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Working from home, the various approach of countries and the responses from employees

Starting in late 2019, reports of a previously unknown flu-like virus began to trickle out of Wuhan, China. At first, predictions of catastrophe were treated with skepticism. As the weeks went by, however, it became clear that we were on the verge of a pandemic that would affect the lives and livelihoods of every single person on earth. 

Governments and businesses around the globe had to make changes, often abruptly. The economy needed to be kept running, but not at the cost of human lives. One part of the solution was to go remote and allow working from home.

This had been tried, in a limited sense, both in educational and commercial environments. Adopting this model en masse, however, revealed surprising new insights on how remote work affected company profitability, employee satisfaction, and national competitiveness. Now, three years after the outbreak, it’s time for a look back at the lessons we learned.

Our goal here is to illustrate how remote and hybrid work was approached in different countries around the world during the pandemic. We’ve spoken to representatives of several different countries, researched available literature, and consulted with specialists and researchers in various fields.

The countries included in our study are Portugal, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, France, Japan, the Czech Republic, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, Romania, China, Malaysia, and Brazil.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
68 68.63 10th -5.76%

French and German culture generally aren’t considered to share many similarities. One thing they do have in common, though, is that people are expected to be productive at work but left alone during their free time. We have found that the “right to disconnect”, whether legally mandated or as a custom, plays an important part in most successful work-from-home schemes.

Another aspect that explained their comparatively successful transition to remote work – only 4% of pre-pandemic workers worked from home, rising to 27% by January 2021 – is that the legal framework for remote work had been in place since 2017.

Since most companies had only a limited learning curve to climb, the country-wide lockdown announced in March 2020 caused relatively little disruption. The government issued two emergency decrees related to remote work. The most important of these was that working from home should be the norm for all employees whose tasks are suitable for remote work. Secondly, employees who wished to return to working on-site should be allowed to do so for a day per week. The particular terms of any agreement on remote work would be up to the employer and employee (or union) to negotiate, allowing a degree of flexibility.

Employers are required to provide all necessary equipment and services; a remote work allowance (including rent for home office space) is also paid to the employee. Interestingly from a psychological perspective, the law specifically requires the employer to maintain open communication with remote employees so that their contribution and input are seen to be valued.

Post-pandemic, however, many French employees are returning to the office by choice. In a recent survey by Ifop, only 11% of workers in France claim to work from home four or more days per week. The importance of social interactions and a cultural tendency toward collective decision-making have been suggested as possible reasons.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
124.8 42.56 20th 0.05%

At least according to some stereotypes, Japanese culture places a high price on order, discipline, and self-sacrifice. At the same time, the government is constitutionally limited in what it can do during a crisis such as a pandemic. It did not, for instance, have the power to order the closure of businesses or restrict people from going outside.

The Japanese government did, however, request people to refrain from leaving their homes unless unavoidable, and that non-essential businesses close or move their operations to a remote model where possible. Despite the fact that officials couldn’t impose penalties on individuals who ignored these appeals, the rate of compliance was high.

Many individuals, however, found the transition to be extremely disruptive. A significant number of companies abandoned their experiments with remote work as early as the middle of 2020. Between June and July, the proportion of Japanese companies of all sizes that offered remote working options dropped from 56% to 31%. According to one study, the average Japanese employee’s productivity dropped by as much as 20% when working from home. Both workers and managers cited insufficient internet access and office equipment at home, as well as the absence of their former close communication with colleagues and superiors, as major problems.

Naturally, it is difficult to compare the Japanese outlook to that common in Western Europe. However, some experts have speculated that a collectivist mindset, centralization of power within organizations, and a low emphasis on mental health issues are important factors. This would mean that Japanese human resources professionals should adapt Western models of remote work to local values before attempting to implement them in a Japanese context.

Czech Republic

Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
10.5 40.93 52nd -1.45%

Though the Czech Republic possesses a modern digital infrastructure as well as a wealth of human capital, it experienced considerable difficulties transitioning to a remote-work model as part of dealing with the covid crisis. A hierarchical, communal approach to work is sometimes described as the root cause, though some countries with similar cultures have had significantly more success in embracing working from home.

The main problem is legislative. While most employees enjoy the same protections as you would find in any other First World country, remote workers find themselves in a kind of legal no man’s land. Since it is unclear whether they are in fact formal employees or independent contractors, those that do choose to work remotely expose themselves to possible exploitation. 

