Teleworking from abroad: YES, WE CAN!

Who said teleworking from outside the place of employment (TWA) [1] cannot be reconciled with the interest of the service and our duty to serve the public?

Generation 2004, the most progressive and modern staff association, is always listening to the needs of staff and negotiating the most advanced proposals for a state-of-the-art and human EU civil service with the administration.

While still waiting for a long-overdue negotiation on teleworking, we sent DG Human Resources and Security (DG HR) our proposal regarding the important chapter on TWA [2].

The Generation 2004 proposal on teleworking from abroad is based on an in-depth analysis of the different scenarios and takes into consideration the ways in which our working habits have evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic, the interest of the service and our survey on teleworking from abroad, together with the input of many colleagues who contacted us. Additionally, we built upon the contact we established during the last year with the Work from Anywhere Advocacy Group. Generation 2004 welcomes this grassroots initiative and its important contribution to the discussion on teleworking from abroad and the process of anticipating the future developments of our administration.

Our proposal includes three complementary and well-defined schemes to frame teleworking from abroad that neither compromise the independence and impartiality of the European institutions nor the rights their staff enjoy. It takes also into account the comprehensive policies already implemented by other EU institutions and bodies.

  1. Telework where there is force majeure

Teleworking can be systematically used as a crisis-management tool in cases of force majeure, including the current COVID-19 pandemic and other public health crises, natural disasters, war and other emergencies. Under these circumstances, staff would be allowed to carry out their duties also from abroad if the nature of their jobs allow it, as the current teleworking guidelines allow.

Teleworking from abroad has proven to be very effective and there should be a specific provision addressing future force majeure situations.

Generation 2004 finds it important that this measure is used liberally: without too restrictive conditions in order to avoid discriminating between staff based on marital status, parenthood or any other requirements that would entail the sharing of confidential information concerning one’s own or a family member’s medical conditions with line managers.

  1. Telework from abroad for a limited number of days (maximum 60 days per year)

Generation 2004 had already proposed to have to up 60 days per year [3] (the equivalent of occasional teleworking) of teleworking from abroad/outside the place of employment (TWA) in a note to Ms Ingestad, Director-General of DG Human Resources, on 26 November 2020, in the context of the new HR strategy.

Teleworking from abroad (…) should be extended by allowing staff to use the 60 days allocated for occasional teleworking also from another Member State, potentially in batches of a limited number of days per month. Given this limitation, this possibility should not impact allowances (e.g. expatriation/foreign residence/annual travel).”

Other institutions are already allowing their staff to enjoy this flexibility, such as the Council and the Court of Auditors (CoA); the latter, in particular, allows staff to use the days allocated for occasional teleworking also from abroad.

In this case, the authorisation process to telework from abroad would not require staff to provide any specific motivation or reasoning, in line with the current occasional teleworking arrangements. It could be refused only for justified interests of the service. [4]

  1. Telework from abroad for ad hoc needs

Telework from abroad could be authorised by the line manager for a specific period of time subject to certain conditions.

More specifically, a given number of months over a defined period – one year or longer – could be made available for teleworking from abroad for specific family needs, health issues, training, etc. Telework from abroad could also be authorised upon request before retirement for a predefined limited period, e.g. the duration of the pre-retirement part-time arrangement. This would help staff transition from active work to retirement and better integrate to their chosen place of retirement.

This scheme provides much-needed flexibility and a more human approach to work-life balance without jeopardising the EU public administration and the interest of the service. Some measures could be set out to mitigate possible risks for the Commission services:

  1. teleworking from abroad should be compatible with the type of work the person does and with the interest of the service.
  2. a requirement to come to the place of assignment for at least 1 week every 3 months for meetings with hierarchy and colleagues, training etc.
  3. the possibility to revoke the authorisation to telework from abroad if the worker does not fulfil the stated obligations. This would require setting out specific conditions for recalling staff to the place of assignment and legal remedies in case of abuse, including a right of appeal against the decision to be recalled.
  4. specific rules should be set out to cover cases where someone would be unable to work due to technical issues (e.g. laptop failure). One possible quick fix could be to refer to the Representation in that Member State, whenever possible.

This proposal aims to promote a better work-life balance, create a healthier working environment and reduce psychosocial risks (see European agency on Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA). In doing this, it takes into account the nature of the European public administration, whose staff overwhelmingly consists of people living outside their country of origin and who have family ties in countries other than the country of residence. In supporting a progressive approach to teleworking from abroad, the Generation 2004 proposal takes into account also the interest of the service, as by increasing the range of options available staff can choose to telework instead of taking leave on personal grounds (CCP) [le congé de convenance personnelle] or other kinds of leave to tackle personal or family needs, thus increasing staff availability and ensuring maximum business continuity. This would in turn offer more flexibility to hierarchy in terms of managing staff and reducing the burden that leave places on other colleagues. This progressive and balanced approach would thus result in a win-win situation for the staff, the administration and the people we serve.

