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What the Dutch can teach the world about remote work

Netherlands may have figured out something about working from home (pandemic or no) that the rest of the world has yet to learn.

If you’ve been balancing your laptop on a precarious stack of cookbooks, or lamented VPN speed from your kitchen table, you’re not alone. Ever since restrictions were put in place to slow the spread of Covid-19, companies have been scrambling to enable colleagues to work from home.

As we adapt to the much-cited ‘new normal’, some experts are predicting that remote work might be here to stay. This is leaving many nervously eyeing up our makeshift home desk set-ups, and wondering how on earth we can handle the backache.

But for some, remote working is just another day at the office. Thousands of workers in the Netherlands benefit from the country’s astonishingly flexible work culture. While the percentage of employed persons usually working remotely before the coronavirus outbreak lingered at around 4.7% in the UK, and 3.6% in the US, 14.1% of the Netherland’s workforce reports usually working away from the office. The Netherlands has long led the global shift toward remote work, with only Finland catching up in recent years while other countries lag behind.

Across the globe, many companies have found that the shift to remote work has been a less-than-smooth transition. Setting up usually office-based staff with computer equipment, and re-calibrating working culture to keep employees connected, has been a significant shift for most. But for the Netherlands, the country’s already sizeable remote workforce means that the adjustment has been much less dramatic

A culture ripe for remote work

The explosion of remote working facilities in the Netherlands hasn’t just benefited employees of large companies. Around 1.1 million workers in the Netherlands are self-employed, and the normalization of the virtual office has made it easy for freelancers and small business start-ups to operate without the need for dedicated office space.

The power to reorganize

With the Netherlands displaying an admirable level of trust in its employees and an understanding of the digital frameworks needed to support remote work, other countries may now be looking towards the Dutch as they plan a post-Covid future.

Many countries struggle with a culture of presentism, with 83% of UK employees reporting having observed pressure within their workplace to ‘show up’ regardless of whether their mental or physical health allows it. In the US, around 15% of homes do not have broadband, and one in five employees report feeling guilty about taking time away from the office, worrying that this might make them seem less committed to their job.

While the Netherlands displays a combination of attuned infrastructure, investment in a digital future, and culture of trust that makes it an aspirational archetype of a well-oiled remote world, companies in other countries still have much to understand and adapt to as Covid-19 ushers in a less office-based future.

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