While digitalization has been advancing in many aspects of human life, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated changes in workplaces, trade, doing business, healthcare, education, public administration, and many other spheres. In fighting the disease and addressing challenges related to the pandemic, we were lucky that many technologies were available when the pandemic broke out and “progress of the last few decades has been so fast (…) that even major setbacks only pushes us back a few years”1.
It takes time for legislation to adjust to societal changes. Therefore, it is not surprising that legal systems have lagged behind digitalization. But many policies for years have been preventing or inhibiting technological transitions. In certain professions in Poland remote work was possible before the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Yet, it was underutilized not only because of work culture, but also due to legal and regulatory barriers. As an example, telehealth, despite technologies that could be used and were developed in the private sector, was almost absent in the Polish public healthcare system.
The pandemic led to many unavoidable changes in work and health protection. It required legal changes, building new corporate culture, educating customers, and organizational adjustments. This article focuses on barriers to remote work and telehealth that explain their underutilization before the pandemic in Poland. It also demonstrates how the coronavirus lead to changes to legislation and internal organization of employers and healthcare providers to facilitate remote work and provision of health services using modern technologies.
Although many changes that took place in the areas of work and healthcare during the pandemic were needed and sometimes treated as temporary, the legal system in Poland should be modified to enable continuation of remote work and growth of telehealth after the pandemic on a voluntary basis in a flexible legal environment.
Temptations to overregulate should be avoided, as flexibility is a far better answer for the needs of employers and employees, healthcare providers, and healthcare users. Moreover, COVID-19 may also permanently alter preferences of some employees and patients regarding remote and digital approach to work and healthcare altogether.
Remote Work Before COVID-19: Legal Barriers and Low Popularity
According to Eurostat, popularity of remote work in Poland was rather low before the pandemic and slightly below the EU average. Further, the percentage of people who usually worked from home in Poland was also relatively stable between 2012 and 2019. It was the coronavirus that led to radical changes in some workplaces.
In many places where people had to visit the office every day, employees needed to start working remotely; even parts of public administration, usually the most conservative towards non-traditional working arrangements, moved towards remote work. There were many reasons behind low interest in remote work in Poland, among them were legal barriers.
1 Norberg, J. (2020) “Why 2020 Was the Fourth Best Year in History”, [in]: spectator.co.uk. Available [online]: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-2020-was-the-fourth-best-year-in-history