Ironically, Czechia and Prague in particular are highly rated among foreign remote workers due to its affordability, high level of internet connectivity, and low cost of living. A digital nomad visa is valid for a year and requires you to obtain a business license as an independent operator. This allows you to do business with Czech companies in addition to foreign ones.

According to a poll by Ipsos, 59% of Czech employees are willing to at least explore the idea of remote work, with 51% expressing an interest in fully remote positions. The good news for them, many of whom are of the younger generation, is that legislation is currently being debated that would make remote work a right for all employees who can fulfill their functions without having to be on-site. The proposed bill is, however, facing significant resistance from the Czech business community.

United States

Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
334.2 73.70 11th 1.79%

Known as one of the world’s most innovative economies, it’s no surprise that the U.S. quickly embraced remote work in response to the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, the proportion of people who work chiefly from home soared from 5.7% to 17.9%. A significant proportion of these can be classified as part-time employees, independent contractors, or gig workers.

The United States is an unusual case, as labor law is determined both at the federal and state level. In general, though, there is no legislation regarding the right to work from home. This means that the decision to permit working from home partially or full-time is up to the employer. According to the US Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can implement remote working policies as long as they maintain an accurate record of the hours worked. Provisions and contract terms are negotiated between the employer and employee.

The business culture in the United States varies greatly between companies, with some being highly collaborative and others somewhat authoritarian. This, naturally, affected their relative levels of enthusiasm for a remote work model as well as their success in embracing one.

American employees tend to have a very positive outlook on working from home, though. A reported 87 percent will gladly take the opportunity to work remotely if this is made available to them.  A survey carried out in the spring of 2022 by McKinsey and Ipsos suggests that 58 percent of Americans have the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week, while 35 percent have the option to work from home five days a week.


United Kingdom

Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
67 54.35 47th -4.96%

The prevalence of remote work rose drastically in the U.K. during the pandemic, from 5% before to 45% at the beginning of the lockdown in April 2020. Before social distancing restrictions, people who worked from home tended to be skilled professionals, those with valuable qualifications, the self-employed, London residents, and some of the older population.

During the pandemic, any employees who could do their tasks at home were urged to do so. It was then the responsibility of the employer to ensure that their employees enjoyed a safe and healthy working environment. This included, significantly, that their employees wouldn’t be left feeling isolated or alone, meaning that there had to be regular contact with remote workers. Employers also had to make sure that their employees had the equipment they needed for their roles. 

After covid, the option of working remotely is still common. However, under current U.K. laws, there is no statutory right for an employee to work from home unless specifically included in the employee’s contract. Employees with at least 26 weeks of continuous service with the same employer are allowed to request a flexible working arrangement within a 12-month period. This can be denied as long as their employer can show that they considered the request and have good reason for the refusal. 

The British workforce seems divided on working from home post-lockdown. People aged 55 and older are more likely to prefer working from home permanently, while the younger generation of between 16 and 24 tends to want to work in an office full time. Hybrid work is often used as a means to accommodate everyone’s preferences. In 2022, 14% of employees worked exclusively from home while 24% sometimes traveled to work.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
10.3 35.15 27th -5.68%

Some Western European countries adapted to the concept of remote work more quickly than others. Portugal was one of the latter.

In particular, the Portuguese government implemented new laws around working from home only in January 2022. Compared to many other countries’ efforts, this legislation struck a good balance between business requirements and employee welfare. In particular, the “right to disconnect” was stressed: employees are only expected to be available during agreed working hours.

Two models of remote work are provided for, namely fixed and indefinite. Fixed agreements may cover periods of up to six months and are automatically renewed unless either party requests a modification of the terms. Open-ended teleworking arrangements can be terminated at any time with 60 days’ notice. The content of the new legislation was generally in line with existing Portuguese labor law, which led to a minimum of disruption.

Portuguese employers are obliged to provide their employees with any equipment and services required for remote work. In addition, the employer has to cover additional expenses incurred by the employee, including increased energy and internet bills. 

These regulations were widely welcomed by workers. In particular, employers’ obligations to respect the privacy of employees and refrain from contacting them outside working hours were seen as positive points. During the latter half of 2020, approximately 16% of Portuguese employees worked remotely.