As ever, please contact us if you have any questions or comments.

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[1] Update 08.07.2021: New SYSPER feature to request teleworking outside the place of employment

[2] Our comprehensive proposal for the new HR strategy, including also teleworking in general, was already sent to DG HR on 26 November 2020.

[3] Update 02.09.2021: TAO-AFI petition launched, proposing 60+5 days of telework from anywhere. They propose a limit of 5 teleworking days per month and the option to combine the 5 extra teleworking days with annual leave. There is no mention of parental leave/time credit leave or end-of year days (see [5], below). Our proposal has no monthly limit, see [2].

[4] Among the issues we raised based on your feedback at the DG HR  information meeting (11 June 2021) was the issue of the 10 days of teleworking from abroad available this year, we reiterated our request to make it possible to join them with any kind of leave (especially parental leave) [5] and not just annual leave as set out in the current rules. DG HR replied once again that no such changes are planned as the total amount of accumulated annual leave is quite high. However, we remain convinced that this is not the case for everybody, and that there is no reason to apply such restrictive rules. Last year this type of telework was allowed to be combined with the end of the year period (Coronavirus: communication to staff – update 24.), setting a precedent.
We also see potential issues with people having some of the 10 days remaining at the end of the year and requesting to use them next year.
As ever, the situation is changeable.

Update 03.09.2021 we again raised this issue with HR in today’s social dialogue meeting and HR stated that they don’t yet have a position on whether it will be possible to combine the 10 days of teleworking from anywhere with the end-of-year days. They state that yes, 2020 set a precedent for this, but that those were exceptional circumstances. We will keep you posted on any uptates.

[5] Update 22.06.2021 from Central Staff Committee
‘Following the recent publication of the revised guidelines on Teleworking (and namely on Telework from abroad) taking effect from 9 June, we would like to share with you some precisions that we have received from the corporate services in order to ensure harmonised approach across the DGs as well as an update of the template to be completed by your managers. Please, disregard this message if you have received this info already directly.

As you have been informed, since 9 June telework from abroad (TWA) is possible if combined with the 5 days of annual leave or credit time. This means in practice the following:
• TWA and annual leave or time credit (min. 5 days) can be mixed and also split in half days.
• In case of Part time work, the minimum number of annual leaves /time credit needed is reduced proportionally, i.e. in case of a 80% part time, minimum of 32 hours (4 days) of AL/TC are needed,
in case of 60% it is 24 hours (3 days), etc.
TWA can also be combined with parental leave as long as there are also min 5 days of annual leave/credit time taken in total around the period. The possibility includes 1/2 annual leave + 1/2 parental leave.
• As a reminder, the TWA should be agreed “in the interest of the service” as it is not a right. And in principal no report of more than 12 days of annual leave should be allowed at the end of the year for staff benefitting from TWA.

We have been informed that the module in Sysper to be able to register those days should be available by the end of the month , but we do not have more information on it.’ [Bold is not present in original]

1 thought on “Teleworking from abroad: YES, WE CAN!

  1. You write that you take “into account the comprehensive policies already implemented by other EU institutions and bodies”. Are you aware of the plans of the European Patent Office to allow full remote work? And did you look into the policies already implemented by Member States ? (For instance Belgium, where the Commission has its seat, allows its own federal officials to do 12 days per month (i.e. 144 days per year) of telework from abroad – and in this case abroad means outside its own jurisdiction, whereas for the Commission allowing telework from the Member States is not really “abroad”.) The OECD also already now allows its officials to telework 80 days from abroad. And why should that not be possible, given that HR confirms in its current report on Human Resources in 2020: “The COVID-19 situation has proved that remote working can be done efficiently while also having in general a positive impact on productivity, motivation and work-life balance.” (And indeed, we all have shown over the last 15 months what is possible and compatible with the interest of the service.) Having said that, personally, I certainly welcome this proposal as a first step into the right direction. Not least because the more colleagues voluntarily telework (from abroad), the less the pressure on the office space that the new building policy is reducing, and the easier it will be for HR to avoid forcing everybody into hot-desking to achieve the envisaged savings in real estate costs. So, ultimately, more telework from abroad also helps those colleagues who prefer to work more of their time from a traditional office…

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