The ‘new normal’: is this it? FAQs 28.10.2021

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*This FAQ replaces the 11.10.2021 version*

28.10.2021 we had one more social dialogue meeting on the latest working time and hybrid working rules. HR stated that this is the last meeting on this topic. As before, 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. 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?)?

HR appreciates the difficulties but says we can find our own way to address these issues. Let us know how well you see this working.

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

Version 4 of the text states explicitely 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. This must be 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!

‘available for interaction with other colleagues’ bandwith (change from ‘core time’)

  1. So I can work whenever I like?

Version 4 of the HR document reinstates a version of core hours (Version 2 of the text removed it). ‘Within this bandwidth, staff should be available for interaction with other colleagues between 9:30–12:00 and 15:00–16:30.

  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: and it does seem to be possible in Version 4. Let’s see what the updated text includes. We will keep you posted.

  1. So, there is still largely core time?

Very similar, yes, (see question 6) Version 4 of the HR text reinstates a version of core hours and it is the default system, therefore for something different you would have to opt out.

  1. Can I just work core time as always?

Yes, Version 4 of the HR text calls it something different, but it is essentially core time (see question 6)

  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: but HR promised to address this. 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?

Version 4 of the HR document reinstates a version of core hours and it is the default system (see question 6) so the minimum would be 2.5 hours x 2 =5hours instead of 4 under the previous core hours.

  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’? [1]

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)

Version 4 states that HR will monitor who is using telework by gender. HR were asked to clarify the thinking behind the Friday/Monday limitation and were asked how often it would be permitted. They did not respond, we await the final version of the text.

  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).

Version 4 makes no change to this, if we want to take it further then we must go to the commissioner. It was confirmed that the 10 days can be added to parental and time-credit leave. It was also confirmed that teleworking outside the place of work e.g. to cover the days between a pre-operative evaluation and the surgery itself would be permitted as special circumstances under the general idea of ‘being immobile’.

  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??

HR did mention the possibility of this being addressed in the next version [2]. 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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[1] Update 23.11.2021: The rules in Belgium have changed.

[2] Article 12(2) of version (10/11/2021) ‘If appropriate, DG HR may adopt a decision providing for a lump sum covering certain costs of teleworkers, subject to budgetary availability.’

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