Working from home reaches record numbers during the pandemic

The pandemic shoots telecommuting by 119% in Catalonia, which is still far from the European average

3 min
Telework has skyrocketed during the pandemic

In 2015 only a derisory 3.4% of employees in Catalonia worked occasionally or regularly from home. In 2019 the percentage already reached 8.6%, and most were concentrated in four autonomous communities and in this order: Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia and Valencia. With the pandemic, the most optimistic forecasts were blown out of the water and 2020 closed with 17.2% of employees in Catalonia teleworking, which represents an increase of 119%. The Principality, however, was overtaken by the Community of Madrid, with growth of 200%, while Andalusia retained third place, according to data from a report by the Adecco research centre based on the Labour Force Survey (EPA) for the last quarter of 2020 and published on Thursday.

The reason for this new record has been the outbreak of the pandemic and the continued mobility restrictions that have been in place during the first year of covid. In fact, when home lockdown was declared, 3.5 million teleworkers were employed in Spain, a figure that gradually decreased over the course of 2020 to 2.86 million people (some 1.2 million more than in 2019). "Nobody has done as much to boost working from home as the coronavirus", clarifies Lefebvre's legal expert in the field of employment, Robert Gutiérrez.

In absolute figures, in Catalonia 645,400 people work from home, 350,000 more than in 2019 or, in other words, one in six employed Catalans perform this type of work.

However, despite the record figures, both Spain (14.5%, with an increase of 74.2% compared to 2019) and Catalonia, the proportion of remote workers is well below the average of the European Union (21.5%) and, above all, of those who lead this ranking: Sweden (41%), the Netherlands (40%) and Luxembourg (37.5%). Of the large countries of the European Union, only Italy (9.8%) is below the Catalan and Spanish average and Portugal stands out with 20.7%, while Romania (5.4%) and Bulgaria (4.7%) close the ranking.

"In the leading countries, employees who work from home have the full trust of the company. In Spain, on the other hand, remote working has been facilitated because there was no other solution to the exceptional situation we are experiencing and, in fact, many companies are already preparing the return of part of the workforce to the office; in short, here they want to have more control over the worker", Gutiérrez explains.

With these figures, is telework here to stay or will working from home return to the 2019 figures once vaccination is more widespread? "Remote working is here to stay. However, when vaccination is more advanced, there will be companies that will bring employees back to the office for a few days. If, for example, they are now doing five days of teleworking, they will do two or three", says the jurist. This combination will, according to Gutiérrez, reduce office space and mean that there will no longer be places allocated for each member of staff. "If a company has rented three floors, it will keep two and the same desk and computer will be occupied by several workers depending on the day of the week", he explains.

A new law

The telework explosion prompted the Spanish government to speed up the approval of the telecommuting law in the middle of the pandemic. It was approved last September after lengthy negotiations between the employers' association CEOE and the trade unions UGT and CCOO and came into force until 13 October. The law stipulates that this modality must be regulated when a worker works a minimum of 30% of his or her weekly working hours remotely and for a minimum period of three months. Among other points, the law includes that the company pays or compensates the costs of the material or equipment necessary for teleworking, but does not foresee that other costs such as electricity are covered. It is up to the collective bargaining agreement to determine how this compensation or payment is to be made. This jurist, however, is not sure that the regulation will serve as an excuse for companies to curb teleworking. "I don't think so, because the new law does not provide more than what was already approved before. Before, companies also had to bear these costs".