Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, many have made the abrupt shift to working from home, while millions of others lost their jobs altogether. At the time, the future looked bleak—we didn’t know when, or if, our societies would return back to normal. All we could do was speculate about the kind of scars the pandemic would leave.
Fast forward to November 2021, and although the clouds of uncertainty seem to have cleared out with offices reopening their doors to their employees, a large majority of the world’s workforce carries on working from home for the time being.
As most of us have experienced it, working from home has its perks as well as its disadvantages—not having to commute while living with blurred work-life boundaries are two examples of the contrasting qualities that come with such a novel way of life. In an attempt at clarifying the latter’s need for balance, Portugal will soon introduce new labour laws approved by the country’s parliament.
Under the new rules, employers could face penalties for contacting workers outside of office hours. Companies will also have to help pay for expenses incurred by remote working, such as higher electricity and internet bills. Last but not least, employers will also be forbidden from monitoring their employees while they work at home.
The new rules are also good news for parents of young children, who will now have the right to work from home without having to arrange it in advance with their employers, up until their child turns eight years old. Measures to tackle loneliness are also included in the remote working rules, with companies expected to organise face-to-face meetings at least every two months.
That being said, a proposal to include the so-called “right to disconnect”—the legal right to switch off work-related messages and devices outside office hours—was rejected by Portuguese MPs who have instead decided to force employees to only contact their staff in times of emergency.
Portugal was the first European country to alter its remote working rules as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2021. The temporary rules made remote working a mandatory option (with a few exceptions) and obliged employers to provide the necessary tools for getting the job done at home.
But the amendments to Portugal’s labour laws have limits: they will not apply to companies with fewer than 10 employees. And while remote working during the pandemic has brought renewed flexibility to many, issues such as unequal access to IT equipment proved the need for the government to step in, Portugal’s Minister of Labour and Social Security, Ana Mendes Godinho, told the Web Summit conference in Lisbon last week.
“The pandemic has accelerated the need to regulate what needs to be regulated,” she said. “Telework can be a ‘game changer’ if we profit from the advantages and reduce the disadvantages.” Building a healthy remote working culture could also bring other benefits to Portugal, Mendes Godinho added, in the form of foreign remote workers seeking a change of scenery. “We consider Portugal one of the best places in the world for these digital nomads and remote workers to choose to live in, we want to attract them to Portugal,” she told the Web Summit audience.
Such changes in regulations in Portugal could soon lead the way for other countries to follow—making working from home just a tad more pleasant for employees worldwide.