The ‘new normal’: is this it? FAQs 11.10.2021

*This FAQs is superseded by 28.10.2021 version*

We had the second of a proposed two social dialogue meetings on the implementation of working time and hybrid working yesterday (Monday 11.10.2021). HR agreed to a third meeting: there are many questions still outstanding on how this ‘new normal’ would work in practice and we continue to question whether there really will be tangible benefits for staff. As with the premature push on Phase 3 of the Tentative plan for gradual return to the office, we believe that no action should be taken before the worries and issues voiced by staff are addressed. Similarly, we’re still interested in how you’re balancing work and everything else, please participate in our workload/burnout survey.

So, what working time and hybrid working issues did we raise?

Largely the issues you yourselves raise in the MyIntracomm discussion below Towards more attractive and flexible working conditions: Staff working arrangements: major changes in the pipeline, the questions you sent us and the doubts we listed in our original article.

We did get some mixed feedback from staff in one of the first places to change to this type of set-up: some staff were positive about it and some others not so much. The biggest issue there was that there had been almost no consultation or dialogue and there is a similar complaint from those who will move to the new Publications Office and the JMO2.

Disconnection bandwidth’ (19.00 to 8.00)

  1. Does the current core time not effectively have a disconnection time i.e. 20.30-07.00?

It does, correct, but it is not explicitly stated that this is a time to avoid contacting colleagues. Many of us were expected to be forever reachable during lockdown, requiring a formal statement on a right to disconnect. This change is ‘introduced to serve as a protection for staff against digital work-overload and of their right to disconnect.’ (cover note, 23.06.2021)

  1. How will we know whether this change really does ‘serve as a protection for staff against digital work-overload and of their right to disconnect.’ (cover note, 23.06.2021)

The proposal is to review the whole working time and hybrid working system after 18 months. All OSPs agreed that 12 months should be long enough to see what works and what doesn’t. We requested that HR change this to 12 months.

HR have insisted on this remaining 18 months, if we want to challenge that we will have to address the commissioner.

Also, what happens when our private mobile phone rings and it’s probably work, do we let it ring? Do we answer and state ‘you are calling during the disconnection bandwidth’? Do we switch off our phones so that no one, even friends and family can contact us’? What if it really is an emergency (and what is the definition of emergency? A lost file?)?

  1. Does that make 08.00 to 19.00 effectively a ‘connection bandwidth’?

It could be read that way, yes, and all OSPs together insisted that the most-up-to-date version of the text state that under no circumstances are staff expected to be available throughout this time.

  1. Does that mean that I have to start work at 08.00 or that I have to finish at 19.00?

No, you can still work outside those times, just that you cannot contact others without prior agreement. It is still being clarified whether this must be explicitly agreed with the line manager e.g. lots of people find that a 07.00 start suits them, in fact Ms Ingestad stated that she starts at this time and will continue to do so.

  1. Does it mean that hours worked outside this ‘connection bandwidth do not count?’

No, the hours still count, please declare them!

Abolition of core time

  1. So I can work whenever I like?

No, it is still expected that you work 8 hours (on average) and that you have a morning and afternoon period.

  1. Why still split the day into a morning and afternoon period?

HR stated that it was necessary to specify what half a day is e.g. for those taking annual leave or working part time.

  1. What if I want to work a half day but do a bit in the morning and a bit in the afternoon e.g. 10.00-14.00, can I do that?

We didn’t get a clear answer on this one: let’s see what the updated text includes. We will keep you posted.

  1. So, there is still largely core time?

Very similar, yes, you can opt in to a common framework (question 10) if that suits you better.

  1. Can I just work core time as always?

Yes, you can also choose to opt in to a common framework which is very similar to Brussels core time, if  you like. It is not clear though whether you can then opt out again if it doesn’t work as expected or what happens if you opt in and your line manager (for example) would  prefer that you didn’t.

  1. Brussels core time? What about Luxembourg core time? We have derogation! Will they have to be re-requested?

We didn’t get a clear answer on this one: let’s see what the updated text includes. We will keep you posted.

