Labour law practice Littler’s fourth annual survey of European employer shows that return-to-office plans are on course, despite COVID-19 outbreaks caused by the delta variant.
However, the results indicate that tensions may flare if there is a disconnect between employee plans and employees’ preferences for balancing remote and in-person work.
And employers may embrace greater scrutiny of remote work productivity, the survey indicates.
The survey found that nearly 60% of employers either ‘using’ (17%), ‘planning to use’ (23%), or ‘potentially interested in using’ (19%) software tools that track or monitor remote employees’ productivity.
Respondents also expressed hesitancy about implementing these technologies, with the top concerns focused on the impact on employee morale and trust in the company (42%), and employees’ fundamental rights beyond compliance obligations (39%).
Tight labour market
Concerns for employees’ well-being and a desire to attract and retain workers in a tight labour market were also factors, with 26% also directly citing employee mental health and wellness.
Legal issues represent another key area of contention, be it around obtaining employee consent (36%) or compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation and other data-privacy requirements (34%).
Only 28% of respondents believe the work models their organisations are offering align with the preferences of employees who can work remotely.
A full 52% of employer respondents said in late September that they were proceeding with their return-to-office dates.
While 36% had delayed in some fashion, only half of that subset said delays would stretch into 2022.
Littler has said that these decisions are likely driven by a range of factors, including the prevalence of Government guidance around keeping the workplace safe, and that, as of late August, the fact that 70% of adults in the EU been fully vaccinated.
Back to the workplace
“Broadly speaking, European employers have been eager to bring their employees back into the workplace – in part due to safety policies implemented and enforced by EU governments,” said Laura Jousselin (Littler partner in France).
“Though these policies can help usher along return-to-office plans, amid the wide-ranging novel and complex issues this pandemic continues to bring, employers also remain nimble and focused on adjusting their plans as the situation evolves.”
A higher percentage of employers based in France and Italy – 65% and 62% respectively – are proceeding with return-to-office plans, while far fewer are doing so in Germany (28%).
Most employers (52%) believe employees want hybrid or remote work to a greater extent than they expect to offer it – and that figure is even higher for respondents in Britain, Germany and Spain.
But European employers recognise the role that remote or hybrid work plays in supporting employees, citing the potential for improving job satisfaction (57%) and employee well-being and work/life balance (54%) as the top benefits.
Enabling greater productivity (34%), reducing physical office costs (31%), and reducing other company costs (20 %) ranked lower.
“Over the past year, employers have largely begun to see hybrid working models less as an opportunity to improve efficiency or cut costs, and more as a way to attract new employees and keep their existing ones happy,” said Jan-Ove Becker (Littler shareholder in Germany).
“That’s a real and positive shift. Moving forward, however, it will be crucial to strike the right balance between employee wellbeing and the myriad logistical, legal and cultural challenges these new models can pose.”
Legal and logistical concerns
Some 67% of employers surveyed are at least somewhat concerned about the legal and logistical challenges that could come with a workforce split between in-person and remote work.
Employers face challenges such as scheduling obstacles, measuring remote work performance and ensuring that remote employees feel included.
At the same time, the pandemic appears to have stalled artificial intelligence or data-analytics solutions that would improve workforce management.
In every area covered in the survey – including HR strategy and employee management, workforce automation, and recruiting and hiring – adoption remained relatively stagnant.