Remote work should not be a way to abuse employee’s rights

As we celebrate Freedom Day this month, we are reminded that the fight to end Apartheid was all about creating equal rights for every citizen of this country. My thoughts turned to rights and how subtly we can be deprived of them and when coming across another excellent Skift insight into how European politicians are debating the negative side of remote work, I realised that the right to simply switch off and take one’s proper rest is commonly abused.

This has been greatly exacerbated of course, in the past 2 years, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lock-downs that have forced so many of us to begin work remotely. Bosses began, in many cases, to at least take advantage of their staff being available for communication and at worst to expect them to put in some extended hours. Some felt that if staff were taking less time to get to work that this time could be filled with additional remote work and although that is a reasonable request, many expectations have been far beyond the norm of being reasonable.

Client expectations have grown too

Of course, this is an issue that extends beyond the inside workings of businesses to clients that now also expect service providers to be almost permanently available to help them even if they are doing so way out of what are considered to be “normal working hours”. In the travel industry, this is nothing new. We have always had to provide overtime staff to deal with after-hour services because of differing time zones and unexpected mishaps but we have always considered these requests to be “emergency services”. It’s clear though that this is now often abused due to extended remote work expectations.

Europe makes a stand

What is encouraging to see is that the European parliament are taking a definite stand against unnecessary remote work according to the Skift article as they see it as having a very negative side with “psychological and social risks, gender inequality, and falling salaries. The hunt for the middle ground has begun”. One prominent European politician added that “muscle strain, as well as cognitive and emotional overload, are also part of excess remote work. It has a negative impact on fundamental rights and working conditions, including remuneration and safety at work.”

The feeling amongst the European parliament, particularly Portugal which has already adopted the “right to switch off” policy, is that it is up to employers not to contact employees after hours unless in the case of an extreme emergency, but laws that set this in stone are still being debated and yet to be executed. The feeling is that those working remotely need to be afforded a “work/life balance”. Even Zoom, a platform that has gained massively from the huge shift to remote work are not ignoring this and a Zoom spokesman says it has created tools to ensure that parameters and notifications are automatically shut off, taking a positive step towards empowering employees to be in control of their accessibility.

Are common workspaces the answer?

Apparently, 63% of the top 100 Fortune companies are now working towards a hybrid working scenario combining virtual and office work – and a significant trend towards communal workspaces, where common areas in buildings are occupied by individuals all over the globe, is developing. I too believe that both in-person and online workplaces, services and meetings will go a long way to combining the advantages of the technology that we enjoy and the need to work and meet with people face to face.

We are indeed fortunate that we have our freedom now to enjoy equal rights in every sphere of our lives and we should diligently protect these rights We are also fortunate to have access to the technology that enabled most of us to continue to work through the pandemic and in the travel industry, in particular, the technology that keeps us connected with the rest of the world and able to operate so efficiently. Let’s just ensure that we all respect the parameters of the benefits of this technology and never use it to rob us of one of our most basic human rights – the right to switch off and relax!LIDIA FOLLI



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