Remote work: The countries shunning the post-COVID work trend and why

Remote work: The countries shunning the post-COVID work trend and why

Two years ago, the COVID-19 health crisis sparked a surge in telecommuting as most countries had to follow strict safety measures to keep business running.

But now that most of these measures have been lifted and life is back to “normal”, many companies are still converting their once in-office roles to remote roles, either in whole or in part.

A Recent study Indeed found that the number of remote jobs worldwide has skyrocketed since the pandemic began, nearly tripling from an average of just 2.5 percent in January 2020 to almost 7.5 percent in September 2021.

Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom are just some of the countries seeing the biggest increases, and the United States is no stranger to the trend either.

Remote opportunities have grown from under 4 percent of all high-paying jobs before the pandemic to about 9 percent in late 2020 and over 15 percent today in North America.

Data scientists at careers site Ladders believe remote work is here to stay, with a full quarter of all professional jobs set to be remote by the end of the year.

“You cannot overdo this change in working arrangements. As big as it is, it’s even bigger than people think,” said Ladders CEO Marc Cenedella.

“Hiring practices normally move at an icy pace, but the pandemic has turned up the heat so we are seeing a rapid tide of change in this area. It’s really quite amazing.”

But while much of the world seems to be quickly embracing remote and hybrid work, some countries have yet to embrace the idea; be it for cultural, legal or technical reasons.

Czech Republic: Legal uncertainty regarding the status of teleworkers

Although remote work is becoming commonplace in most western European countries, the flexible method has not been fully embraced by the Czechs, especially employers, despite the country being as technologically equipped as its competitors.

The reason is quite simple: the Czech Republic is struggling to give teleworkers a proper status and the law does not specify whether a teleworker is a regular worker or not, so given the legal uncertainty, companies prefer to avoid telework.

The Czech Republic is the only country that has never given legal status to teleworkers, although the government is beginning to debate legislation on their status after pushes by younger generations demanding changenot much has happened so far.

According to an Ipsos survey, 51 percent of Czech workers surveyed were interested in permanent remote work and 59 percent in partial remote work.

France: Europe’s bad student

Meanwhile, France stands out as Europe’s lowest-performing student, reports say a study carried out jointly by Ifop and the Jean Jaurès FoundationOnly 34 percent of French people regularly worked remotely during the pandemic, while it was implemented by 61 percent of Germans, 56 percent of Italians and 50 percent of Britons.

The time the French worked remotely was also less than their European neighbors: 11 percent of them worked from home four to five days a week, compared to 30 percent of Italians.

These low numbers can be explained by the stark disparity between upper management – most of whom are able to work remotely – and the other socio-professional categories, most of which continue to go to work.

Age was also another factor in these disparities in France, with older workers being less familiar with digital technology than the ‘digital native’ generation.

The French are known for their reluctance to change, so the situation may not change any time soon. In addition, the culture of “presenteeism” – the practice of being present in the office despite illness – is still firmly anchored in the minds of the older generation.

When asked if they would like to have more or fewer teleworking days, French respondents indicated that they would like fewer teleworking days compared to their European neighbours.

Researchers believe this low demand is the result of social interactions, which are an important tool in decision-making in the French office, but also a form of resignation by many French workers who believe that remote working conditions are not accessible to them.

Japan: A strong culture of “presenteeism”

Japan, like France, is another country that has been plagued by the culture of presenteeism.

Many Japanese fear a lack of career advancement if they don’t work long hours in the office, and forcing these workers to resort to remote work due to the health crisis has proved catastrophic.

While most employees say working from home has made them more efficient than in the office, Japanese employees are 20 percent less productive on average, according to the report a 2020 study by economist Toshihiro Okubo.

Japan also has a very social work structure, making it a poor candidate for remote work, as employees prefer to work in teams and take assessments as a group, while overseas employees are typically assigned unique responsibilities and assessed individually.

Mentoring and dialogue are two core values ​​of the Japanese work system, with older employees supervising younger colleagues and informal chats around the coffee machine strengthening contact within teams – something that just didn’t work in a remote environment.

Lack of access to personal computers was another reason that made the transition to remote work very difficult for Japanese workers; the nation has one of the lowest tariffs for access to PCs according to the OECD.

Also, home offices are far less common in Japan’s highly urbanized society than in the west due to the small size of the average city apartment and the prices of larger houses.

China: a difficult transition

Although China was the first country to resort to remote work as it was the first country to deal with the coronavirus, the transition has still been relatively difficult for the Chinese workforce.

At that time, 40 percent of Chinese workers were forced to work from home, compared to just 7 percent of employees who were previously allowed to do so — a rather unexpected cultural shift for a country that is very attached to presenteeism and hierarchy, according to consultancy Bloomberg.

However, as the country began to lock down key affected regions, the use of digital technologies — including AI, location tracking, facial recognition, etc. — to contain the spread of the outbreak skyrocketed, and some companies began to keep a firm grip on employees, even from afar.

Employees had to report to their bosses every morning to let them know their whereabouts and if they had symptoms of the virus.

China’s communist history may also explain the difficulty for the Chinese in adopting remote work, as workers are forced to negotiate agreements collectively.

But despite the country’s strong collectivist culture, the new habits developed during the pandemic are slowly taking hold among Chinese workers, and further development could be seen in the years to come.

Access to high-speed broadband in developing countries

For many countries, the pandemic has put the spotlight on inequities in digital access, another obstacle to successful transitions to hybrid working.

Not surprisingly, developing countries are the most vulnerable, but many have taken positions at odds with their internet resilience.

For example, Mexico and Brazil are more internet resilient than Indonesia or Indiaaccording to economic advisers Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi.

Angola also stood out as the country least mobile-friendly, with just 0.70 in 100 people in the country having fixed-line broadband access in 2020, compared to 36.41 in the US. according to the World Bank.

Estimating the number of teleworkers in the country this year remains difficult, as few figures have been reported by government institutions to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Overall, most countries around the world have seen an undeniable shift in the ability to get work done beyond the confines of a traditional office, as many employees are now able to log in from home after learning how this is at the height of the pandemic.

Organizations are now navigating the pros and cons of remote and hybrid work, choosing which aspects fit the specifics of their unique culture.

Although some countries like France, Japan or China may have been slower to adapt to remote work than the US or UK, hybrid and remote trends remain – but so does the joy of chatting with colleagues in the office.

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