Trade union study highlights important issues

MB – 08/2023

The Research department of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has conducted a study on the "Future of Remote Work" and has explored important questions in various chapters. On 19 July, "Remote work: fundamental questions and the way forward" event took place, where the study and individual contents were discussed in more detail.

What is "remote work"?

First and foremost, "remote work" refers to telework, i.e. work using information and communication technologies such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, which takes place outside a physical workplace at an employer. 

This form of work has increased significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes that the pandemic brought about in terms of the organisation and performance of work are now shaping large parts of the world of work. In the meantime, teleworking or rather - hybrid working - has become the standard wherever possible and is widely welcomed by both employers and employees.

The fundamental change - according to the study, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) speaks of a "multi-location approach" - naturally raises various questions:

  • How and where is the work carried out and what are the legal consequences?
  • How does the "multi-location approach" influence working life?
  • What is the ecological and social impact of this form of work?

Decoupling from the "workplace"

Increasing remote work means that the traditional model of the employment relationship must and will be questioned. The discussion that is taking place in the European Union (EU) about platform work is primarily about how to deal with this change in traditional working relationships. In the trialogue on the proposed directive to improve the working conditions of platform workers, the so-called Platform Working - The Trialogue Begins / Deutsche Sozialversicherung Europavertretung ( that are to be relevant for this are especially in dispute between the Member States. The question of "subordination" or better the authority to issue instructions as a traditional criterion is also examined more closely in the study.

The study also looks at the issue of cost-based outsourcing in relation to labour markets in the US, UK and India and shows that outsourcing regularly makes working conditions worse for workers. In legal terms, too, much remains open or unregulated.

Legal issues

The legal framework for remote work is a very fundamental issue, as it is not only about the actual working conditions (i.e. where, how, how often and with what one works), but also, for example, about the consequences for the coordination of applicable legislation when employer and employee are based in different countries.

In the EU, since 1 July 2023, the possibility of an exemption agreement according to Art. 16 Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004 is offered so that appropriate social security allocations can be made in the relevant individual cases when employees live in a country other than the country of their employer's registered office and work there from home. 

Ecological and social aspects

The study also explores the question of whether remote working makes a meaningful contribution to ecological change and clarifies that less commuting and office use do not necessarily mean energy savings.

From a social point of view, the study is critical of the fact that remote work divides the workforce, as not all jobs or professions are suitable for it and it is more likely that higher qualified people have this option and can use it. The role of trade unions is also discussed, as their field of action has changed considerably as a result of remote work. They are confronted with new demands regarding the protection of their members. Moreover, they face problems in reaching those workers who do remote work from different locations as so-called "digital nomads".