Portugal is also a popular destination for digital nomads. A special visa is issued for this purpose; requirements include a formal employment contract and verifiable income of about $32,500 per annum.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
47.6 56.31 14th -9.82%

It took the Spanish government until October 2020 to implement a law on remote work in response to the pandemic. This law applies to employees who work at least 30% of their total hours remotely, when this is done over a period of 3 months or more. In 2020, approximately 16% of Spaniards regularly worked from home, a figure that has steadily decreased since then.

As in Portugal, the employer is expected to provide any equipment and infrastructure employees need to work effectively from home or some other remote location. Also like in its Iberian neighbor, the terms of any remote working agreement are negotiated between employer and employee (or the union that represents them). This agreement can be terminated at any time by either party, in which case working conditions revert to those in the normal employment contract. Required notice periods are defined in the remote working agreement.

A schedule of working hours is also included in this document, outside of which employees can’t be disturbed except in case of emergency. One interesting provision of the new law is that employees who choose to work from home can not be discriminated against in terms of promotions, salary, and other benefits. Companies that operate in Spain would be wise to consult a labor lawyer, as fines for breaking the rules can run to as much as €225,000.

According to the government, allowing remote work can increase employee productivity and is expected to increase Spain’s global competitiveness. Taking advantage of the country’s reputation as a pleasant tourist destination, a special digital nomad visa was created in December 2022. Freelancers who earn at least 80% of their income from non-Spanish companies may, with extensions, live in the country for up to 5 years while enjoying a favorable tax status.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
84.3 68.85 35th -3.29%

German attitudes, where work and private life tend to be strictly separated, generally do not favor working from home. Prior to the pandemic, only 4% of employees worked remotely. During a government-imposed lockdown in April 2020, however, this figure shot up to 27%.

Unlike many of its E.U. peers, the German government didn’t make any lasting changes to regulation regarding working from home, instead folding this into emergency pandemic legislation which expired in March 2022. A permanent law relating to “mobile” work has been in the works since the summer of 2020, though.

There was therefore no legal entitlement to work from home during the pandemic in any particular case, though companies were nominally obliged to allow this whenever possible. This required an amendment to an employment contract, and an employer could refuse such a request without, as in many countries, having to provide a formal justification.

Should the employer choose to allow remote or hybrid work, they are responsible for reimbursing the employee’s related costs, including those associated with setting up a permanent home office and rent for the space used. No particular provisions are made regarding employees’ right to privacy and uninterrupted rest time, though these issues are already adequately addressed by existing German labor laws.

After the pandemic, many employers expressed a wish for their staff to return to their offices. This does not, unfortunately, align with workers’ preferences. A survey carried out by research company Forsa found that 61 percent of the respondents enjoyed working from home. A better work-life balance was commonly cited as a positive, though many respondents complained about problems caused by unergonomic workstations and feelings of isolation.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
17.8 69.78 25th -0.02%

Even prior to the pandemic, the Netherlands was a world leader in remote work, with 14.1% of employees frequently working from home (compared to only 3.6% in the United States). By the end of 2020, the proportion of employees working from home had increased to 48%, or about 3.5 million.

Following this success, there was plenty of public debate on whether all employees who are able to do their work remotely should be allowed to. In practice, this is already the case. Assuming that certain minor conditions are met, an employer has to grant an employee’s request to work flexibly or fully remotely unless they can demonstrate that the employee’s physical presence is a requirement of the job.

As in most E.U. countries, the employer is responsible for providing all equipment and services remote employees need to perform their duties. Aside from basics like a desk and reliable internet connection, Dutch law is fairly specific about the ergonomic and safety standards any workspace, remote or on-site, has to meet. Employers have to, for instance, ensure that their employees’ home offices are adequately lit and counsel them about the psychological aspects of being physically separated from their team.

The Netherlands represents an interesting and somewhat unique case study in remote work. Aside from physical infrastructure (98% of homes have high-speed internet), Dutch companies have long embraced a participatory, flexible work culture based on trust. This intangible social dynamic goes a long way to explaining their relatively smooth transition to remote work under the pressure of a pandemic.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
26 61.44 56th -7.05%

The Australian government, like many other governments, has not made working from home a legal right. The “Fair Work Act”, however, does provide some requirements employers have to consider when an employee requests the ability to work flexibly. This may apply if the employee in question is a parent, disabled, 55 or older, experiencing domestic violence, or is providing care to a member of the family. Additionally, only employees who have worked continuously for at least 12 months can request to work flexibly.  

