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Remote work can lead to energy savings, but be careful about employees’ pockets: “They don’t pay us”

The government has recommended telecommuting as an energy-saving measure. This can reduce consumption overall, especially when driving, but recent research requires a good evaluation of its implementation to determine whether it really reduces energy consumption, as it depends on many factors. In Spain, there is an added element to consider so that the measure does not harm the most vulnerable. Remote work has been around for a very long time, it has often coincided with the pandemic in an improvised way, and it still faces significant challenges. For example, many companies do not pay workers’ compensation, even though the law requires it.

The person responsible for reviving telecommuting, after ramping up during the pandemic, was Third Vice President and Head of Environmental Transition, Teresa Ribera. Although it is not included in the decree on saving measures, Ribera reinstated telecommuting as a recommendation for all public administrations and “big companies” in the current energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.

“Remote work, which allows us to concentrate on schedules, presence, travel savings, thermal consumption of buildings,” confirmed the minister.

Is telecommuting really a “green” option? There is a title and a question that it analyzes Eurofound research It was published in June. Researcher Martina Bisello’s answer is “yes, potentially,” but she warns that it’s a “complex” issue that needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Ра notes the IEA (International Energy Agency) In some March recommendations, the energy saving effect is evident in situations where many workers travel by car due to oil consumption. First of all, if the trip is long, as it happens in big cities. But this may not be the case in companies located in small municipalities or rural areas where workers live nearby and walk to work. or if the said staff goes to work by public transport.

There are also other elements to consider, such as the increase in energy consumption in employees’ homes. “On average, offices have higher energy demands than homes in the summer,” when cooling is necessary, the study concludes. “On the contrary, heating in winter is more efficient in office buildings due to centralized systems and proximity of employees.

In addition, the report notes that employees will likely come into the office from time to time, so work centers can remain open. Energy management of offices in this hybrid work modality (from home and office) is another issue that needs to be considered in order to conclude whether telecommuting in a given company is more energy sustainable or not.

For example, if a company groups workers in smaller spaces or on certain days, it reduces their energy consumption or if it maintains them even though some people work from home. For this reason, the publication concludes that telecommuting is a “green” measure, “but only if it is supported by specific measures” such as “promoting the flexible use of space in offices to avoid heating, cooling or lighting of empty or lighted areas “. Less used”, by the way.

Speaking of the “savings” of telecommuting, some employees may not see this discount based on their experience. This is the case of Carmen (fictitious name), an administrative worker who lives in a community in Madrid and commutes to work. He works from home two to three days a week because there is no air conditioning in the office. “We sweat what’s not written,” he says, so the company allowed them to telecommute for the summer. Of course, without any financial compensation.

– They don’t pay us the expenses, – answers Carmen. She speculates that telecommuting costs her money to use air conditioning at home, which she wouldn’t have if she were in the office during those hours, but given the high temperatures in Madrid, she doesn’t consider it an option. Considering that he works remotely for more than 30% of the day, the law obliges the company to reimburse the expenses caused by the development of his activities. At her workplace, Carmen explains, “the boss doesn’t want anyone to work remotely,” so the event is interpreted almost as a “favor” and staff don’t dare to pay compensation.

Carmen’s experience is not an isolated one. Unions warn that forced reimbursements are often not enforced, especially in smaller companies. also in other larger ones such as contact centerA situation that has led to unions mobilizing to pay “not a single euro” to the telecommuting workforce, the majority of which is made up of women and many part-time shift workers, leaving an average salary of “€800”.

“Until the end of July, there were 43 labor contracts in Spain regulating remote work and only 6% regulating the related costs,” emphasizes José Varela, Head of Digitization at UG-T, despite the fact that the terms of economic remuneration were very suspended. Collective bargaining in telework law.

Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary of Research and Trade Union Training of the CCOO, emphasizes the existence of legal representation for workers as a key element. “Where there is not, there is more abuse, the arbitrariness of employers is higher. If there is trade union representation, workers’ rights are more guaranteed, and if companies do not obey, more mobilization takes place,” he says. .

Given the new recommendation from the executive, it remains to be seen whether remote work will increase in Spain. Telecommuting in the country was anecdotal before the pandemic, with 4% of employees regularly working from home before the pandemic. But Covid has multiplied it as a measure to stop the spread of the virus. According to the EPA, about 16% of workers often telecommute. That number is shrinking, and “casual” telecommuting has gained ground over the more common “more than half a day a week,” as the following graph illustrates.

One of the reasons for this shift to more casual telecommuting can be found in the telecommuting legislation itself, says Eva Rembau, professor of economics and business studies at the UOC. More than 30% will lose more than one-and-a-half days of remote work, because this is a barrier to the payment of the means,” believes the economist, who believes that proportional compensation for remote work time will eliminate this. “barrier”.

That’s what happened to Suzanne (a fictitious name), whose company limited telecommuting to one day a week after allowing more days during the pandemic. “We believe this is so they don’t pay us anything for expenses. They didn’t do it during the pandemic because they said the law didn’t require it. Later, they reduced remote work to just one day,” he explains. on this average. In his case, this measure means savings at this time of energy prices. “I commute a lot, so whatever I’d save on gas, I think it’s worth what I’d spend on lights and a computer,” he reckons.

While working from home isn’t an option for many other workers. “I think it’s forgotten, but not all of us can afford to have working conditions in our homes,” explains Esther, a young woman who lives alone and can’t afford air conditioning at home. The latest data from the INE Living Conditions Survey, for 2021, recorded the highest energy poverty in the historical series, with 14.3% of the population in households unable to maintain an adequate temperature at home. This was before the price spike in 2022.

“My apartment is like a sauna with this temperature,” says Esther, a condition not alleviated by even a fan, which is why she has decided to go to the office every day this summer, even though she has the option to work remotely. What if they were sent home as an energy saving measure? “Currently I don’t have the budget to install an air conditioner, no kidding, I tried to go to the office and if they wouldn’t let me, I would go to my parents’ or friend’s house. Work because you can’t stay in my apartment,” he says.

Carlos Gutierrez (CCOO) points out that companies that want to promote remote work must remember that the measure must be “voluntary” as required by law and the “occupational risks” posed by the templates must always be evaluated. From extreme heat to other psychosocial risks such as isolation or excessive contact after hours.

A representative of UGT Digitization recalls that remote work requires changes in the way staff are operated and managed, such as “a system of planning based on objectives and control based on mutual trust”, among others. Professor Eva Rembau agrees and emphasizes the opportunity to advance in the challenges necessary at this time, such as the digitalization of companies. “This is an opportunity for companies to rethink their processes. Let’s analyze “did we do the right thing or could something have been done differently?”, he assesses. The teacher insists that the event should be planned, without the improvisation that occurred during the pandemic. “It’s an opportunity for them not to see it as, ‘We’re going to work remotely on Russian gas.’

Source: El Diario



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