What are the Trends of Telework and the Right to Disconnect, in the Context of Digitalisation and the Future of Work?

26 March 2024/Study

Context of the study

According to Eurostat, the share of employees working from home in the EU-27 has almost doubled between 2019 and 2021, from 11.1% to 21.9%. Nevertheless, wide variation between countries persists. Flexible work arrangements offer benefits to employees and employers, but at the same time pose risks related to workers’ occupational health and safety, work conditions, work-life balance and psychological well-being.

In January 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution containing recommendations to the European Commission regarding the right to disconnect. The resolution urged the Commission to introduce a legislative initiative concerning the right to disconnect, along with an EU-wide legislative structure for telework. Given this policy context, in 2022, the European Commission initiated this study as part of the subsequent measures following the European Parliament’s resolution. The study was led by Visionary Analytics in cooperation with Notus and thematic as well as national experts.

Objectives of the study

The report of this study assesses the current state of play by providing an analysis of the trends, challenges, and opportunities presented by telework and the right to disconnect. In addition, the report provides an overview and analysis of the relevant EU acquis, national legislation, and social partner agreements as well as identifies likely future scenarios for the evolution of telework, assessing the economic, social, and environmental implications of different levels of telework.

Telework and the right to disconnect: current state of play

The number of teleworking employees has increased over the years. Prior to the pandemic, telework was mostly concentrated among highly skilled professionals and managers, as an occasional work pattern. Telework and flexible working time arrangements were mainly used by organisations to enhance (or reward) the individual performance of a small number of high-status workers. During the pandemic, a significantly wider range of employers and employees experienced some of the benefits of working from home, while some of the employers’ worst fears, such as declining productivity and absenteeism, did not materialise.

In line with other studies – the surveys carried out for this study found that 48% of employers surveyed intend to provide more freedom to their employees to telework, while 52% of employees surveyed would like greater freedom to telework. This study has identified and analysed the main challenges in relation to telework and the right to disconnect in five fields:

  • Adequate employment and working conditions, including working time and work-life balance.
  • Occupational safety and health, including mental and physical health.
  • Management and performance.
  • Equal treatment and non-discrimination.
  • Geographical mobility, with a focus on cross-border telework.

Legal and policy context

EU acquis

There is no single EU legal act specifically dedicated to telework or the right to disconnect. Nevertheless, the body of the EU labour acquis applies to all workers, including teleworkers. Hence, the legal analysis focused on the extent to which the existing acquis is relevant and effective in addressing specific challenges and opportunities of telework. The evaluation found that the existing acquis is relevant in addressing key challenges faced by teleworkers, particularly what concerns work-life balance, occupational safety and health, privacy, non-discrimination, and the coordination of social security systems for cross-border teleworkers. However, the legal analysis found that uncertainties can emerge when applying the relevant EU acquis to specific cases pertaining to telework and the right to disconnect (for more information see the report).

Legal and policy frameworks at the national level

By the time of the conclusion of this research in 2022, the nature and extent of national-level regulations on telework vary widely across EU-27 Member States, influenced by differing traditions and practices in industrial relations. In relation to this, three groups of countries have been identified in this report:

  • Countries with specific statutory legislation:
    • Austria, Spain, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, and Slovakia adopted new legislation since the beginning of the pandemic;
    • Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Germany, France, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovenia already had legislation in place prior to the pandemic.
  • Countries in which telework is mainly regulated through collective bargaining (Denmark, Finland, and Sweden); and
  • Countries with hardly any regulation: Cyprus and Ireland (until 2021-2022)

Differences also exist between countries with regard to aspects of the content of telework regulation such as the definition of telework, access to telework, working time, Occupational Safety and Health.

In relation to the right to disconnect, working time regulation in all EU countries guarantees workers the right to compulsory rest outside of their working hours. Specific legislation on the right to disconnect has been passed in Belgium, Croatia, France, Greece, Ireland (Code of Practices), Italy, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain, via different provisions. The legislation on the right to disconnect also varies widely in terms of legal coverage, approach to implementation and enforcement (for more information see the report).