  1. So, if I work any 4 hours I can count it as a day worked?

We’re not sure: we’ve asked this question several times and still not got a clear answer. If you opt in to the common framework (question 10:  core-time equivalent) then you have a clear minimum of hours (and a fixed time to work them) to count that day as worked, but for those who stick with the default system there is no minimum mentioned.  The working time and hybrid working text states that you can work shorter days to offset additional hours accumulated, without saying how short those days can be.

  1. Or I could just take more flexitime days to use up extra hours accumulated, right?

No, those rules remain unchanged: there’s a 2-day limit for most of us.

  1. So how many additional hours can I accumulate?

It’s proposed that there be no limit (flexitime limit is currently 20 hours credit and 16 hours debit). This is a mixed bag, let us know what you think.

Good: if you have worked an additional 22 hours in a month you can declare them, you don’t lose 2 hours as you might do with the current system.

But: DG SANTE raised the flexitime credit limit during the pandemic. Since the recuperation was still 2 days per month and subject to the needs of the service it had the effect of kicking the issue of too much work and too few people down the line: people accumulated hours they could not then get back. Where colleagues then moved DG, the new DG was sometimes reluctant to honour what they perceived to be a time debt run up by another DG.  Unfortunately this is not the first time hours worked have been lost: a DG HR report on flexible working time statistical data from November 2018 states that almost two million (2 000 000) hours were not recuperated by staff in 2017. (Ref. Ares(2018)5657367 – 06/11/2018)

Presence in the office-telework

  1. Any change on the ideal of ‘40% presence at the office and 20% telework’?

No, no change there. It still appears to be calculated on a weekly basis (structural telework was calculated on a 2-week cycle allowing for e.g. 2 days one week and 3 days the next week). For many people a week in the office and a week at home would be easier to manage.

Also, HR mentioned (but it is not written) that they are debating whether teleworking both Friday and Monday should not be allowed. This is part of a bigger debate on who chooses the days to be at the office (and the potential repercussions of this decision e.g. on  visibility and subsequent promotion/reclassification potential):

‘… allowing employees to choose their WFH [work from home] schedules could contribute to a diversity crisis. Single young men could all choose to come into the office five days a week and rocket up the firm, while employees with young children, particularly women, who choose to WFH for several days each week are held back. This would be both a diversity loss and a legal time bomb for companies.’ (Don’t Let Employees Pick Their WFH Days)

  1. I want to be 100% at the office!

This is always possible and many colleagues are already doing it. Get in touch with your line manager.

  1. I want to be 100% at home!

Not possible so far, unless you have specific exceptional circumstances and even then only short-term (e.g. 1 month).

  1. How about teleworking from abroad more generally (outside the 10 days)?

The working time and hybrid working text states that you must be within a reasonable distance of your place of employment.

We have proposed several times that the days available for telework from outside the place of employment be increased to 60 and that the necessity to link them to annual leave-parental leave or time credit leave be removed.

We also asked (again) to allow the 10 days to be added to the end-of-year days, but it is still undecided (footnote 2).

  1. I don’t want to work in an open plan/hot-desking office!

Unfortunately that is out of scope for the working time and hybrid working text, but we are fully aware of how this makes going back less attractive and have raised and will continue to raise this issue.

  1. Can I just do structural and occasional teleworking as before?

No, this new working time and hybrid working system replaces those options.

  1. And what about my additional cost for working from home??

Unfortunately there is no mention of this, but there is a mention of insurance (i.e. that you are covered for accident and occupational disease, but that you might need private insurance to telework depending on your country of residence).

We feel it is unfair that staff (especially for those earning less and particularly those in Luxembourg) pay additional costs during enforced teleworking. We have raised and will continue to raise this issue.

HR has stated several times that nothing is agreed until it is all agreed. If you want to be part of the change and contribute to shape our common future please engage with us and  follow us on Facebook and Twitter to be always updated on the latest news and upcoming events.

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