What we can learn from the Netherlands
Working from home is a flexible and productive model for employees and firms.
Since the birth of her second child, Daphne van Rooijen has switched not only to working just part-time but also to working one day from home every two weeks. “It’s simply ideal”, enthuses the 36-year-old, a social worker in The Hague who works 28 hours per week with difficult children. Daphne can choose herself when to catch up on her paperwork at home. “Sometimes I only get round to it in the evening when I am undisturbed.” If she wants, she can also spread the eight hours over several evenings. “Many of my friends also work a number of hours or days from home.” All she needs to work from home is her mobile phone and her laptop. “My bosses only care about the end result”, emphasises Daphne: “I just have to complete all my work on time and as agreed. And of course it’s important for me to be reachable. This is how trust is generated.“
Bosses care about the end result.
Since 2015, the Dutch have largely had a legal right to work from home – provided they have been in their job for longer than 26 weeks and their company has more than ten employees. The number of people working from home has now risen to 37 percent (2019). They have the Green party to thank for their new rights – it was they who were determined to combat the “crazy obsession with workplace presence”. As Green party MP Linda Voortman puts it: “Happy staff also make their employers happy.” That said, companies cannot be forced to allow their employees to work from home, but they do need to have good reason to deny them this option. If agreement cannot be reached, a judge will decide.
At first, many firms feared that their staff could use their work time for other purposes. This concern is unfounded, says Nick van der Meulen from the Rotterdam School of Management. As part of his doctorate on flexible working models, he conducted a first representative survey that revealed that working from home does not lead to lower productivity – on the contrary: “An employee can actually be more productive when working from home.” All the same, he recommends that staff should not work at home for more than three days per week, as otherwise their ties to the firm and to their colleagues will suffer. Another important prerequisite is that the boss needs to be able to let go and trust their staff.
Daphne van Rooijen can only agree: “The model that saw us all sitting in rush-hour traffic every morning to arrive at the office at the same time is obsolete. It no longer reflects the way we live today.”
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