Covid-19 & Teleworking – Tale of two cities

Covid-19 & Teleworking – Tale of two cities

The impact of teleworking and digital work on workers and society.


1 June 2021

The impact of teleworking and digital work on workers and society.

TIHR and IRS report published by the European Parliament.

Between December 2020 and April 2021, The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR), together with IRS Italy, conducted an EU-wide study on the impact of digital work and teleworking on workers and society, on behalf of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL).

The aim of the study, which had a special focus on the surveillance and monitoring, as well as the mental health and well-being of workers, was to provide EMPL Committee with an analysis of the trend towards increasingly digitalised and remote (teleworking) workplaces, especially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the study looked at the impact of such working arrangements on workers and society, identified the associated challenges in terms of policy-making, and seeks to inform possible policy action at EU level, including a draft Directive in the right to disconnect.

To this end, the study took stock of the current situation, looking at the data and literature available on teleworking and ICT-based mobile working (TICTM), both pre-pandemic and since; highlighted the various ways in which this affects workers and society as a whole; provided an overview of the main legislative and policy measures adopted at EU and national levels; and identified possible policy actions at EU level.

As the study found, for workers, telework may mean greater time and place flexibility, enhanced job autonomy, improved work-life balance and reduced commuting time. Telework may also improve employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, older workers, women with care responsibilities and people living in rural areas. However, the higher flexibility and autonomy associated with telework often results in greater work intensity and longer working hours, with adverse effects on workers’ work-life balance. Long working hours and the sense of isolation associated with teleworking, together with the increased use of online monitoring and surveillance methods, may also negatively affect the mental health of teleworkers, besides raising privacy concerns. At the same time, lack of space and ergonomically sound equipment may increase the physical health risks for teleworkers.

At societal level, some potential positive effects of teleworking are lower carbon emissions and more balanced spatial development. However, the energy-saving impact is modest, given possible rebound effects. In addition, teleworking may lead to more significant fragmentation of the workforce, individualisation of the employment relationship and the shifting onto workers of the costs of working from home. It may also result in the emergence of a new labour market and social inequalities between those who can telework and those who cannot because they work in ‘non–teleworkable’ sectors/occupations, or because they lack digital skills or equipment, or have no or limited access to broadband.

The study is based on an extensive literature review, a web survey, interviews with representatives of European and national stakeholders, and five case studies of EU countries: Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Romania.

The Tavistock Institute was responsible for the literature review, the case studies on Finland, Germany and Ireland, and co-authoring the Synthesis Report, published by the European Parliament on 30 April 2021.

You can access the study here.

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