In general, remote work is viewed in a positive light by both workers and companies. Hybrid working models are now a prominent feature in business. In general, employers will only refuse a request for a flexible working arrangement on tangible grounds such as excessive cost or loss of efficiency. The government has issued a general recommendation to work 3 days per week in the office and 2 days from home or any other preferred location, though specific policies vary between companies. 

According to one study, working from home saves the average Australian AU$ 10,000 (US$ 7,100) per year, along with an average commute of 54 minutes each day. Many people in the HR and recruitment industry feel that employers who have a blanket policy against remote work will struggle to attract talent in future: one in three Australian applicants are specifically looking for positions with a remote option, while a similar number say that they’ll be willing to leave a company that requires full-time attendance.

However, as in many other countries, Australian employees working from home struggled with feelings of loneliness, a lack of communication, difficulty concentrating, and confusion about expectations. For these reasons, hybrid working arrangements remain the most popular.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
1,375 8.67 70th -1.30%

Though India introduced major labor law reforms during 2020, working from home was not specifically addressed – in fact, there is still no true legal definition of “remote worker”. There is therefore also no statutory right to work from home and employers’ obligations, such as providing necessary digital equipment, remain unspecified. 

One notable exception applied to companies in India’s Special Economic Zones. In these regions, employers had to approve an employee’s request to work at home unless doing so would interfere with normal business operations. Such an agreement would typically run for 12 months, though the specifics were still largely left up to the employer.

Overall, an estimated 96% of all Indian companies implemented some form of remote work policy during the covid emergency. Now, as the pandemic wanes, a hybrid model is emerging as the new standard. 83% of workers regard a mix of telework and in-office time as ideal, as do 26% of companies (in the sectors which were surveyed).

Attitudes regarding remote work remain mixed. Employers are wary of the effect a lack of supervision, training, and exposure to company culture might have. Employees, for their part, cite a lack of infrastructure, distractions, and loneliness as concerns. Hybrid working seems like the optimum way to ameliorate these problems while reaping the benefits of working from home. Going forward, however, those involved would like to see a clearer legislative framework spelling out aspects like the right to disconnect, reimbursement of employee expenses, the security of confidential information, and compliance with health and safety legislation.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
19 34.72 101st 3.34%

Romania has had formal legislation regarding working from home since 1972, though this mainly envisioned artisanal piecework rather than the highly skilled tasks associated with modern telecommuting. In 2018, this law was modernized and expanded – at that time, only 0.4% of Romanians worked remotely.

This was soon to change rapidly The Romanian pandemic lockdown was one of the most restrictive in the world, with leaving your residence only being permitted for work, medical, or limited shopping purposes. As a result, companies were forced to choose between allowing remote work or closing their doors. By 2020, the number of employees working remotely had risen to 24%.

According to, the largest online community of employees in Romania, 40% of surveyed employees say that they would look for a new job if remote working were no longer an option. In addition, 62% believe that they are more productive when working from home. On the downside, 45% reported that they felt socially isolated while not being able to visit the office.

Romania is also a popular destination for digital nomads. An easy application process, good access to the internet and co-working spaces, a low cost of living, and a favorable tax structure combine to attract numerous foreign remote workers to Bucharest and other cities.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
14,412 11.69 16th 5.71%

China was the first country to have to deal with the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus. Consequently, it was also the first to resort to remote work, which was mandated by the government for all jobs that didn’t require an on-site presence.

This transition proved to be relatively difficult. The percentage of Chinese employees working from home or remotely jumped to 40 percent, compared to 7 percent prior to the outbreak. For the Chinese, who generally value hierarchy and a communal way of working, this unexpected cultural shift created several unforeseen problems.

The government was quick to utilize digital technologies, including AI, facial recognition, and location tracking to contain the spread of the outbreak. Companies, too, started keeping tabs on their employees remotely. Many employees were required to check in with their bosses every morning to update them on their location and whether they had symptoms of the virus.

Employees initially welcomed remote work as an alternative to hectic commutes, intrusive supervision, and rigid schedules. However, many found their productivity and happiness impacted by other family members needing to use computers and internet connections for work or education, poor communication with colleagues, and distractions at home. With no “right to disconnect” guaranteed by law, many found themselves working longer hours.

