Costa Rica had already been taking steps towards the possibility of people working from home a few days a week, since legislation had been passed that vaguely regulated this modality, but COVID-19 suddenly established work from homes without prior notice and no opportunity to properly prepare.
The task has been easy or difficult, depending on the conditions of each remote worker. For those who live alone or do not have family obligations, it has been easier to adapt; as well as for the new generations who see the experience as something positive.
There are other people who have felt their tasks double or triple during the day, they must help their children to do school assignments or who receive virtual classes; housework is always there: cooking, cleaning, shopping, constantly disinfecting, and still, keeping up with work.
In addition to this, remote workers must guarantee sufficient Internet coverage to carry out their work, enable spaces in the house to locate their computer and materials and, if possible, acquire equipment and furniture.
The truth is that remote working is an alternative that seems to be implemented indefinitely and is an option that many people and companies believe that it could continue, even after the Pandemic.
From this perspective there are a series of issues that must be taken into account; for example, the elements that should be included in the legislation to more clearly regulate labor relations in terms of remote working, as well as guaranteeing the well-being and balance of remote workers.
A law that was owed
According to labor lawyer Manuel Hernández, remote working had already arrived before the Pandemic promoted by a law, but it still had a long way to go to be implemented in the normality of labor relations.
“Definitely, the Pandemic was the golden opportunity… the expected one, for remote working to spread, consolidate and stay forever. The Law has already established a series of parameters, which by the way is quite in omission, and the Ministry of Labor also published a regulation,” Hernández explained.
Coinciding with this position, the labor lawyer Mauricio Castro pointed out that the existing regulations did not contemplate the particularities that the Pandemic has raised; that is, thousands of people subjected to special hiring regimes, modification of their employment contracts and reduction of wages in the absence of the application of norms or rights.
“The Government ran to generate measures in tax and labor terms, so that the bill would be passed on to the population and private sector workers, but not to companies or people who have more money.
The options for the people were clear: reduce working hours, lowering wages; suspend employment contracts or go home, being company workers, but without being governed by the existing regulations,” Castro explained.
The existing regulations are very basic. It establishes elements that are positive, among them the recognition of remote working as a salaried job, covered by all the guarantees, such as social security and occupational risks.
In addition, it states that remote workers have the same functions as any employee, but connected with the employer through technology; Beyond that, it is not clear as to the accidents that can be suffered at home. There is still a long way to go in regulatory terms.
“No element is established that raises actions when there is an increase in the worker’s costs, since going from the office to the house implies an increase in the electricity bill, hiring the Internet with the adequate bandwidth and others that are recharged right now in the pocket of the employee. In my opinion, the employer should be held responsible for these costs,” said Castro.
A second flaw in this legislation is family conciliation, since it has become clear that remote work functions can interfere, especially in times of Pandemic, in the care of children, the elderly or the sick. All of this creates additional stress.
Something that has been incorporated in European countries is the establishment of limits on what employers can ask their workers and when they must do it. For Manuel Hernández, this is an essential issue that must be regulated; it is one of the most serious omissions of the legislation.
The right to disconnection –analyzed the expert– implies that beyond the agreed day, the worker is not obliged to attend no employer requirement, by any means or electronic device, be it computer, mobile or landline.
“But, furthermore, it should mean that the employer has the prohibition to connect with the worker beyond those limits of the day. For me, the right to disconnect necessarily implies this prohibition, to prevent remote working from becoming an electronic slavery contract,” Hernández said.
From the perspective of Manuel Hernández, the continuity of remote work should be directed so that remote workers are workers with rights and that their working conditions are not precarious, so all these shortcomings must be resolved.
The new labor reality posed by COVID-19 put in check the application of standards, the commitment of workers and the lack of preparation on the part of many companies to launch fully into remote working.
However, there are companies that do take into account the conditions of their workers and strive to carry out this emergency in the best way for everyone. An example of this is Intel, which already had a previous remote working plan for its employees, which allowed them to carry out their tasks one or two days a week.
Timothy Scott, Intel’s Communications Manager, explained that in times of Pandemic they have prioritized the remote work plan and 85% of their employees are under this modality. He pointed out that they have facilitated the conditions for those who are at home, knowing that not everyone had the conditions to set up an office in their homes; They allowed them to take the ergonomic chair, the external keyboard and up to two monitors, for the duration of the Pandemic, in order to work more comfortably.
“We have ergonomic tools for remote workers, which require them to take breaks and exercises from time to time, because we are going to spend a lot of time in front of the monitor. In addition, the way we work now could generate mental and emotional stress, so we enabled psychological seminars, facilitated exercise classes and provided subsidies to some employees with children or older adults at home, to hire a person to give them support in the care”, he added.
When remote working overwhelms mental health
From one day to the next, life changed. A large part of the people who went to work had to stay at home, children and young people stopped going to classes, and remote working, virtual classes and the excessive disinfection of everything that entered the home was incorporated.
However, the work demands did not diminish, many did not even assess if the worker had a computer at home or if it was the only one available for everyone to connect; if he had Internet that allowed him to be connected all day or had someone to attend to the needs of children and dependents.
There is an enormous surcharge of these functions in women, who must continue with their work functions, giving the stature; making breakfast, lunch, dinner; answering video calls; ensuring children do homework or connect to class; worse still, in the midst of a situation where care and health are the central axis and at a time when steps were just beginning to be taken to share housework.
This is where the mental and emotional health of those who telecommute comes into play. According to Vilma Leandro Zúñiga, representative of the Professional Association of Psychology, all the factors of people’s lives have come together in a single space, which is overwhelming.
“Feeling that you can’t do everything produces frustration, emotional and psychological exhaustion. We have seen that this generates emotional isolation, especially if there were no previous support networks and healthy and respectful ties at home. At this time, people tend to isolate themselves, children and adolescents spend hours in the room and there is little talk”, explained the expert.
Leandro emphasized that many physical symptoms have been reported by remote workers, including insomnia, difficulties in handling food, many anxiety attacks and a greater tendency to addiction, which has triggered the consumption of liquor or tranquilizers. All of this speaks of a serious impairment of mental health, a syndrome called “being burned by work.”
There are also studies that speak of the physiological affectation that remote workers are suffering, due to permanent exposure to screens; In addition, there is greater irritability, people get angry more quickly and people lose social skills, the result of which affects conflict resolution.
“Another element is the losses that the workers are having; The work spaces, the dynamics, were lost, people meet, talk and share with their colleagues. We are facing a situation of mourning for the loss of the previous life, for not knowing what is going to happen and all the small things of normality that we had; this affects the productivity and emotional burdens of people”, she concluded.