The Digital Shift: Examining the Growth of Remote Work in Europe

The recent study “On working from home in European countries”, published in International Journal of Manpower by our UB School of Economics researchers Vahagn Jerbashian and Montserrat Vilalta-Bufí, has shed light on the evolution of working from home (WFH) across various industries in 12 European countries over the period from 2008 to 2017. The analysis which draws on data from the EU Labour Force Survey and the EU-KLEMS database, reveals a significant increase in remote work across all countries studied. This growth is intricately linked to the decline in prices of information and communication technologies (ICT), underscoring the role of digital advancements in facilitating WFH. 

The research highlights that WFH has not only become more prevalent due to the COVID-19 pandemic but has been on a steady rise for nearly a decade prior. Industries that are heavily reliant on ICT have seen a particularly pronounced rise in remote work. The study also documents a notable increase in the share of employees working from home within different age, gender, and occupation groups. The findings indicate that older employees have shown a greater increase in working from home compared to their younger counterparts. This could be attributed to factors such as home ownership, a preference for avoiding commuting, and diminishing opportunities to learn from on-site work as one advances in their career. Interestingly, the study found no significant differences in the increase of WFH among different gender and occupation groups, highlighting a broad-based adoption of remote work across various demographics. 

This comprehensive analysis underscores the important role of ICT in enabling remote work. Advances in high-speed internet, cloud computing, video conferencing tools, and collaboration software have significantly contributed to its rise.  The implications of these findings are significant for policymakers, especially concerning the digital divide. Enhancing access to ICT and promoting lifelong learning and digital skills training could be vital for ensuring that all employees, particularly those in remote or disadvantaged areas, can benefit from the opportunities presented by remote work. This could also enhance resilience to future disruptions, such as global pandemics.

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