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December 11, 2023 9 min

The Gaulish Village of Telework

Despite pressures for a total return to the office by many executives, recent data confirm that telework has come to stay.

Santi Garcia

An article by Santi Garcia

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The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely… One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…

These words began the comics of Asterix the Gaul, some of my favorites when I was a child.

Nearly four years have passed since the declaration of the state of alarm in Spain in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic made telework overnight the usual way of working for millions of people. The latest data I have accessed on the evolution of this work modality in Spain have brought to my mind the image of that small Gallic village besieged by the Roman legions.

In October, the KPMG CEO 2023 report, annually prepared by this professional services firm, revealed the preference of the top executives of Spanish companies for face-to-face work. Specifically, in the near future, 78% of business leaders, a figure that exceeds the global average, envisioned a total return to the offices, while a notable 89% were willing to promote this return with incentives, whether through remuneration, promotions, or advancements.

However, the reality is that telework resists.

The Active Population Survey for the third quarter of 2023 prepared by Spain’s National Institute of Statistics shows us that in that period 6.7% of the employed people worked from their home more than half of the days, while 6.1% did so occasionally.

Certainly, these figures are much lower than those of the second quarter of 2020 when, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, 16.2% of the employed worked from home more than half of the days, while 2.9% did so occasionally. But they are very similar (even slightly higher) to those of the third quarter of 2022, when 6.6% worked from home more than half of the days and 5.4% occasionally, and, of course, they are much higher than those of 2019 (4.3% and 3.2% respectively).

That is, although the number of people working from their home has decreased from the peak it reached at the beginning of the pandemic, it has remained stable for a few quarters, which suggests that, even though business leaders would like to see all their employees back in the office, telework, especially partial telework, has consolidated as a viable and desired option for a significant segment of our country’s workforce.

A few days ago, the 2023 edition of the Survey on Equipment and Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Households, also prepared by the National Institute of Statistics, provided new data on this work modality in Spain that confirm its stabilization.

If between 2021 and 2022 the percentage of employed people who declared having teleworked the week before being interviewed for the survey decreased by 3.6 percentage points (from 17.6% to 14.0%), between 2022 and 2023, this decrease has been only 0.2 points (from 14.0% to 13.8%).

The percentage of employed people who, although their work would allow them to telework (totally or partially), have not teleworked also remains stagnant at 18.9%.

By professional groups, those who telework the most are “ICT workers” (61.7%), followed at some distance by “intermediate level technicians and professionals” (28.8%), and “scientific and intellectual professionals” (25.5%).

The data confirm that hybrid models prevail. In 2021, 47.4% of teleworkers worked remotely every day. In 2022 this figure dropped to 33.6% and in 2023 it has remained at 31%. Likewise, the percentage of teleworkers who carry out their work remotely four days a week decreases (from 8.4% in 2021 to 7.4% in 2023). In contrast, the percentage of teleworkers who work remotely three days a week increases from 9.4% in 2021 to 16.7% in 2023, while the percentage of those who telework two days a week goes up from 13.4% in 2021 to 21.9% in 2023.

Another interesting issue is how telework has evolved among directors and managers between 2021 and 2023. In 2021, 30.9% teleworked. After falling to 21.3% in 2022, this year that percentage has experienced a slight rebound to 23.3%. That is, it seems that telework also stabilizes among executives.

In this regard, it is worth noting how the average rating that directors and managers who telework make of this way of working has evolved in these years, which has gone from 7.7 on a scale of 0 to 10 in 2021 to 8.5 in 2023. How does this fit with the data we pointed out earlier that 78% of executives envision a total return to the offices? One hypothesis is that, as this group has more freedom to decide how they work, the executives who still telework are those who are convinced of the advantages of this formula. In fact, the percentage of executives who, although their work would allow them to telework (totally or partially), have not teleworked has progressively increased from 22.4% in 2021 to 34.7% in 2022 and to 35.1% in 2023.

In any case, even though in our country telework will never be a majority work format as long as the sectoral structure of our economy remains what it is, all these data seem to confirm that telework has come to stay.

Just as that village inhabited by indomitable Gauls in the comics of Asterix resisted tenaciously against the Roman power, telework maintains its firm position in the Spanish labor landscape. Despite pressures for a total return to the office by many executives, a significant segment of the workforce has found in telework not only a contingency solution, but a way of working life that balances productivity and personal well-being, which we could well understand as the two key ingredients of the particular ‘magic potion’ that gives strength to these people to resist the ‘invader’.

The consolidation of telework in Spain is also an evidence of the adaptability of workers and organizations to new forms of work, and a sign that labor preferences and expectations are evolving. In a constantly evolving work world, this enclave of telework stands not only as a symbol of resistance, like the legendary Gaulish village, but, above all, as a beacon of adaptability and progress.

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