was “don’t know, don’t answer”.
At UGT they argue that “well regulated” telework, combined with face-to-face care, “is an opportunity for the worker.” Cristina Estévez considers it necessary to end some characteristics of telework resulting from the pandemic, such as improvisation, the lack of prevention of occupational risks and compensation for expenses. “There are workers who want to return to the offices because they spend many hours from home, with brutal hours and even a lesser feeling of real conciliation. That has to end, guaranteeing the disconnection of workers,” he highlights.
To know what post-pandemic telework will be like, it would take “a crystal ball”, laughs Eva Rimbau, an expert in telework and a professor at the UOC’s Economics and Business Studies. The teacher considers that it is still too early to know and that the situation will be defined with the control of the pandemic. “There will be more teleworking than before, that’s for sure, but we don’t know how much, it’s too early to draw conclusions,” he considers.
Rimbau recommends companies that avoid the dichotomy “go back to the office or stay at home” and go for greater flexibility, that they combine both options. “The ideal is to seek the best of both worlds, teleworking can be very good, it is usually valued by workers. Companies that reflect and review their organization, their processes, and adapt them are the ones that will get something positive out of it. remote work, “he says. Regarding teleworking, the pandemic has left at least something that many workers do not want to part with.