Workhome Blog

Moving toward working at home: People who can, people who can’t and people who would if they could

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The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed many people to work at home who are able to do so: the artists, consultants, and individual entrepreneurs of many occupations who had already been doing so, but also millions of people who had been working in offices. But the pandemic has also helped bring to light and emphasize the essential nature of work of many people who cannot work at home.

These are health care workers who need to be based in hospitals, care facilities or clinics, delivery people, warehouse workers, police, firefighters, transit workers, taxi drivers, restaurant chefs and servers, bartenders, building maintenance workers, construction workers, factory workers, house and office cleaners. Many of these people are not only low-paid, but also more vulnerable to the coronavirus because their work, outside the home, does not make social distancing easy. The severe class divide that had been exacerbated by deindustrialization, is showing its insidious effects on health and therefore life expectancy.

The people who would work at home if they could include many people in the occupations mentioned above who want to start their own businesses, people without jobs or with hobbies they want to turn into paid work, people who need to be near children or family members who need to be attended to, people with disabilities for whom travel to work is difficult or impossible, people who now work in offices and can readily do the same work from home. These categories include many people who are ready to work at home but for whom laws and regulations prevent it.

What to do about this?

First — change laws and policies. Make it legal for people to work wherever they are living: change rules regarding what can happen in public/council housing; change restrictive zoning laws in the U.S.; write new, model lease agreements (and rules of housing associations) in the U.S. And second — change housing design. Develop model dwelling/work layouts and building designs that show different possibilities for home working.

And in many places, progress is being made:

In the UK, there is increased interest in home-based work in Parliament and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This interest will move toward change in current law and policy, that prevents public housing residents to work at home. It will hopefully also move toward change in dwelling space standards that make home-based work difficult, change in typical access to dwellings through stairways and corridors that discourage customers, and change regulations that prevent people from even posting a small sign advertising their business outside their door.

Germany and Finland have made progress, reported in → personneltoday.com

Although there is no legal right to work from home in Germany, “the German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) recently proposed that where technically possible, employees should be able to work from home, even after the restrictions have been lifted. The proposal follows a study by BMAS, which shows that 40% of Germans would like to continue to work from home at least occasionally.”

In Finland, a new law allows workers to determine their own place of work. “The Working Hours Act 2020, in effect from January of this year, allows employees to decide not only their working hours but also their place of work. If an employee wants to spend six months in Spain while continuing to work for their Finnish employer from a sunny resort, that is no problem.”

In France, working from home is set to become the “new normal,” where workers have the right to ask their employers if they might work at home.

In the Netherlands, “the Flexible Work Act makes it possible for employees who are employed by the employer for at least six months to request their employer (that has 10 or more employees) to change the agreed on workplace, for example to a workplace at home.” More on → lexology.com.

In Italy, “autonomous work” has been allowed by law since 2017. “The concept of smart working … is based on the principle of accountability combined with a certain amount of freedom. Employees can choose when and where to do their job, accepting that they will be judged on the results they’ll achieve.”

This right is not yet in the law of Canada or its provinces, but such discussions have begun to take place.

Australia allows employees to request to work at home under particular conditions including the need to care for family members, disability, and age.