London, United Kingdom – Kiasi Sandrine Mputu has worked from her bedroom in her London apartment since the pandemic struck in March 2020. Like the hordes of remote workers who have hit the crisis around the world, she says this arrangement has its pros and cons.
“I love working remotely,” the 30-year-old told Al Jazeera. “I don’t think I will ever be able to go back [to] Ordinary routine.
Associate director at a London-based import-export company, Mputu’s home office is a testament to how personal and professional spaces can quickly become intertwined by working remotely: an office with a company-provided computer monitor tucked away next to a drawer full of clothes that’s adjacent to her bed.
Although she has adapted to a flexible workspace, Mputu still suffers from a sense of isolation from her colleagues.
“I [sometimes] “I spend all week alone,” she said.
Mputu says her employer sometimes organizes virtual social gatherings. But she wants the British government to follow Europe’s lead and do more to support the mental health of remote workers like her.
But worker advocates want Europe to go further – by ensuring that new laws addressing remote working arrangements cover all employees, no matter where they earn their living.
Right to disconnect
In a major victory for a better work-life balance, Portugal last month issued new regulations for the era of remote work, including giving workers the “right to separate” by banning companies from contacting employees outside working hours except in emergencies.
The new rules – designed with the goal of attracting more tax-paying “digital nomads” to the country – also require businesses to help pay home gas, electricity and internet bills; prevent them from monitoring their workforce remotely; It requires them to allow parents of young children to work from home without prior approval.
But Portugal did not give workers the right to turn off their machines and ignore messages from their bosses outside working hours – a rule Italy enacted earlier this year.
Great strides are also being taken in France and Germany, where employers are required to have a valid reason to refuse employees’ requests to work from home.
Trade unions and experts in the EU and UK welcome the momentum to advance the rights and welfare of remote workers, but they want the new rules to go further.
Experts say the explosion in remote work during the pandemic has exposed how outdated some labor laws are.
The “right to disconnect,” for example, is a hot issue that predated the pandemic, with France putting a groundbreaking law on records in 2017. And while other European countries have followed suit, the European Parliament is still pushing the EU Commission to give workers across the bloc the right. in turning off their devices when they are not at work.
Heejung Chung, a researcher on overtime and work-life balance at the University of Kent and author of The Flexibility Paradox, said Al Jazeera’s employers are reaching out to workers outside of official working hours frequently as the boundaries between home and office are blurred, leading to overstaffing. . To work around the clock – a growing problem the right to disconnect is designed to correct.
A single focus on working from home rights would create new inequalities for those who work in jobs where it is not possible to work from home
She also said that remote workers are often burdened with a “flexible stigma,” where working from home is seen as less productive than in-office arrangements. She said this negative perception can lead employees to work longer hours to compensate.
Many worker advocates say the right to separate is just the beginning, and that companies need to give workers the ability to set their own work schedules to promote a better work-life balance.
“A lot of the limits set by labor laws around… [working] over time … [became] Chung said.
Data cited by the European Union Institute found that 27 percent of European remote workers were anxious about their jobs when they weren’t already doing them, and 29 percent felt too tired after work to do some housework.
Ignacio Dorset, a consultant for the European Federation of Trade Unions, told Al Jazeera that not interrupting employees outside working hours “will not prevent these workers from suffering fatigue when they return to work.”
While Mbutu feels fortunate that her boss has not called her outside of work hours, she said she would prefer to set her own work schedule, rather than be restricted to someone determined by her employer.
“At the end of the day, we’re home,” she said, “so if I could do my work at night or in the morning, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.”
All workers, not just remote workers
While many labor rights activists welcome the quest to empower remote workers, some are concerned that the continued focus on working from home could leave behind a large segment of the workforce.
“A single focus on work-from-home rights would create new inequalities for those in jobs where it is not possible to work from home,” said Francis O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s largest trade union.
A June survey by TUC found that people in the UK who worked in higher-paying jobs were more likely to work from home during the pandemic than those in working-class jobs.
“All workers need stronger rights in the full range of flexible work options such as flexibility, predictable changes and job sharing,” O’Grady told Al Jazeera, “otherwise there will be a new stratification, with some people getting the flexibility they need and the exclusion of others.”