Likely future scenarios

This study has developed three scenarios to estimate likely (at the moment of drafting) future paths for the evolution of telework in the short term (2022-23), as well as in the medium and long term (distributed during the period from 2022 up to 2030):

  • The baseline scenario assumes that in the short term, the prevalence of telework would decline from its pandemic highs, as some employers enforce back-to-the-office mandates. However, rates of telework will remain above pre-pandemic levels, and in the medium term, the share of employees working from home will increase again: employers and employees alike learn to appreciate the benefits and deal with the challenges of teleworking during the pandemic. In the long term, further growth in telework will be driven by the changing structures of the EU Member States’ economies.
  • The ‘back-to-the-office’ scenario assumes a significant drop in teleworking due to the possible period of stagflation combined with strict back-to-the-office policies being enforced by employers. In the medium and long term, further growth in the share of employees working from home will be constrained by entrenched management practices, flexibility stigma and perceived negative career outcomes.
  • The ‘flexibilisation – work from anywhere, anytime’ scenario projects significantly faster growth in the prevalence of telework. This is due to the increasingly widespread adoption of digital technologies and business models, as well as the demise of the office as the main place of everyday work.

The figure below provides forecasts for each scenario. The stakeholders and experts consulted consider the ‘baseline’ and ‘flexibilisation’ scenarios to be the most likely. However, there is a widely shared consensus that, irrespective of which scenario ultimately transpires, telework is here to stay.

Share of employees working from home: comparison of three scenarios

Historically, significant differences have existed between Member States with regard to the shares of employees working from home. Although the prevalence of telework is likely to grow in all EU Member States, these differences are likely to remain, due to country-specific path dependencies that are closely related to the structure of their respective economies, the teleworkability of jobs, work organisation practices, the preferences of employees and employers, as well as other factors.

Main messages from the study

Based on the key findings, briefly presented above, the study conclusions are structured around three main themes: likely future prevalence of telework, expected benefits for employers as well as employees, and challenges to be addressed, so as to make full use of the opportunities offered by telework. Specifically, the main conclusions of the study are as follows:

  1. Telework is here to stay, irrespective of which scenario eventually unfolds. Our projections suggest that in 2030, we can expect between 12% and 22% of employees in the EU-27 to be working from home sometimes or usually, with a baseline estimate of 17%.
  2. Future growth in the prevalence of telework could lead to cost savings, as well as supporting workplace innovation and digitalisation, higher levels of employment (including of disadvantaged groups), better work-life balance and increased workplace inclusiveness.
  3. There is a need to ensure work-life balance in the context of telework and mitigate the risks of flexible working time arrangements by preventing overtime and work requests outside of working time. It is important to protect workers against the risks of permanent connectivity and long working hours by ensuring the right to rest for all workers.
  4. There is a need to better assess the specific psychosocial and physical risks faced by teleworkers as well as to implement more effective prevention measures. OSH measures should be oriented to prevent work intensification, isolation, overtime, emerging risks linked to digital communication, and ergonomic risks.
  5. There is a need to adapt management approaches aimed at assessing worker performance, taking into consideration data protection, privacy, and the use of control, surveillance, and monitoring performance systems. While the necessary legal safeguards for data protection and the right to privacy are in place, transparency is key when implementing digital monitoring systems in the workplace.
  6. All types of gender and social bias should be avoided in the implementation of telework and flexible work arrangements, including access to such work arrangements in an objective, transparent, and non-discriminatory manner and with regard to future career prospects and promoting work-life balance. This could allow to take full advantage of the potential of telework to enhance the inclusiveness of workplaces while avoiding the risk of reinforcing existing social inequalities.
  7. Geographical mobility should be facilitated, with a focus on cross-border telework. In particular, there is a need for a long-term, coordinated solution at the EU level aimed at reducing the administrative burdens of dealing with the tax and social security systems applicable in different Member States.


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