This is not to say that China’s future does not include remote or hybrid working. More user-friendly digital communication tools, more flexible business units, and a business culture that allows hands-off leadership while making those working from home feel like part of a team are cited as necessary components to overcoming Chinese employers’ and employees’ reluctance to embrace remote work.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
33 24.75 45th -6.07%

Malaysia’s economy was heavily affected by the covid outbreak. In the immediate aftermath, 67% of companies implemented some form of remote work program. Highly skilled, highly paid workers were far more likely to work from home, reflecting the fact that not all Malaysian households have access to adequate internet and other digital tools.

Post-covid, the Malaysian government has introduced a flexible working amendment to the Employment Act of 2022. This covers not only remote working but also adjustable working hours. Similarly to other countries, employees have to request the right to work from home, which the employer may only refuse under certain circumstances. The law also includes incentives for employers who invest in increased capacity for remote work.

69% of workers wish for remote or hybrid work to be part of Malaysia’s future employment landscape. Many, however, expressed concern about the impact this will have on their productivity. Access to appropriate technological tools, as well as training to use these effectively, were frequently cited as necessary steps.

Malaysia has a vibrant digital nomad community, both in the capital of Kuala Lumpur and around various tourism hotspots. A minimum income of only $24,000 per annum is required to qualify and the visa is valid for 12 months. Earnings from sources outside the country are not considered taxable.


Population (million) Productivity (US$ PPP per hour) Internet Quality Ranking GDP Change 2018-2020
216 19.20 49th -24.43%

2019 found Brazil in poor shape to weather a pandemic: economically, politically, and medically. One thing the country did have in its favor was that remote work was already regulated by a 2017 labor reform law, though not in any great detail. During the crisis, the Brazilian government supplemented this through provisional decrees.

Though lockdowns in Brazil weren’t as strict as in other parts of the world, with no general stay-at-home policy implemented for the general public, many people self-isolated out of fear of infection. After an initial period of resistance by management, companies in sectors where remote work was an option often imposed this on their employees without negotiation. In many cases, workers were required to assume the costs of the transition, though most welcomed the opportunity to work from home.

The number of remote workers rose rapidly, from 4.6 million in 2019 to 8.2 million in 2020. In the absence of comprehensive legislation, there were several negative aspects to the ways in which teleworking was implemented by various companies. A lack of necessary equipment and services, limited support and communication from managers, and the expectation of unpaid overtime were common causes of discontent. Interestingly, industries with a strong union presence registered far fewer complaints to the Public Labour Prosecutor’s Office in this regard.

It is expected that, like in many other countries, the Brazilian economy will continue to accept a hybrid work model in the immediate future, especially since this is seen as an employee perk. As a means of dealing with the covid crisis, however, remote work could only ever have a limited effect on the Brazilian economy, since the bulk of the population could not make use of this option in any case.


This white paper refrains from drawing sweeping conclusions about various countries’ responses to the sudden need for creating a work-from-home framework. What we can say with confidence, however, is that the right combination of legislative action and business culture played a major role in success and failure. Though nobody was expecting a novel virus to engulf the world, some countries were caught flat-footed while others made a much smoother transition to working remotely.

A rational framework that incorporates remote and hybrid working leads to happier employees, greater productivity, and a more level playing field globally. This is not to mention other external effects: less traffic and pollution, easier childcare arrangements, and the ability to recruit from, or apply for jobs, outside your immediate region. The shift to remote working has certainly been accelerated by the covid pandemic, but it had been gathering steam long before that.

The rapid changes forced by lockdowns and social distancing also highlighted certain practical problems surrounding the implementation of remote work. Some of them are purely technological hurdles; overcoming these, luckily, comes down mostly to spending some money.

A more subtle dilemma relates to company culture. How does one make each remote employee feel that they belong, that their contributions are valued, that they are still part of a team accomplishing something worthwhile? Ignoring this aspect of remote work (or trying to force a return to the status quo ante) is not the answer. Instead, innovative solutions that address the social aspects of remote working need to be explored.

This is what Locus Quest is all about. Fostering communication, building team spirit, and onboarding new employees remotely can be done, but this usually doesn’t happen by accident. We can show you how to avoid the pitfalls while maximizing the possibilities inherent in remote work.