Remote work: Spanish companies divided on the return of employees to the workplace | Economy and business

Torre Picasso, an iconic office building in Madrid’s financial district.Miguel Pereira (Getty Images)

Spain’s biggest companies had marked September 1 as the day their employees would return to work in large numbers after nearly a year and a half of working remotely.

But it was not to be. The intensity of the fifth wave of the coronavirus has forced many employers to remain cautious and keep their existing protocols in place.

While some companies have decided that staff will return to work in early September, in many other cases employers have yet to draft their roadmap to getting back to normal.

Despite everything, at present only 10% of Spanish employees still work remotely, up from 25% last year, according to Carlos Gutiérrez, head of new labor trends at the CC OO union.

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 90% of companies want to introduce some form of remote working once the pandemic is over. But so far, very few large companies have adopted a 100% flexible model, which means employees can choose where to work.

Two of them are the banking group ING and the insurance company Liberty Seguros. And renewable energy group Siemens Gamesa is also planning to go this route with a program called Smart Working, which will allow employees to work from home five days a week from any location, a company source said. The office space is already undergoing renovations to accommodate a new system without designated desks for workers.

Screens measuring the air quality in the workplace at the headquarters of the Meliá hotel chain.
Screens measuring the air quality in the workplace at the headquarters of the Meliá hotel chain.

Even tech companies like Google, Amazon or Telefónica, which are generally ahead in terms of work models, don’t plan to go that far. All three favor a mixed model of three days on site and two days of teleworking. But they are open to the possibility that a few employees could work entirely from a different location, either temporarily or permanently.

Among Spain’s largest employers, insurance group Mapfre will wait until September 15 “to see how the fifth wave of the pandemic is developing and design the return to work plan accordingly,” according to a company spokesperson. . Currently, half of the staff work on site and the other half remotely. Santander Bank, where less than 60% of employees are back in the workplace, said it would also wait two weeks before making a decision. Similar responses were given to BCG and Cellnex, a Spanish telecommunications company that expects 50% of its staff to be back in the office by mid-September, up from 30% currently.

At consulting firm EY, José Luis Risco has indicated that a general return could be postponed until Christmas. “We were hoping that the situation would change in September, but that will change very little and organizations will continue to think about which working model to implement when normalcy returns. “

There will be changes within the BBVA banking group, which already operates with a mixed working model – 60% in person, 40% remotely. Starting September 1, team leaders will designate the days when employees will need to come to the office, where space will be reserved through an app. And at Red Eléctrica, all employees will have weekly shifts to ensure that 50% of workers are on site each morning.

The 3/2 model

So far, it appears the three-day on-site / two-day home model is favored by a majority of large organizations, including EY, BCG, BMW, insurance company Axa and telecoms operator Vodafone.

The big question that remains, according to Pablo Claver, head of human resources at BCG, is how will the new model work: will the three days on site be considered a maximum or a weekly minimum? Will it be mandatory or considered more of a guide? Will it benefit employees or employers? As usual in these cases, it is best to read the fine print. “If businesses go with a fixed model, they can save on office space, company cars, cafeteria service, and meal and meal cards. If they go for a flexible model, the benefits are for the employee, ”he said.

Regardless, most companies have yet to adapt their collective agreements to the new legislation on remote work that entered into force in Spain on July 9. Estévez, in charge of the institutional policy of the UGT, the other leading union in Spain.

Unions have also detected cases of labor law violations, such as the refusal to cover the costs of working from home. There are exceptions: the Mapfre insurance group pays employees an additional 45 € per month to cover the costs of Wi-Fi Internet access, electricity and other expenses related to remote work. Siemens Gamesa pays € 55 and Axa gives its employees € 3 per day plus a one-time € 200 check for special equipment such as chairs and screens. Vodafone sent employees a remote work kit that included an ergonomic chair, wireless headphones, keyboard and mouse.

Remote work in high demand

Remote work has become a fundamental part of the work landscape in Spain, according to Alberto Gavilán, talent director at the temporary employment company Adecco. According to him, 30% of the vacancies that his company deals with offer the possibility. “Many applicants ask for it and they rule out offers where the company does not consider this option,” he said. “Remote work has changed the rules of the game when it comes to attracting talent. Tech and IT companies, as well as start-ups, plan to adopt it widely, and remote working is also expanding into insurance, call centers, professional services, and back office services.

english version by Susana Urra.