A Deeper Look at Telework: A Global Look Across Countries

Large global companies have begun to embrace alternative and flexible work arrangements. These arrangements include telework, telecommuting, smart working (U.K. and Italy) and workshifting (Canada)


July 31, 2020

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a Geneva-based UN agency, prior to the global pandemic a small percentage of the world’s employees worked exclusively from home.  But now, large global companies have begun to embrace alternative and flexible work arrangements.1 These arrangements include telework, telecommuting, smart working (U.K. and Italy) and workshifting (Canada). They all serve to ensure that each country adapts to government orders, but also are designed to help companies stay competitive, increase productivity and retain and recruit talent. In today’s world, these practices and policies implemented globally can help the employee and the employer foster an arrangement that supports a more diverse, inclusive, productive and healthy workforce.

Global Prevalence: Take a Glance Around the Globe

There are social, economic and organizational benefits of telework; however, prevalence, incidence and cultural acceptance throughout countries varies greatly. Recently, teleworking worldwide is being used more and more by companies – particularly in response to the COVID-19.

Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA)

Due to the global pandemic, employers adapted quickly to the “new normal,” with a large percentage of their workforce working from home. Before the pandemic, only six out of ten people in Europe had ever worked from home.1 In particular, the United Kingdom’s figures lag well behind many Western European nations, such as Sweden, Netherlands (with the highest share of people who could work from home, at 35.7%), and Denmark. In 2019, of the 32.6 million employed within the United Kingdom, only about 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home.2 In Romania, a staggering 0.7% of workers reported they worked from home, the lowest share in the entire continent.3

Since 2003, working parents in the United Kingdom have been entitled to request flexible working for childcare reasons. Then in 2014, the right was extended to all employees in the United Kingdom who had at least 26 weeks of continuous service. Currently, employees have the legal right to request flexible working for any reason, and employers are legally obliged to consider flexible working requests in a “reasonable” manner.

Terrible traffic congestion inspired the City of Cape Town to support remote work. The government is actively working with public and private sector organizations to implement alternative transport programs, such as carpooling, and alternative work arrangements, such as flexible hours and telecommuting options.

The European Framework Agreement states that: “Telework is a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/ relationship, where work, which could also be performed at the employer’s premises, is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.”

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) issued telecommuting legislation in 2018 to help employees improve their work life by defining the nature of teleworking and specifying both employer and employee responsibilities. Only UAE nationals who have worked for a company for at least 6 months can apply for a telework arrangement.

Asia Pacific (APAC)

Employees in some countries within the Asia Pacific region struggle with long commute time many over an hour.4 Even with the long commute times, Japan employers historically have been slower to adopt telework protocols, procedures and policies due to a high emphasis on long hours in the office. Recently, the Japanese government has tried to promote the arrangement to combat the reduction in the labor force. Many employees in Asia Pacific expressed that they want more work- from- home options to maintain work/life balance, avoid traffic, save on commuting costs and more.5

In the future, many multinational organizations in Asia Pacific plan to continue work- from- home and telework arrangements for their employees.

  • 63% of HR managers in India said their organizations will continue to work virtually even when COVID-19 lockdown is lifted in the country.5
  • 46% of employers in Singapore said they will increase investments in technology, while 14% expect to offer remote working as an employee benefit in the future, according to the Randstad Singapore’s COVID-19 Employer Pulse Survey.5
  • A KPMG survey indicates that 69% of workers in Malaysia want to continue working from home.

There is also a distinct difference between teleworkers who work primarily from home – called ‘telecommuters’ – and mobile workers, those whose jobs are on the road, in Asia Pacific. While participation in telework is entirely voluntary for telecommuters, it is often mandatory for mobile workers – who are mainly salespersons – to increase customer-serving time and reduce office space costs.7

Latin America (LATAM)

Employees in LATAM have expressed a high desire to telework, as many stated they miss social and family events due to being in the office. A recent study by country showed a strong desire for employees to telework: 80% of Colombians’ would like to telework, followed by Mexico (76%), Brazil (72%) and Mexico (56%). This suggests that governments and employers would be well served to contemplate ways to create more agile labor legislation and continuity plans that allow for teleworking to be implemented with flexible contracts in the future.7

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Global Trends

In 2020, Gen Z will comprise 36% of the global workforce. Being digital natives, who grew up in an internet-centric society, the members of this generation are likely to be more comfortable with newer technology and more inclined to seek remote or flexible working arrangements, rather than pursue traditional corporate roles. A survey of U.K. workers showed that they would rather have flexible work hours than a full lunch hour.7

In today’s world of competition for talent, it is important to account for your future workforce needs. With this in mind, some global telework trends include:

  • A 115% increase in telecommuting within the last decade.7
  • An employee’s ideal frequency for commute into the office was 2-3 days per week.7
  • Some of the top benefits of telecommuting include eliminating commutes or a reduction in commute time and costs, a better work/life harmony and increased productivity. Some of the negatives aspects of telecommuting were social isolation and technology struggles.
  • 95% of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention, and 46% of organizations that permit telework say it reduces attrition.7
  • Compaq, American Express and other companies have said that telecommuting employees are more productive than their in-office counterparts.

Global Implications and Barriers

Globally, teleworking is perceived positively by employees and employers - and a majority of workers would work remotely if their employers would allow it. However, there are some common barriers even for corporations that support teleworking.  These include:

  • Reliable technology.
  • Labor laws, tax policies and data protection.
  • In some industrial sectors, such as transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, wholesale, and retail, provide limited work-from-home opportunities.
  • Occupations that require higher qualifications and experience are more likely to provide work-from-home opportunities.

Each country has additional cultural requirements, laws, implications and nuance that are important to consider for your global workforce. Due to this, employers need to research and understand the relationship between telework, workers’ compensation and other legal obligations wherever their employees are located. To learn more, read Business Group on Health’s Designing a Long Term Telework Strategy.

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The Benefits: Well-being and Beyond

Telework well-being benefits go beyond what is typically included under this umbrella for both employees and employers. Many workplaces in Christchurch, New Zealand, transitioned to telework after worksites closed during a series of earthquakes through 2010 and 2012. In a case study of a government agency that transitioned entirely to work from home in the area, staff saw many benefits, such as greater motivation and better work/life harmony.

Gallup points out in their 2017 State of the Global Workplace report that social and political changes are tightly interwoven with international economies and greatly influence employment capabilities. Of the global working population who hold full-time positions, Gallup reports that only 15% are engaged in their jobs. Thus, organizations that prioritize their employees’ needs and preferences are better positioned for long- term viability by boosting productivity, overall performance and recruitment and retention of talent.

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More in Global


  1. Global Prevalence: Take a Glance Around the Globe
  2. Global Trends
  3. Global Implications and Barriers
  4. The Benefits: Well-being and Beyond