Germany has said that it wants to give its citizens the legal right to work from home. Workers in many parts of the globe are now much more familiar with the ins and outs of the remote office than they were at the start of this year. In Germany, about 40% of people wanted to work from home at least some of the time even before the pandemic struck. The German government is preparing to publish a draft law that would grant employees the legal right to work from home.
It’s an unusually progressive initiative and lent immediacy by the coronavirus pandemic — that’s meant to support workers and grant them a better work-life balance, according to the World Economic Forum. By legally enforcing workers’ choice to work remotely whenever possible, Germany could serve as a giant experiment in how jobs will function even after it’s safe to be around others again. And the country has been looking at initiatives to get companies to allow employees to work from home since early 2019. Now, as the pandemic has given a glimpse of what’s possible, it’s looking to make it official. The draft law will be published in a few weeks, the country’s labour minister told. The legislation would also limit the number of hours that people are expected to toil from their kitchen tables, home studies, and bedrooms, long after quitting time.
“We cannot stop the changes in the world of work, nor do we want to,” Hubertus Heil, Germany’s labor minister told the FT. “The question is how we can turn technological progress, new business models, and higher productivity into progress not only for a few, but for many people. How do we turn technological progress into social progress?”
Google, Salesforce and Facebook are among businesses that have said employees can work from home until at least next summer. Microsoft and Twitter have said some staff can do so forever. And in the US, 69% of financial services companies surveyed by PwC said they expect almost two-thirds of their workforce to be working from home once a week in the future. Pre-pandemic, this figure was 29%. Despite some companies’ concerns over the impact on teamwork and productivity, it could pay back big in cost savings – research has found a typical employer could save about $11,000 per year for every person who works remotely half the time.
Details about the regulations won’t be known until a draft of the law is published in three to four weeks. But the idea, which was first floated in 2019 and has gathered momentum during the pandemic, is already facing resistance from the country’s influential labor groups who worry that work-from-home laws will hamper employees’ ability to organize and bargain collectivity, something they say is more effectively done in face-to-face conversations.
One of the remaining challenges, the WEF reports, is figuring out how the law might impact workers who have to show up to work, as well as how the law might impact men and women who stay home differently. Germany’s plan is an example of governments trying to ensure the new world of work is going to work for everyone. Spain, Greece and Ireland also want to develop fresh home-working regulations