In France, until the current health crisis, teleworking was relatively little practiced compared to other Western countries. Yet, teleworking has been shown to have a positive impact not only on the performance of companies and organizations, but also on sustainability and well-being. Teleworking improves working comfort , as well as travel conditions and times.
Teleworking is the victim of many prejudices and clichés . It would isolate demotivated employees, who would no longer be reachable and who would pretend to exercise their function while they devote themselves to their family or to their leisure activities. If they make the effort to work, it’s in their pajamas, on their sofa, without any real commitment or ambition.
However, a new study by researchers at Harvard Business School and New York University contradicts this negative view and shows that telecommuting employees spend 48.5 minutes more per day in their profession. During the confinement, even the most perplexed managers found that teleworking had allowed them to maintain their activities without any real negative impact.
On average, workers have clocked up an extra 48.5 minutes a day since lockdowns began https://t.co/q8XQLBhTlq
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) August 21, 2020
Many companies with a culture hostile to telecommuting were able to continue to operate quite normally during the lockdown. This awareness has fundamentally changed the perception of many managers who now see teleworking as a solution for the future to be more efficient, save money especially in times of crisis, and recruit new talents thanks to a more attractive employer brand. It is also a way to gain agility and reduce risk .
Although teleworking is not suitable for all professions or for all profiles, and some are completely resistant to it, it has many advantages and the people who practice it are generally more efficient. With the Covid-19 crisis, this constraint may have become an opportunity for companies that realize the value creation potential of teleworking.
After having been forced to experience it by the circumstances they have undergone, many start-ups, but also large groups such as Accenture or PSA, have chosen to perpetuate teleworking in various forms.
These companies have seen equal or even better performance , with lower travel and real estate costs, less sick leave and a better carbon footprint. Teleworking retains the loyalty of employees who express their satisfaction and attracts new ones who wish to benefit from it. It decentralizes the activity and produces more horizontal, more agile and more efficient organizations.
Teleworking has therefore proved its worth during the health crisis. This is what the Twitter company noted in May in a press release announcing that some of its employees will be able to telecommute indefinitely if they wish. The group was very satisfied with the first months of experimentation and decided to do all recruitment interviews by video conference .
On May 21, Mark Zuckerberg said that 50% of Facebook employees will be able to work from home permanently within 5 to 10 years. He clarified that this is not an objective, but a possibility that is offered to the staff. As with Twitter, remote interviews will become the norm. In October, Microsoft announced that some of its employees will be able to continue working from home partially or completely.
Better working conditions at home
Many employees arrive at their workplace already tired, especially in large urban areas and the Paris region, after a long journey where they have had to face the cold, pollution, traffic jams or crowded public transport, when this are not strikes. They start their working day with more stress and less energy than when they left home, having wasted precious time that they would have preferred to use otherwise.
In addition to avoiding the current risks of contamination, working at home allows you to preserve your time, energy and calm, while saving money. Teleworking requires having a dedicated space at home that allows you to practice your profession in good conditions. This place, arranged according to individual tastes, is conducive to concentration and avoids interruptions. Teleworking then makes it possible to work in more comfortable and pleasant conditions, and therefore to feel more pleasure and ease in carrying out their missions.
The company provides an annual budget that allows it to be equipped with the hardware and software best suited to individual and collective practices. The working environment no longer constrains the living environment and personal well-being is felt on professional performance . Employees can live wherever they want and companies move to premises that are much smaller, less expensive and set up as welcoming meeting places.
Some people reluctant to telework , often without ever having tried it, consider that the social aspect of their job would be threatened and are afraid of losing all contact with their colleagues. However, those who fear isolation that would make them less effective are sometimes also those who communicate only by phone or email with colleagues who are in offices a few meters from theirs. Moreover, teleworking makes it possible to avoid toxic atmospheres and abusive relations of domination, and it favors new forms of solidarity between colleagues.
With new technologies and social networks , the younger generations are used to creating strong and lasting relationships with people they have never met. Many companies use instant messaging systems to allow impromptu conversations between employees. Teleworking can even have the paradoxical effect of strengthening work groups . Even coffee breaks, known to be informal, rich and creative moments of exchange, can be recreated from a distance .
There are intermediate spatio-temporal solutions such as teleworking only a few days a week and / or in a telecentre close to the homes of several colleagues. However, under the impetus of Covid-19, many French companies are following the example of American, Brazilian or Swedish firms where teleworking is a common and long-standing practice.
However, telecommuting is not a quick fix . It can engender a feeling of loneliness and limit career opportunities for those who practice it. It can also amplify negative dimensions of the position held and if the relationship is already bad between an employee and his employer, teleworking may aggravate the problem rather than solve it. The strength of the bond between employee and employer appears weaker, which facilitates redundancies, also remote .
A different approach to working time
The proportion of French people who have experimented with telework has gone from 7% to 40% since the start of the crisis. France’s delay compared to the Nordic or Anglo-Saxon countries is explained not only by a very conservative approach to work, based on hierarchy and control, but also by a lower level of digital transformation of organizations.
Indeed, a controlled and large-scale deployment of teleworking requires a certain digital maturity and a new management approach more focused on individual well-being and fulfillment.
Teleworking has many benefits in terms of efficiency and performance. Contrary to popular belief , teleworkers are not people who shun work or seek to work less. They are mainly people who work when needed and who show a lot more flexibility. In particular, they can work very early or very late to synchronize with teams in Asia or America, and free up time during the day.
Without a schedule to go to lunch or to get home, an employee doesn’t have to take a break in the middle of a task and can finish what he started without having to worry about his meal or traffic jams. Activities are better defined, prioritized and distributed . Meetings are fewer, shorter and more efficient. They are based on a specific agenda, are subject to fewer interruptions or unannounced interventions, and result in decisions.
Employees overwhelmingly expressed their satisfaction and three-quarters of them would like to extend teleworking beyond the crisis at least a few days a week. Some companies are therefore faced with reluctance to return their staff to the office, not only because of the health context, but above all the desire to stay and work at home.
A form of recognition
Teleworking allows you to stay close to your family and have a more developed social life. The work-life balance is better because teleworking allows you to get out of the routine and the metro-work-sleep which has a depressing and demotivating effect. Teleworking allows you to devote more time , more attention and more resources to managing your private problems. It therefore reduces parasitic concerns and decreases stress during the time you work. This is all the more true for Parisians who go to the provinces while keeping the same salary level, or city dwellers who go to the countryside to enjoy the great outdoors.
Teleworking allows employees to save time and money: sometimes several hours per day and several hundred euros per month, which is a great source of satisfaction. However, a study conducted jointly by Harvard and MIT shows that happy employees are half as sick, six times less absent, nine times more loyal, 31% more productive and 55% more creative.
Being teleworked means being empowered by your company, gaining autonomy and having the confidence of your manager in a context where the control of presence and schedules is no longer the guarantee that employees accomplish their missions. They feel privileged and valued, and they express their recognition through higher professional commitment and strong institutional attachment .
Managers and employees therefore seem to have adopted teleworking on a massive and lasting basis . The pandemic will have at least had some positive effects by reducing business travel and allowing some to access a better comfort of life.
Author Bio: Oihab Allal-Cherif is a Business Professor at the Neoma Business School