Open Studio 2: Solutions for inclusive telework

Open studio #2, Cycle #1

The second Open Studio of the first cycle, held on 6 and 7 October 2021, was titled ‘Better is Possible: Solutions for Inclusive Telework’. It brought together a number of participants from the RESISTIRÉ consortium itself as well as experts, stakeholders, and creative people from outside of the project.

During the COVID-19 outbreak and associated lockdowns, most countries required work to be done remotely if possible. Although some jobs are not ‘teleworkable’, a lot of them are. This means that a large share of the population stopped going to the office and started to work from home. Even though the lockdowns have, by and large, come to an end, telework will likely, in some form or other, remain a permanent feature of the post-pandemic society. 

Such a large shift in the organisation of work naturally comes with a whole range of consequences, both positive and negative. The main advantages are the increased flexibility, more autonomy in people’s work, and the possibility of combining professional work with domestic work and/or caring responsibilities. 

However, there are several negative effects and possibly exacerbated inequalities as well showing that telework could increase the labour market gap, rather than decreasing it. One of the main inequalities to consider is the increased workload on women. Working from home means that there is more work in the household to be done, and often this responsibility falls on women. This increases the workload for women, but also risks constraining women to the domestic sphere once again. After the lockdowns, women could end up teleworking more than men in order to combine their work with work in the household. As mentioned in the report on the national research work: “The national researchers are almost unanimous in pointing out that it was women who bore the brunt of the increase in unpaid care work and the decrease in employment. There has been insufficient support for reconciling the demands of care, domestic labour, and work in the light of school closures and the increase in teleworking.” 

Another area in which telework will have a big impact is the domain of physical and mental health. Mental health effects could include anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, low vital energy, suicidal thoughts and attempts, all of which became worse during the crisis. Physical health effects could be linked to physical pains due to ergonomic deficiencies and a lack of exercise. 

Finally, the trend of increased telework is not necessarily egalitarian. People in poverty or social exclusion often face a digital gap: they either cannot afford proper equipment or don’t have the skills to work with digital tools. Many professions are excluded from telework as physical presence is necessary (in factories, for essential jobs like in health care). Telework requires enough space at home to work comfortably, which is often not the case. 

Therefore, the Open Studio tried to address these core issues: how do we make sure that telework does not lead to more work for women and a re-traditionalisation of gender roles? How do we prevent social isolation and encourage healthier patterns of interaction? How can we still provide safe spaces in times of remote work?​ What tools do we have to counteract digital inequalities? And how do we provide adequate spaces for telework?