Over the last several months, the debate between remote work and a return to the office has heated up. Elon Musk recently gave Tesla employees an ultimatum to either spend 40 hours in the office or start looking elsewhere. Despite this, nearly 90% of workers prefer the flexibility of working from home. In fact, other countries are considering legislation that protects the right to work remotely. Specifically, one of the Netherlands bicameral houses just passed a bill that requires employers to consider such employee requests. And if approved by the Senate, this will be among the first remote work laws in the world.
The Netherlands will not be the first country to consider remote work laws. In September of 2020, Spain passed legislation that protected the rights to work remotely among workers. Portugal similarly has pursued contact restrictions between employers and their remote employees through legislation. However, the recent developments in the Netherlands highlight an evolving difference of opinion between some companies and their employees. As the effects of the pandemic slowly fade, the issue has become increasingly polarized.
“We have the green light for this new law thanks to the support we received from both employees and employers’ unions.” – Steven van Weyenberg, Member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands
The Netherlands – Ahead of the Curve
While remote work laws might seem extreme to some, the Netherlands have been encouraging working from home for a while. Even before the pandemic, the country’s population was moving in this direction. In 2018, nearly 15% of working individuals enjoyed remote work. In 2019, the Netherlands was also rated as one of the best countries in the world for those working from home. This was not only based on population percentages but also on the quality of Internet infrastructures and costs of living. Thus, it’s not too surprising that the country is among the first to consider remote work laws.
Even before the current legislative proposal, the Netherlands has also passed supportive remote work laws. In 2022, the legislature passed a law that awarded businesses money to support employees working from home. The reimbursement program compensated employers who paid their workers for home office equipment and setups. The current bill protecting the right to work remotely is therefore not as big of a step as might be imagined. Such laws might seem unfathomable in the U.S. or U.K., but definitely not among the Dutch.
“In order to remain competitive and improve employee happiness, three-quarters of [Dutch] employers say they’ve updated their flexible working policies—including more options to work remotely.” – Marcel Molenaar, Country Manager Benelux LinkedIn
Start of a Global Trend?
There’s little question that many people now work from home. The pandemic forced changes that initially seemed unreasonable. But quickly, the advantages of remote work became apparent, and employees grew used to the increased flexibilities. Digital nomads emerged. The lack of a commute, freedoms in scheduling, and better work-life balance made it difficult to return to the office. Most workers now either enjoy the right to work remotely or have arranged some type of hybrid work model. But despite these developments, it’s not likely remote work laws will soon become common. In recent months, many employers are pushing back.
In some countries, a completely different approach is being pursued. In the U.K., there are no legal protections for the right to work remotely. In fact, employers can legally mandate a return in some instances. In the U.S., employers can demand workers to come back to the office or face termination. For individuals who have few other employment options, they have little bargaining power. Interestingly, however, talent supply for many jobs is down in the U.S., which gives workers greater power in negotiating. Though it’s unlikely remote work laws will appear before Congress soon, the push for remote work is still gaining momentum.
Taking an Objective Approach
For some companies, it makes sense that workers return to the office. Certain businesses require such environments of in-person contact to thrive. But the majority do not, and it’s worthwhile for all employers to examine remote work in a more objective manner. For example, requiring workers to be in the office limits your geographic options for recruiting talent. This is even true for hybrid work models where employees come into the office a few days a week. In contrast, remote work opens up talent recruitment opportunities substantially given the remote work migration. In addition, reducing office footprints saves a tremendous amount of money that can be used to reinvest in the business.
Whether employees have the right to work remotely or not depends on many factors. The biggest ones pertain to the type of business and activities being performed. In proposing their right to work laws, the Netherlands acknowledges this. But for companies in other countries, it’s essential to step back and examine the pros and cons of remote work. Not only may working from home improve employee relations, but it might help the company’s bottom line as well. This is why both employers and employees support the remote work laws in the Netherlands. And it’s why they have been moving in this direction well before the pandemic.