Coronavirus leads four out of ten white-collar workers to start teleworking for the first time

22 May 2020

Just under six out of ten (57%) white-collar workers working during the lockdown period are doing so from home. Four out of ten (41.6%) had never done this prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. This has become apparent from the first results of a survey conducted by Cass Business School (London), IESE Business School (Barcelona) and HR service provider SD Worx. The survey was conducted in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom, and focused on salaried white-collar workers.

With a high average percentage of the active workforce working from home, virtually all participating countries scored above the average of 57%. The UK came in first (65%), followed by Belgium (62%), Spain (60%) and France (59%). The Netherlands (55%) and Germany (40%), in particular, have fewer teleworkers. In Germany, around 60% of white-collar workers continued to go to their employer's offices as before. The differences can be explained in part by the different work culture, the range of industries (more or less industry or services, for example), the varying impact of the crisis from country to country and, of course, the diverging preventive measures taken by local governments.

Work-from-home-chart

Lockdown mobilises companies to switch to teleworking

The coronavirus outbreak and lockdown have created exceptional working conditions, and companies are being forced to take a different approach. Teleworking is an entirely new proposition for more than four out of ten active white-collar workers. Of the knowledge workers still fulfilling their duties, 12% occasionally worked from home before the crisis and are now doing so full time. Before the lockdown, 4% were working from home on a daily basis. The lockdown therefore mobilised many companies and their employees to switch to teleworking.

"The COVID-19 crisis has revolutionised teleworking, and at many companies the transition has been smoother than expected. Even in the more traditional industries and careers", says Annelore Huyghe, professor at Cass Business School. "It is therefore likely that teleworking will become more widely established and that the increased flexibility and virtualisation will become the norm. We will not only see more people working from home, but we may also see office locations disappear, more and more online meetings and probably fewer business trips. Even so, this number will differ from country to country."

Two out of three white-collar workers work just as much at home as they do in the office

If we look at how teleworking affects time spent working, it appears nothing has changed for the vast majority. In total, 66% of white-collar workers spend just as much time on their work each day as they did before. One tenth (11%) state that they work more than usual, with an average increase of almost one-and-a-half hours per day (1 hour and 36 minutes). One in five respondents (23%) work less than before the lockdown, combining for an average of nearly three hours (2 hours and 54 minutes) less per day. The most extreme discrepancies can be found in the Netherlands, where nearly a quarter (24%) work an average of three hours and eighteen minutes less each day and in Spain, where 14% say they work almost two hours more every day (1 hour and 54 minutes).

There is no clear explanation for these fluctuations. The fact that there is currently less work may play a role: people who still work at the company or the office also spend an average of 18 minutes less per day on their jobs. Getting used the new circumstances that accompany teleworking may have something to do with it. White-collar workers who had never done any teleworking before now work up to 42 minutes less every day. For those who had done some teleworking before, this stands at 30 minutes less per day. "It is important to keep in mind that the current, widespread teleworking is different", notes Professor Jeroen Neckebrouck from IESE Business School. "It is not a voluntary choice to do this for one or a few days a week, but a suddenly imposed and long-term situation."

Katleen Jacobs, Managing Consultant at SD Worx: "Companies were forced to switch gears quickly due to coronavirus. Home working was the norm everywhere, and initially the logistical aspect was the primary focus. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that regular home working involves a number of rules. Legally, on the one hand: does something need to be put down on paper, are employees free to choose when they work, should compensation be paid? On the other hand, attention must also be paid to employees' mental health: employers should give managers tips, ensure involvement, and so on. Clear arrangements and good communication ensure that teleworking can take place without any problems and in an atmosphere of mutual trust."