Improvised as an emergency during the first lockdown, teleworking seems to have convinced a large number of employees and companies. However, it requires a few organisational and managerial adjustments to be sustainable.
Implemented abruptly and without any preparation in order to comply with the public health recommendations imposed by Covid-19, the mass adoption of teleworking by French employees ultimately won over a majority of employees and employers. At least, initially.
In June 2020, a survey published by Malakoff Humanis revealed that 73% of teleworkers wanted to continue the experience after the first lockdown, either on a regular or occasional basis. This view was shared by most companies. Some now see teleworking as an additional element of flexibility, quality of work life and an asset to attract new talent.
There is no shortage of examples of this enthusiasm for teleworking. For example, at CNP Assurances, an agreement on the quality of life at work (QWL) was signed in July to encourage the extension of teleworking to all French employees. For its part, in early September, PSA launched its “A new era of agility” project, aimed at moving 20% of its 200,000 employees to teleworking for more than a third of the time. And according to Mark Zuckerberg, 50% of Facebook’s employees could be working remotely within five to ten years.
However, six months and several video conferences later, employees’ enthusiasm is a little more nuanced, and they long for a return to the workplace. According to a PARIS WORKPLACE barometer published in December 2020, 63% of employees say they want to work mostly in the office.
Teleworking, a new comfort not without risk
Nevertheless, teleworking offers many promises. Employees gain flexibility in organising their working hours, save time, energy and money on transport, while companies see it as an opportunity to reduce absenteeism and real estate costs. Society also gains from it, on an environmental level through reduced traffic, on a regional level with less road congestion in cities, and through the opportunity to revitalise rural areas... But the “win-win” reasoning has its limits.
There are also many risks involved in working remotely. First of all, psychosocial, with the blurring of the boundary between personal and work life, the feeling of isolation or even injustice between teleworking and non-teleworking employees, those with or without good housing, those with or without good connections. Then, health, due in particular to the poor ergonomics of home workstations and the increase in sedentary behaviour. The distancing and dispersal of employees can also affect social cohesion, team spirit and adherence to the company’s values. These are all pitfalls, which, if they are to be avoided, require a real organisational and managerial revolution within companies.
Teleworking requires a reinvention in the relationship with the company
Because they are the essential interface between employees and the company, local managers are now in the front line of the “teleworking revolution”. In its July 2020 report, the OECD therefore recommends training them to strengthen their role in supporting and assisting teams.
Adapting objectives to working conditions, refocusing the company culture on results and measurement, maintaining group meetings and respecting the right to disconnect are all paths to progress that can be explored. At the same time, particular emphasis should be placed on training employees to work independently and master information technology (ICT). It is up to the employer to provide everyone, managers and employees, with assistance and tools adapted to teleworking and to make them aware of the risks generated by these new practices.
Strengthening the office’s appeal
The creation or provision of third places, the renowned coworking spaces, is another avenue that would make it possible to bring together employees who are close geographically in order to maintain team cohesion and prevent isolation. Once the main pitfalls of teleworking have been overcome, we will need, according to economist Jacques Attali, to boost the appeal of traditional headquarters and offices by redesigning them to make them more than just places of production, but spaces for exchange and creativity that embody the company’s values.
Adapting the professional world to changes in society is not a particularly new challenge. This is at least the view of Antoine Lissowski, CEO of CNP Assurances, who, in a recent interview, recalled: “The business world is very Darwinian: you adapt, you anticipate or you die. Companies spend their lives evolving according to the expectations of their customers, the characteristics of the environment, the way their employees agree to work. The real revolution does not so much relate to teleworking, but rather to what the company represents, for too long reduced to the short-term pursuit of profit”.
By allowing, or rather, imposing an experiment on an unprecedented scale, the Covid-19 pandemic seems in any case to have definitively reshuffled the cards as regards work organisation. Well beyond merely eliminating travel constraints or giving employees more autonomy, teleworking may be bringing the company back to its essence: to unify and develop the loyalty of employees around a project and common values.