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Bringing employees back to the office

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Remote work has proliferated since the pandemic, but now some companies are trying to bring their employees back to the office. What steps might employers need to take? Here we present insights from 17 jurisdictions.


In recent years companies have implemented remote work schemes, both as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and as a measure to offer a better work-life balance to employees and thereby attract, engage, and retain talent. However, many companies in different sectors have been modifying their remote work policies recently, aiming to reduce remote work and increase the percentage of office work, in some cases even limiting remote work to exceptional cases.

Among the reasons that have been mentioned by companies wishing to modify their flexible working policies by increasing the number of employees on-site, the following stand out:

  • employee disengagement from the company and its culture, which also makes teamwork more difficult,
  • that remote work is suitable for senior profiles that do not require supervision, but may slow down the learning process for less experienced employees,
  • that inflation and the rise in interest rates have significantly affected the economic and financial situation of companies, which say they have been forced to lay off employees and now wish to demand more physical presence, and
  • a claimed fall in productivity, measured in terms of employee performance and economic factors such as salary or business investment, including investment in the purchase, leasing and refurbishment of office space.

It has also been suggested by some that empty offices affect the economic and financial situation of adjacent businesses, which could affect local authorities, the real estate sector and the financial sector.

Here, we analyse the main challenges that companies would face in seeking to modify their unilaterally implemented remote work policies and increase the proportion of work from the office. What follows does not consider the situation of remote work policies negotiated with trade unions and/or employees’ representatives.

The main challenges in Spain

In Spain, the procedure for changing remote work patterns depends on the extent of remote work as a proportion of an employee’s total working time.

For remote work equal to or more than 30% of the employee’s working time, individual remote work agreements signed by the employer and the employee must be reviewed. If total or partial remote work was agreed, the employee’s consent would be required to either implement a hybrid work model or to increase the percentage of office work.

For remote work less than 30% of the employee’s working time, remote work policies must be analysed to determine whether it is possible for companies to modify them. Companies could unilaterally reduce the percentage of remote work by justifying this measure on economic, productive, organisational or technical grounds, and by complying with the procedure for substantial modification of working conditions (which could be of an individual or collective nature, depending on the total headcount and number of employees affected by the modification).

Ius Laboris

Ius Laboris is a leading international employment law practice combining the world’s leading employment, labour and pension firms. Our role lies in sharing insights and helping clients to navigate the world of labour and employment law successfully.
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