When we proposed RemotEU, we were aware that there was a great deal of misinformation about remote work, both in the public administration and in companies and among workers and teleworkers themselves. It is a complex concept that refers to very different circumstances, and they must be taken into account for their regulation.
That is why a large part of the project has been the research phase, where we have analyzed existing regulations and contacted key agents.
The research has been carried out in several phases, which we detail below. At all times, we have taken into account the necessary participation of key agents: workers, companies, and public administrations. Therefore, starting from the analysis of existing legislation, we carried out fieldwork to learn first-hand about the experience of these three agents.
1. Analysis of existing legislation
This has been the starting point of the analysis, knowing what legislation exists in Europe, and especially in Spain, Ireland, and Italy, in relation to remote work has allowed us to establish the basis of our project and raise the necessary hypotheses to be answered at the end of the project.
We began our analysis with the European Framework Agreement on Telework of 2002. This agreement was signed by different social agents of the Member States and sets out the bases of what teleworking should be, with the obligations and rights that both the company and the teleworker should have. This agreement has been taken as a reference for states that have regulated teleworking, but its content does not cover the complexity of current remote work, especially those motivated by the COVID-19 crisis.
The most important thing for the scope we are dealing with is related to the regulation of remote work carried out from a country different from that in which the employer is based. In this circumstance, each State's legislation must be consulted, and it must be investigated whether there is any type of bilateral agreement between the employer's country and the employee's country in terms of Social Security or taxation. This is where the main problem lies, since despite being part of the European space, each country acts individually, leaving workers and companies unprotected.
The arrival of COVID-19 meant a paradigm shift in the world of work, establishing teleworking as a valid option for work performance. This made some countries like Spain try to regulate this situation, developing new regulations or expanding existing ones. Once again, we see at this point how the legislation has not been able to address the different casuistics, and for example, according to Spain's Law on Distance Work, the regulation only contemplates teleworking within the national territory, excluding people who work remotely from another country.
Despite the lack of depth in the legislation, capable of addressing remote work in its entirety, many states are interested in attracting digital nomads. Countries like the Czech Republic, Croatia, Portugal or Estonia have launched special visas for this group. Their intention is none other than to attract highly qualified professionals and those with economic resources to establish their tax residence in the country and, consequently, comply with their tax obligations there.
In parallel, there are other countries, those that have traditionally been recipients of qualified labor, who see teleworking as a threat. The fact that a worker can carry out their activity from another country means the opposite effect, that is, that they leave and stop contributing their taxes to that country. Some, such as Ireland, only contemplate teleworking when it is within their territory, trying to encourage the repopulation of rural areas.
While this is happening on the legislative front, many people decide to work remotely for their current employer from another country, and this is where the next phase of the research begins.
2. Public consultation with workers
To advance RemotEU, it was essential to understand the situation of people who are teleworking or those who want to do so. RemotEU was born precisely from this demand because, following the health emergency, many people turned to the entities that are part of the project to inquire about how they could work remotely.
In this round of public consultation, we have enabled different channels, both on the RemotEU website and in each of the entities, so that those who wished could share their experiences. In this way, we have been able to identify the problems they face, but also new opportunities to regulate remote work.
We have also held an in-person meeting with digital nomads from different countries.
3. Interviews with workers
In parallel to this consultation, we have also conducted in-depth interviews with workers who have expanded on this information. These interviews, in both paper and video format, can be consulted below.
4. Meetings with companies and public institutions
Likewise, to understand all perspectives, we have had meetings with companies and public administrations. Among others, we have participated in a focus group on hybrid work at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and have met with public institutions such as the EURES network. We have also contacted intermediary companies (Employer of Record) to learn about their work.
Thanks to this work, we have identified legal ways to hire a worker from a country as a foreign company and comply with current legislation.
Result of the research
This fieldwork has allowed us to establish a general framework regarding teleworking in the European Union while identifying specific cases. The result of this research is the Wikipedia of Teleworking, a space with information of interest for workers, companies, and public institutions, so they can know the existing regulations, obligations regarding remote work, and the limitations that exist today to make it possible, as well as practical advice for effective teleworking.
The content developed in the Telework Wikipedia is public and accessible so that any user who wishes can consult it.