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Workforce in Romania in The Teleworking Era

Publication: ABSL Business Services Sector Report 2020

Romania, like most European countries, has either recommended or imposed remote work to a significant part of the labor force. The pandemic has made working from home the norm for millions of workers in the EU and worldwide, as more and more companies and institutions have introduced this work arrangement in an effort to keep their employees safe, while ensuring the continued delivery of critical services. Hence, concerns about safety, job security, data protection and transparency on work issues have become front and center.

Teleworking in Romania

A recent survey dated August 2020 has revealed that Romania is the country with the lowest share of employees in the European Union who have shifted to teleworking. Less than 20% of employees have worked from home since the pandemic outbreak.

Months into the global coronavirus pandemic, as a second wave of COVID-19 cases hits, the remote working arrangements that felt temporary in the spring are beginning to feel much more permanent. The number of companies that embrace the concept of teleworking is expected to rise in the future. Employers are taking different approaches in the current uncertain environment, but the winner seems to be a hybrid work model combining both work from home and on-site working.

On the long term, most companies will probably settle into a culture where this hybrid arrangement will be the new norm, as it ensures business continuity and the proper protection of employees during and after the pandemic. Some of the multinational companies acting in Romania have already announced their intention to keep 20 to 35% of their employees working remotely. Basically, it is foreseen a teleworking scenario defined by a daily share of 65-80% presence on-site and 20-35% work from home, or any other location agreed by the employer and the employee.

Teleworking vs. Work from Home

Generally, teleworking is defined as the employees’ activity of working from home or from any other location agreed by employment contract parties, while maintaining communications with the office/clients by making use of the internet, email, and the telephone. Consequently, a teleworker is an employee that has concluded with his employer a teleworking addendum to the employment contract and is allowed to work alternatively from home or from any other location agreed by employment contract parties, and from the office.

The teleworking concept is coming with certain advantages for the employer: reduced office running costs and overheads such as office space, electricity, heating, and other utilities; fewer travel-related problems and a wider choice of candidates for recruitment. With teleworking, the employer can choose candidates from anywhere in the country, and from across the world.

Teleworking proved to be the “queen” of working outside the office due to certain advantages as compared to work from home:

  • flexibility – working from different places (i.e. work from hotel)
  • sustainability – long-term solution (can be applied even after the COVID-19 crisis)
  • preferred by millennials – “trendy” solution.

The Productivity Pitfalls of Teleworking in The Age Of COVID-19

An experiment on a Chinese travel agency conducted in 2015 by Nicholas Bloom, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and his collaborators, measured a productivity increase of around 20% to 30% after introducing working from home. However, in order to achieve such results, some strict conditions had to be met by the employees to be eligible to work from home, such as having their own room at home as a dedicated space in which they could work and access to broadband Internet at home to connect to the company network.

But what is happening today with the coronavirus crisis is completely different thanks to four factors: children, space, privacy, and choice.

The most recent paper of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) is showing us the current status of the emergency implementation of the telework under Covid-19 pressure. “We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-of!ce days. This will create a productivity disaster for firms.” (Nicholas Bloom, 2020)

Despite the drawbacks, Bloom suggests a few things that can help stem the productivity decline he fears: “Regular check-ins between managers and their teams; maintaining schedules that strive to separate work life from family life and collaborating with colleagues on video calls rather than phone calls.” (Nicholas Bloom, 2020)

In this context, Nicholas Bloom has recently indicated that the global work-from-home movement intended to maintain output and efficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic could generate a worldwide productivity slump and threaten economic growth for many years. “We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days. This will create a productivity disaster for firms.” In-person collaboration is necessary for creativity and innovation, Bloom explained. His research has shown that face-to-face meetings are essential for developing new ideas and keeping staff motivated and focused. Bloom has also suggested a few things that could help stem the productivity decline: “Regular check-ins between managers and their teams; maintaining schedules that strive to separate work life from family life and collaborating with colleagues on video calls rather than phone calls.”

Does Teleworking Save Companies Money?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on working environments, particularly the possibilities of working remotely. There are lots of ways that remote working can offer businesses cost savings, and the most significant one is related to real estate costs. Rent and utilities, cleaning services, some benefits (e.g. food, massage) and taxes are some of the costs that could be reduced.

