ATHENS – With global pandemic cases on a continuous rise, a significant portion of the office-based workforce now follows obligatory social distancing measures, working remotely to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Shaking up the typical work environment, the virus has resulted in a surge of telework, and while some experts predict that this new work dynamic will eventually phase out when the world gets back to normalcy, others say the phenomenon is here to stay.
In the United States, workers have fled big cities for smaller ones, while with its attractive weather and urban allure, Athens seems to be the place of interest for many a remote worker, including Greeks who had previously left the country in search of work abroad, and foreigners taking the opportunity to work from, and discover Greece.
Having also traveled to Asia, Germany-based couple Daniel Adam and Anna-Maria Scwann decided to rent an Airbnb and work remotely from co-working space The Cube Athens. “The concept of remote work will definitely be a big topic in the future and will certainly expand,” Scwann said. “I see myself in the far future in a permanent job with the option for a home office, and perhaps also a one-month unpaid vacation to escape the cold winter months in Germany.”
The Cube Athens co-founders and owners, Maria Calafatis and Stavros Messinis said that post-Athens lockdown earlier this year, they saw a rise in remote work travel both by Greeks and non-Greeks – what has been dubbed as “brain-gain,” or the reversing of the brain-drain effect.
“Freelancers and digital nomads have always chosen Greece as a destination, and now with the effects of COVID-19 we have seen an increase in such workers,” Calafatis said. “Offering employees the flexibility to work remotely brings about more creativity … the Greek culture, philoxenia, weather, and the fact that people can move around more freely is an added bonus to working remotely from Greece,” she said.
According to Eurostat, in 2019, some 5.4% of employed individuals in EU countries ages 15-64 worked “usually from home,” a percentage of the population that has remained constant at around 5% for the last decade. Among EU member states, the Netherlands and Finland topped the list for remote work with 14.1% of employed people usually working from home in 2019, while Greece ranked among the lowest in rates of such workers at 1.9%.
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, working remotely became a norm for millions of people worldwide. An early 2020 Eurofound estimate suggested that as a result of the pandemic, nearly 40% of EU workers began to telework on a full time basis.
Digital designer Dimitra Papastathis had been studying and working outside Greece for over a decade before taking the opportunity to move back to Athens to work remotely. “I enjoy being able to order souvlaki any time of the day plus starting work one hour later due to time zone differences,” she said. “I can also spend some more time with my baby in the morning hours.”
Unable to find a job in his field in Greece, George Magonis had left the country for England in 2012, before Greece’s unemployment rate spiked to 28% the following year, more than double the euro zone’s record rate of 12.1% in the same period, according to ELSTAT.
As a result of the pandemic, the senior lecturer currently works remotely from Athens. “As far as academia is concerned, working from home is not a great challenge, at least compared to other sectors,” he said. Magonis, who believes that the future of work is a mix of distance and in-person tasks, said that his greatest challenge to working remotely is finding balance between teaching and research time.
For Athens-based product marketing manager at Microsoft, Jesus Kalergis, the remote nature of working from home has brought about new opportunities, he said. “Being able to save the commuting time and repurpose this to other activities, even just sleep, helps reduce stress and reinstate a sense of truly being able to choose where to allocate your time,” Kalergis said. “With remote work from anywhere, I have been able to allocate time in personal growth, professional learning, and learning how to cook.”
Kalergis said he knows at least six peers who made Greece their “work from home” location of choice. “Most are in a temporal setup, but are seeking ways to make the arrangement more permanent,” he said.
Back in the United States, Chicago-based Morningstar financial services firm earlier this year estimated that 45% of U.S. workers were working from home, but also stated that things will eventually return to normal. “Although we expect a solid boost to work-from-home adoption thanks to the pandemic, we think most workers will return to the office,” Morningstar equity analyst Preston Caldwell stated in a report dated September 24, which projected that 13% of U.S. workers will be working from home full time in 2025, up from 9% in 2019.
“Working from home isn't for everyone. It requires the right occupation, permission from the employer, and ultimately the choice of the worker. Only 13% of the U.S. workforce will clear all three of these hurdles,” the report stated.
In contrast, a September Ernst and Young report predicted that remote working will be the new normal post COVID-19. “Remote working is here to stay and will more than ever become an integral part of the way we work,” the report stated.
Creating a trend, several major companies have already announced their employees can choose to work remotely on a long term basis. San Francisco-based Twitter, told employees in May that they could work from home indefinitely, suspending business travel and in-person events for the rest of 2020.
“Things won't go back to the normal we were used to … global companies have already announced remote work until the end of 2020 and beyond,” said Calafatis, who believes Athens has a promising future as a hub for remote workers.