MyFondia VirtualLawyer
August 15, 2012

Working at the cottage – some thoughts on distance work

You can enjoy the summer much longer than for a one-month summer leave. In summer, many people do more distance work from the summer cottage. You avoid hectic traffic and make your weekends longer. Put on your shorts, open the laptop and start work on the jetty by water.

Joint rules for distance work

The basic rule is that an employee in distance work is largely covered by employment legislation and collective agreements. Even if you move from the office to your summer residence, the employment contract also remains in force as usual. There are, however, some specific issues relating to distance work, such as how much of the distance work is considered working time under working time regulations and how much is not. It is thus advisable to draw a separate contract to cover distance work or at least include the most important aspects in the employment contract. Such contract ensures joint rules and helps to avoid unnecessary wrangles.

Before starting distance work, you should at least be clear on the 'house rules' on recording working time and when work is actually carried out; should you, for example, follow particular customer service times in distance work. The objective is, naturally, to combine flexible working with being accessible.

You should also agree on how work progress is reported, what equipment you will be using in distance work and who acquires such equipment, how long distance work is carried out for and what conditions cover cancelling the entire arrangement in case it does not work out. The employee's occupational health and safety must also be taken care of, first of all, in such a way, in practice, that the workload and total daily working hours are kept under control. And before moving on to distance work, the employer should check insurance coverage as well as any data safety issues. A computer in the village library is not a good work tool.

Distance work based on trust

If your company has not agreed on any game rules for distance work, it could be a subject in positive negotiations for co-determination practices. Distance work policies and game rules can be agreed as part of the compulsory statutory personnel plan as set out in the Act on Personnel Representation in the Administration of Undertakings, which requires the recording of, among other things, the principles of the use of different types of employment. One of the purposes of a personnel plan is also to review on a workplace-specific basis how the workplace can consider combining working and private life, just as the possible special needs for older employees. It is natural to discuss in this context, as well as in wider considerations on extending working careers, distance work as one alternative and lay down the rules governing it.

In addition to agreements and conditions, successful distance work inherently relies on trust and credibility. Work is traditionally carried out under a supervisor's management and supervision. One of the greatest challenges for distance work in everyday working life seems to be how the boss can monitor the employee's working time. Often it is not possible, and that is why distance work requires a whole new perspective on management: the supervisor does not supervise hours but results instead.

Focus on balancing work and time off

Rural peace can bring about a flow state to working. Distinction between work and real time off becomes blurred, and work can easily take over. In addition, some distant workers typically want to show off, or they are even worried of being labelled as distance work cheats. The countermove is hard work or at least 24/7 availability. The ability to cope and well-being will become strained over time. In order to prevent this from happening, the supervisor should stay in regular contact with the distance worker, particularly if the employee spends longer periods working away from the workplace, and find out how it is going and how the worker feels about distance work – trying to find out how it is genuinely going. It also simply involves monitoring when emails have been sent and interfering with too long days or emails regularly sent at night time. The supervisor still has the overall responsibility for well-being at work, even in distance working.

The supervisor also needs an understanding of the human nature , a certain kind of sensitive ear and eye to interpret how well distance work is working and the courage to cancel the distance work agreement, if needed, in situations where things do not go to plan. There is no simple solution to managing distance work. Practices vary in different workplaces, but it all eventually boils down to management starting from the decision on whether distance working is suitable for all duties or all employees, what its goals are and how its results are monitored. Managing distance work is a combination of trust and monitoring output and well-being at work. When it works, everyone is happy – the distance worker at the summer cottage and the boss, perhaps also at his or her own summer cottage.