However, implementing teleworking has two sides: it means also covering expenses required to set up home offices, including costs to buy or relocate work essentials to employees’ homes, such as laptops, ergonomic chairs, headphones, software licenses and other accessories. Data security training needs to be provided for all employees, which will impact cost savings. Employers may also need to make some infrastructure changes to support remote workers and prepare for any remote technical support issues.

Although current restrictions have largely been put in place to follow social distancing guidelines and companies have realized that they can reduce the number of employees that work in-house, offices will not disappear altogether. Companies will assess their needs (innovation, maintaining company’s culture and so on), the percentage of their employees that can work from home and plan & design the space accordingly.

Bucharest Is The Best City For Remote Working In The World

A study published by Broadband Deals in April 2020 revealed Romanian capital Bucharest as the best city for remote working in the entire world, based on criteria related to the Internet speed, the availability of food delivery, the cost of a laptop, the cost of living. Said conclusion could be extended to most big cities in Romania that meet the same criteria, such as Cluj-Napoca, Iași, Timișoara, consolidating more than 90% of the country’s revenue.

Implementing Teleworking In Romania: An Employer’s Toolkit

Employees’ consent – a sine qua non condition for implementing teleworking

Usually, employees’ consent is mandatory, and it is materialized in an addendum to the employment agreement.

However, during the state of alert, the legislator reduced the formalities for implementing teleworking through a simplified form of employee consent, without necessarily signing an annex/addendum to each individual employment agreement. It is sufficient for the employer to issue a decision to introduce teleworking and the employee, after receiving such decision (by e-mail, by post etc.), to simply express its consent (by e-mail).

The employee’s refusal to work under the teleworking regime may not constitute a legitimate ground for the employer to unilaterally amend the individual employment agreement or to apply a disciplinary sanction to the employee.

Registration with the Employees Electronic Registry

The addendum to the employment agreement or the employer’s decision to state the teleworking shall be registered with the Employees’ Electronic Registry.

Aspects to be regulated in the teleworking addendums or decisions

The addendums or the employers’ decisions, as the case may be, shall expressly regulate:

  • the period of time and/or the days during which the employee works in a workplace organized by the employer;
  • the place where teleworking will be performed;
  • the timekeeping manner;
  • the schedule for the employer’s inspection, as well as the way the inspection will be performed, the responsibilities of the parties, including those related to labor health and safety;
  • the obligation of the employer to transport the materials used by the employee;
  • the obligation of the employer to inform the employee on data protection matters;
  • the measures taken by the employer to avoid the isolation of the teleworker from the other employees;
  • the conditions under which the employer covers the costs related to teleworking.

Failure of the employer to settle the above-mentioned aspects is sanctioned with fines of up to RON 10,000/person (the equivalent of Euro 2,150).

Specific employer’s obligations in teleworking

The teleworking law establishes some specific obligations for employers, such as: (a) to make available the necessary IT/ health and safety equipment, unless otherwise agreed, (b) to install, verify and maintain the necessary work equipment, unless otherwise agreed, (c) to ensure all the conditions required in order to offer the employee the possibility to benefit from adequate information and instruction regarding health and safety in the workplace.

Failure to observe these specific obligations can trigger the application of fines of up to RON 2,000 (the equivalent of Euro 430).

The right to conduct inspections

Managers have the right to control and motivate their remote teams. It is considered that regular check-ins between managers and their teams and collaborating on video calls rather than phone calls are key to ensure productivity. Research showed also that regular online meetings with no agenda are recommended, like grabbing coffee or a drink.

Barbara Larson, a professor of management at Northeastern University in Boston who studies remote working, advises the workers at home: “Ask your manager if they don’t mind having a 10-minute call to kick off the day and wrap up the day. Often times, managers just haven’t thought of it.”

Apart from the right of the employer to regularly check the activity of the employee, according to the teleworking law, the labor authorities, as well as the trade union/the representatives of the employees, have the right to verify the working conditions of the teleworker.

Extra hours

Full time employees performing teleworking can do extra hours if such additional work is requested by the employer and accepted in writing by the teleworker.

Teleworking is here to stay. Once the pandemic ends, remote working is likely to continue. Tech companies such as Google have already announced that their employees will work from home until the summer of 2021. In the long run, adapting to remote working should be an advantage if another health emergency, or comparable situation, arises.

This is an extract from the ABSL Business Services Sector Report 2020. The present article signed by Catalin Micu along with other insightful reports and information about the state and trends of the business industry are available here

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