Should there be a right to work from home?

A German politician has suggested the introduction of legislation that gives workers a right to work from home, if they can do so.

woman working at home


Yesterday it was reported that the German labour minister Hubertus Heil had said that workers should have the right to work from home. He told Bild am Sonntag that he plans to present a bill later this year in an attempt to legislate for that right. “Anyone who wants to, and whose workplace allows it, should be able to work at home – even when the coronavirus pandemic is over,” he said, noting that any new law would focus on increasing the possibility to work from home but not force employers into doing so.

Employers, however, have said the move is behind the times as they already offer work from home where it is possible.
Nevertheless, we know that pre-pandemic many more workers wanted to work from home than were able to. The pandemic has shown that working from home is more possible than some employers might think. has had some emails from people whose employers have insisted they come in, even during lockdown, when the employee thinks their job can be easily done remotely. The employers, however, claim the jobs cannot be done from home. Undoubtedly there are jobs that cannot be done from home, but with the right tools and processes in place many, many more can be. What is often lacking is the will to do things differently.

Relaxing lockdown

In the months ahead there will be a huge number of challenges for employers and employees. Even if offices are re-opened, for instance, will people want to travel to them if they feel they are putting themselves at risk on public transport? What if they have underlying health issues, are older workers or have children or other loved ones who have underlying health issues? What if they suffer from anxiety-related illnesses and coming in to work would exacerbate these? How do you create a system which is fair but takes into account individuals’ personal circumstances? This issue of flexibility about flexible working, about personal needs versus having a consistent approach that is fair, comes up time and again in our roundtables.

Enabling a mix of home and office working seems a no-brainer, but does there need to be legislation to enshrine a right to work remotely over and above existing [but weak] flexible working legislation? The evolution of offices into meeting places rather than everyday workplaces seems likely to continue, as does the development of local remote working or co-working hubs.

For some remote working in lockdown will have been a challenging process – even without the homeschooling and childcare issues on top. Some people need other people to bounce ideas off. Others are very self contained and can manage better without interruptions. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.

What is most important is the ability and will to review processes regularly, linking them to basic principles. What is it we are trying to achieve? How do we get there? How do we motivate everyone to be on the same page? How do we encourage innovation and stay ahead of whatever comes next? What skills do we need and how do we attract people with them or train for them? Once you interrogate these issues, everything else fits into place better.

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