As people leave the Covid-19 pandemic behind them, there are some silver linings to the last two years. Working from home was once considered unusual but now it is increasingly seen as the norm.
Belgians who are able to choose their working situation are reportedly happy about this development. A survey by employment company SD Worx showed that 10,000 Europeans, including 1,098 Belgians, in 10 European countries between February and March support the trend of remote working.
Belgians support the trend
46% of Belgian respondents reported that their employer allows working from home, placing Belgium at the top of the rankings of the 10 countries surveyed.
Just 5.1% of Belgians prefer going to the office every day, with 41% of respondents opting for at least one day of working from home.
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For Belgians, the ideal is working 2.5 days at home a week, a preference shared with Italians, Germans and Swedes. The French and Dutch go for two days a week, while the Spanish, Finns and Brits choose three days a week.
While at least 4 out of 10 Belgians want to work from home some of the time, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to work remotely. Many people don't have jobs that allow for flexible working. In addition, some employers remain reluctant to implement flexible conditions at work.
Further to this, working from home is predominantly done by women, according to researchers at the European Trade Union Institute (Etui). Pre-pandemic, almost 60% of remote working was done by women.
The figure has grown, with 41% of women across the EU working from home, compared to 37% of men. Women tend to work in fields that allow for more remote working than men, which could increase imbalanced divisions of work.
The traditional division of labour has played a role, with women opting to work from home to handle childcare and housekeeping, doing the bulk of unpaid labour in the house. Meanwhile, the man would be the traditional bread winner and do the paid work.
The Etui researchers point out that working from home allows women to reconcile unpaid work, such as childcare, with paid work. However, that doesn't change the unequal division of labour in the home.
Women could be at risk of being overlooked for promotions if not at the office, according to the researchers. Further, they stress that remote workers are at risk of suffering from the perception that only work done in the public sphere is real work
The researchers underline the need for regulations to ensure the wellbeing of remote workers such as the right to disconnect. Moreover, they call for equal participation of men in childcare, family-friendly polices and investment in childcare services.
Challenges to be overcome
Despite inequalities, a majority of Belgians are positive about remote working, according to SD Worx survey. 79% believe that remote working allows them to reconcile their professional and private lives. Two out of three see it as an opportunity to be more productive.
However, there are risks and 34% worry about the lack of social contact at the office. Further, remote working can cause organisational issues if not implemented properly.
Belgium's National Labour Council is discussing how to regulate remote working well, particular focusing on the right to disconnect and creating conditions that ensure the employee performs their duties well.
There is an issue of remuneration as the employees use their own electricity, heat their homes and arrange their residence for professional purposes.
Not just a trend
There are challenges to working from home, but respondents believed that there were more advantages to disadvantages. Eight out of ten respondents felt flexibility enables better work life balance.
Gone are the days when career outweighed everything else, and there is a now a focus on other values in life.
Balancing mental health and individual needs with productivity and profit will be a frequent question for companies over the next few years. If the survey demonstrates one thing, it is that people do not want to go back to how it was before.