Sometime between March 2020 and the end of 2021, ‘office workers’ ceased to be a thing.

Offices didn’t, of course, and nor did the kind of work that people typically did in offices before the pandemic. But the inherent connection between the two was irrevocably severed, as working from home became first a necessity, and then forever afterwards a possibility.

Now, WFH has become a point of contention across the world, as workers clash with management over where people work and who gets to choose. As Professor Mark Mortensen at business school INSEAD tells Fortune, “There is a culture war happening right now.”

Like most wars, the struggle over remote and hybrid working has multiple fronts. So where in Europe is WFH winning?

What does the data say?

The UK leads Europe in the home-working league table, according to the Global Survey of Working Arrangements (G-SWA), an authoritative annual study by leading economists into the behaviors and preferences of over 40,000 workers in 34 countries.

In fact, the average British employee with a graduate education spends twice as much time working remotely as their French – and three times more than their Greek – counterparts. Countries that have actively targeted remote working foreign ‘digital nomads’, like Portugal and Italy, meanwhile, have middling levels.

Days working per week, selected European countries:

  • UK: 1.8 (the same as the US)
  • Germany 1.5
  • Netherlands/Italy/Spain/Sweden 1.2 (the same as the European average)
  • Portugal 1.0
  • France 0.9
  • Denmark 0.8
  • Greece 0.6

Source: G-SWA 2023

G-SWA’s latest data was from the spring of 2023, but the pattern seems to be holding.

According to LinkedIn data prepared for Fortune, 41% of UK job postings on its platform were for hybrid roles in April 2024, compared with 32% for the wider Europe, the Middle East and Africa region.

Britain also had the highest proportion of remote-only roles in Europe, at 9% – three times higher than in France and Netherlands, which was the pre-pandemic leader in remote working.

Perhaps the most compelling indicator is transport usage figures. Analysis by the UK Department for Transport found that between May and June 2024, London Underground usage only hit between 75% and 87% of 2019 levels, with Mondays and Fridays consistently far below pre-pandemic averages.

For comparison, according to the Global Cities Survey 2024, Paris Rail had returned to 91% of pre-pandemic usership by the second quarter of 2023.


Various factors affect remote and hybrid working rates, including wifi connectivity, divergent lockdown experiences and the sector mix in different countries. Put simply, manufacturing and retail don’t lend themselves to WFH, while coding and publishing do.

The UK economy is more skewed towards services than most of its European neighbors, particularly to finance and tech, so structurally you’d expect to see more hybrid and remote working there.

But there’s another, arguably more important factor, says INSEAD’s Mortensen: a national culture of individualism.

“The more individualistic a country is, the more people like and push for remote and hybrid working,” he says, pointing to high levels of individualism in countries like the UK and the Netherlands, and much lower levels in Asian countries like Japan, China and South Korea, where working from home levels are also far lower.

“That’s another reason that the US tends to be very big on it,” Mortensen adds.

In fact, analysis by the international economists behind the G-SWA suggests that two-thirds of the variance between countries can be explained by their level of collectivism versus individualism.

It certainly seems to play out in what people in different countries say about how willing they are to go along with return to office orders. Recruiter Randstad’s 2024 Work Monitor, which surveyed 35,000 workers globally, found that Brits were significantly more attached to at-home working than their peers on the continent.

When asked whether they would quit if their employer tried to force them to work from the office more, 55% of UK respondents said yes, compared with only 23-26% for French, German, Italian and Dutch respondents, 29% of Spaniards and 30% of Swedes.

Does it matter?

Demand for flexible working arrangements remains widespread, with employees in countries that have low WFH levels, like Greece and Turkey, expressing a desire to work at home comparable to their peers in the UK

In the Netherlands, meanwhile, remote job applications account for a share of total applications five times higher than the share of job listings that are remote.

There are no signs of this preference changing, at least yet. “Our data shows professionals are not willing to give up the flexibility and work-life balance that comes with remote and hybrid roles, with competition for these jobs at a high,” says LinkedIn Career Expert Charlotte Davies.

If employee preference for flexible working persists, you might expect to see more concessions from companies competing for top talent, particularly where WFH is currently less entrenched.

This is particularly the case if legislation or trade union policy entrenches the right to work at home.

Mortensen, though, isn’t convinced. “It drives me crazy when people using [pandemic era] data and saying, well it worked during COVID, which was a giant existential dread and people didn’t have any other option….the company not falling apart in two years doesn’t mean that remote working is the best way you can organize.”

He points to what companies like Microsoft and Meta are finding about the “degradation of social relationships” from people not working together face to face, the lack of “enculturation” of new starters, and the decline in creativity and collaboration that has accompanied higher levels of home working.

“We know that things that are beneficial for organizations are often beneficial for individuals. People feel engaged and motivated by doing something new and innovative, so maybe [being in the office] is not just good for the company, it’s good for me too,” Mortensen says.

In other words, if too much time at home hurts performance – and for that matter career progression and job security – it will cease to look all that appealing to employees.

Ultimately, we’re still dealing with relatively new arrangements that have unknown long-term impacts. The situation is still evolving, as is our understanding of how to manage it as employers, and how we feel about it as employees – and that applies wherever you live. – Fortune.com/The New York Times