Why Other Countries Aren't as Bullish on Remote Work
Remote work is growing in popularity in the US, but the data paints a different story in some other countries.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of roles advertised with the term "remote work" has tripled around the world, from 2.5% to 7.5%. Countries like the US, UK, Ireland and Spain lead the way with the most remote jobs.
Yet, there are many countries where remote opportunities have flatlined and even decreased, as more and more companies call employees back into the office.
Despite all the research highlighting the benefits of remote, or at least flexible, work for all parties, why isn't this new work model as popular everywhere? Why are certain locales abandoning remote working altogether?
Tradition and Culture
Certain countries are steeped in tradition and culture, making it more difficult to break from a "the way things have always been done before" mindset. France, for instance, is one place that has remained reluctant to embrace the new trend of remote working.
A study from international polling and market research firm Ifop has found that less than one third (29%) of French workers work remotely at least once weekly. That's compared to 51% of German workers and 50% of Italians. And even when remote work is possible, French employees spend more time in the office than their EU counterparts. For instance, 30% of remote Italian workers work from home four or five days a week, compared to just 11% of French employees.
French companies also led the way in calling employees back to the office after the onset of the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, 83% of office workers in France were back in the office. In comparison, just 34% of workers in the UK had returned to the office.
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Leadership style can also be a factor in the reluctance to embrace remote work. Those who seek to exercise more control over their employees by monitoring their work and focus may find it difficult to do so within a remote workplace. In Asia, for instance, leaders tend to have a high level of authority that makes it more difficult to implement remote working.
“I have experienced both the US and Pakistani business environments, and I can say that there is a marked difference in how workplace dynamics work in these countries,” said Dawood Khan, CEO, and co-founder of photo editor Pixelied. “Asian employees treat persons of authority with so much respect and deference than their American counterparts typically would."
In a way, remote work tends to challenge this dynamic because personal authority doesn’t carry as much weight in a dispersed and decentralized setup, which Khan believes is one of the factors why Asian countries may not be as comfortable with the concept of remote work.
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Japan is well known for its technological advancements, but this economic powerhouse is far behind when it comes to remote working. Studies show that during the pandemic, when an increased number of workers were working from home, productivity in Japan declined by 20%. In comparison, the US and UK reported a 77% increase in productivity while working remotely.
Japanese employees also face the longest commuting times worldwide, which, one would have assumed, would have had a massive impact on productivity. Some Japanese firms, such as Fujitsu, successfully navigated the move to remote work but are now reconsidering the office's value. The company is in the process of opening redesigned office spaces and, as Kazuaki Nagata reports for The Japan Times, might ask employees to use the office more frequently.
In Gallup's 2022 State of the Global Workplace, Japan landed near the bottom in terms of employee engagement (with 5% reporting feeling engaged) and near the top in terms of experiencing daily stress, with 43% of employees saying they felt stress the day before. All of this may be leading to a reappraisal by office workers as to what they want from a job.
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The Global Workforce Conundrum
There are many reasons to explain why remote work is more popular in some countries than others. But the challenge is exacerbated when it comes to managing a global team.
Dave Sousa, general manager at Florida-based IC Intracom, manages teams worldwide and saw first-hand how different cultures can embrace remote working differently. When he offered remote work to Taiwanese and Chinese employees, he immediately noticed differences in their performance.
“I manage a team of people in Taiwan and in mainland China. Even within two regions with shared cultural experiences, their work cultures are quite different," Souza said. "I have promoted work-from-home to our staff in both places during the pandemic, but our staff in Taiwan was much more productive and proactive when working from home.”
As a result, Sousa changed his policy on remote working. “I continue to offer work-from-home options to our staff in Taiwan but not to our staff in China,” he said.
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The low adoption rate of remote work isn't always due to cultural differences. There are many factors that can make it difficult for employers to navigate the world of remote work — even when operating solely within US borders.
For instance, the way a company should calculate overtime differs from state to state. Some states do this by the day; others by the workweek. Failing to use the correct method for each state can lead to legal troubles — something some companies may not be willing to risk with a dispersed workforce.
Another consideration is the infrastructure. A study by the Harvard Business Review shows poor internet infrastructure in India — one of the worst globally, despite the country having more than 100,000 people working for IBM — means only 11% of Indians have access to a home computer and only 47% have access to electricity for more than 12 hours a day.
And that's not limited to India. Some European countries such as Turkey and Poland also struggle with infrastructure that doesn't allow for remote working. Even in the US, many areas of the country remain without reliable internet coverage, making remote work nearly impossible.
"Many companies have still not invested in the proper remote work equipment for their employees nor the training that helps them collaborate remotely, which includes asynchronous work," said Robert Kienzle, senior consultant at Hong Kong-based Knowmium.
Until these challenges are resolved, some parts of the world will remain behind in the global movement to a better work-life balance and more remote working. And change is likely to be imminent because today, those that are not embracing the new digital workplace will see their economic growth limited.