Jobs and the Future of Work

What does remote working look like around the world?

Remote working has become the norm for millions since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remote working has become the norm for millions since the COVID-19 pandemic. Image: Unsplash/sigmund

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Remote working has become the norm for millions since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • But your rights as a remote worker can vary considerably depending on where you live.
  • Employment law is gradually catching up and offering greater protection.

Remote working has become the norm for millions of people around the world since the COVID-19 pandemic. But your rights as a remote worker can vary considerably depending on where you live.

Surveys have shown that people who were forced to work remotely by pandemic lockdowns, now prefer to avoid the commute and work from home. A World Economic Forum study in 2021 found two-thirds of workers wanted the freedom to work remotely.

Have you read?

Many nations give workers a legal right to request remote or flexible working. The UK has just announced that it is making it easier to work remotely by abolishing a 26-week qualifying period and making it a day-one right when starting a new job.

The growing popularity of remote working among employers as well as workers was underlined by a 2022 McKinsey & Company study which found almost 6 in 10 Americans had been given the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week.

More than a third said they now had the option to work from home five days a week. Given the chance to work flexibly, 87% said they had taken it.

Infographic showing the availability of remote working.
Almost 6 in 10 Americans can work remotely at least one day a week. Image: McKinsey & Company

“What makes these numbers particularly notable is that respondents work in all kinds of jobs, in every part of the country and sector of the economy, including traditionally labelled ‘blue collar’ jobs … as well as ‘white collar’ professions,” said McKinsey & Company.

A 2022 study by social media management platform Buffer, conducted among more than 2,000 remote workers across the world, found their experience was overwhelmingly positive – 97% said they would recommend remote working over being office-based.

Survey showcasing whether people's recommendations on remote work.
The majority of 2,000 remote workers from around the world recommend it. Image: Buffer

The downsides to remote working

Almost two-thirds said their experience of working remotely was “very positive”, compared to 9% who were neutral and just 1% who had a negative experience. Almost three-quarters said their firm was planning to allow more remote working - up from 46% in 2021.

But there are downsides. Just over half said they felt less connected to their colleagues and 45% believed career progression was harder for remote employees. Over two-fifths said their organization was not providing career growth opportunities but they wished it would.

Survey showcasing the struggles people have with working remotely.
Staying motivated and difficulty focusing were issues for 21% of remote workers surveyed. Image: Buffer

Although a majority said they had no struggles with working remotely, the top two concerns were not being able to unplug from work and loneliness. A fifth said they were working more and 21% reported difficulty focusing when working remotely.

Digital nomads

Some, especially those whose jobs - like programming and digital design - can be done from anywhere with a half-decent internet connection, have taken remote working a stage further by moving to other countries.

At the last count, 49 nations now grant visas to allow remote workers - known as digital nomads – to move to their country with some, like Spain, offering generous tax breaks. Others offer financial incentives for remote workers to move to rural areas to revive communities.

While some countries give workers a legal right to work remotely in certain circumstances, in others your ability to become a remote worker may depend on the agreement of your employer – and that’s not always forthcoming, especially as economic conditions worsen.

In November 2022, Elon Musk told staff at Twitter they must return to the office, reversing the firm’s previous policy of allowing staff to work from anywhere. At Tesla, another of Musk’s companies, staff were told they must work at one of its main offices.

New employment rights

Analysis by global insurance broker Lockton of changes to employment law around the world, shows how rights that were introduced as temporary measures during pandemic lockdowns are becoming permanent.

One criticism levelled at remote working is that employees have found themselves working excessive hours. Brazil is tackling the problem with a law that requires employers to implement electronic timekeeping to monitor remote workers hours, according to Lockton.

In the Buffer global survey, 40% said they were working longer hours as a result of working remotely and almost two-thirds said they were spending longer in meetings than before. A quarter found it hard to unplug from work.

Chile has extended the legal right for employees to disconnect from work for 12 hours a day to include remote workers, while Norway upgraded its remote working law to forbid homeworkers from working at night or on Sundays, reports Lockton.

Ensuring safety

Spain and Norway are among countries which require employers to carry out health and safety assessments of remote workers’ workstations, while in Portugal employees are required to meet their employers in person once every two months.

In Ukraine, where 140,000 buildings have been destroyed by Russian attacks, remote working has become a necessity for millions fleeing the war. Helpfully, a new remote working law came into effect a year before Russia invaded which stipulated that a switch to flexible or remote working could be implemented immediately “when there is a threat of epidemic or any emergency”.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report 2020 warned that not everyone would be able to work remotely in the future, estimating that 38% of jobs in high-income and 25% of jobs in upper-middle-income countries could be performed remotely.

This compared to 17% of jobs in lower-middle-income economies and just 13% of jobs in low-income nations that could be done remotely. The report said reliable internet access was critical to expanding opportunities for remote working.


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