Telework: a global challenge?

To “twist the neck to rumors,” ergonoma journal, always the ally of reality, has investigated for you, to allow you to prepare at best your “return” in the fall, and offers you “as an exclusive”, a new “EXPERT File”: In February 2018, a telework pioneer announced the end of this business model by giving an ultimatum to its employees to choose between: return to a traditional form of presential work or look for new career opportunities in other companies. You will have recognized the announcement of IBM, International Business Machines. Yet, nomadic work or “remote work” from any site continues to increase in the most developed economies, especially in the USA, a country that “is the leader” in terms of changes in forms of work with companies in Silicon Valley and the paradigm of startups. This questioning of distance work would then represent a real inflection in the evolution of organizational forms, or is it rather an example of what should not be done to successfully flexibilize staff management methods?

Telecommuting, “remote work …” small history.

Since the beginning of the 2010s, the smartphone and the wireless Internet made it possible to really install the remote work, appeared initially during the 1990s, as a legitimate alternative to that of the work in a fixed place and common to all the employees. Although the initial practice of teleworking is largely responsible for the performance of its professional tasks in a non-presential full-time or part-time manner, the concept of teleworking has often been considered as a purely remote organization method. It nevertheless covers nomadic activities, on the move, or the additional work time taken on free time, generally concerning executive positions. In 2015, 17% of the European working population already practiced this type of work (Eurofound, Working anytime, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union). The “remote work” therefore covers this concept of remote work intrinsic to many functions. Allowing employees to choose to work in other places, in transport or at home, would promote productivity and motivation while reducing the time spent in transport, thus positively impacting urban traffic and the environment. . But then, why would a company that gave its employees the opportunity to work from home return to its decision?

Teleworking, collaboration and innovation – antagonism or complementarity?

The reasons for such a back-pedaling are first to look for the fact that the teleworking model set up at IBM or Yahoo did allow employees to work remotely permanently. Unlike “remote working” which would correspond to the possibility of working on the move and occasionally from non-corporate sites, this type of organization was not part-time, but total. As a result, employees were effectively physically and permanently segregated, affecting both collaboration and innovation and the spirit of belonging to a workforce as a whole with as consequences a lack of collective work that can only be really favored by physical interactions. Another case came to light in 2014, when Yahoo sought to recover by attacking a
problem of internal cohesion: employees who worked entirely at home often left the company to create their own startups.

Finding themselves far away from their colleagues, collaborating only through videoconferencing, email and other messaging technologies, made them feel less attached to their business and consider themselves solely responsible for their work, such as if their ideas were not the fruit of a common work but the result of a personal effort. So they decided to set up their own projects in parallel, without telling the company that was employing them, then leaving it to embark on their own adventures. This flight of talent had become so glaring that the company decided to stop the modes of organization in “remote working” full-time to return to a more presential model. However, this was not enough to restore its dynamism to that company, since sold to the Verizon group. Yahoo’s problem thus seemed to be deeper, and neither presentialism nor absolute telework could allow it to maintain an effective model. At IBM, the case is similar. A model of extreme telework, favoring the total detachment of employees with their teams in space, and a company wishing to renew itself and thus to recreate the link between employees. If the ultimatum launched is also a way to draw down the workforce without setting up a social plan by giving the choice to work on proposed sites or leave the company, the lack of collaboration and involvement is not a consequence of the remote work itself, but of the amount of time non-presentially performed in the overall working time. It is indeed a balance based on the reality of the activities of professionals and their implications in work dynamics that is the real success factor of this mode of organization in “remote working”.

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The necessary balance – a new model of organization through consultation

Collaboration cannot be provided by virtual communication alone. Remote work tools cannot replace real, physical interactions, unintentional encounters that lead to new ideas, or informal collaboration that helps detect new and faster solutions. New Information and Communication Technologies (NICT) are in fact a complement to face-to-face collaboration. They do not replace it, because the 100% remote organized work is not adapted to the life of the employees or the development of the companies. The sociability needs of the person are a first aspect of this need to be on a common place. Then, the development of the sense of belonging to a company larger than the scope of its own functions is only possible through concrete teamwork, physical, material. Informal and incidental interactions, because they solve punctual problems, bypass inappropriate internal processes, to create new solutions, to tackle related topics that will help us to progress better in our tasks, are indispensable to professionals. Virtual collaboration covers very operational needs and is adapted to particular circumstances. Formal or informal, these exchanges are often very operational and oriented towards particular questions, thus not allowing to answer the primary needs of the employees: socialization, adhesion to a collective project, sense of belonging, but also commitment to the company , exchange of information, development of innovation and conservation of it within the organization.

The Millennials Impact

The new generations, whether “y” or Millennials, often value more the quality of life allowed by the company than the only compensation associated with a chosen position. In addition, organizations need their employees to cross, discuss and interact physically to drive process improvements, accelerate impact resolution, or generate new ideas through collective intelligence. To meet these aspirations of balance between professional and private life, but also to motivate the teams and make them more efficient, a mix between the possibility of working in mobility and that of exercising its activities in a presential manner is therefore necessary. Flexibility of schedules and external mobility, based on the peculiarities of each type of post, are thus measures that reconcile these two seemingly contradictory requirements. To achieve a change in the forms of work, a process of co-creation with all employees must define the best ways to meet the operational needs of each professional while allowing it to be the most effective and efficient . The installation of coincidence windows allows for example to have all employees at workplaces at the same times while giving them the opportunity to arrive at the office and to leave at the times that suit them best.

The companies “experiments”

This balance between the possibility of working in mobility and face-to-face work is often accompanied by long and laborious consultations. However, it is the employees themselves who are able to determine the optimal conditions for an advanced work model. To take into account their aspirations while improving their working conditions and their performance, companies must achieve a cultural evolution that allows them to set up modes of functional and human organizations at the same time, in cohesion with their strategic objectives. . The evolution of work patterns and society in general is pushing companies to seek to seduce their employees as they do with their customers, and this is by establishing a “Company Experience®” based on an evolution of organization of the work they will manage to align customer experience and employee experience in line with their objectives. Ultimately, the evolutions of the forms of work show that the organizations are brought to become places of knowledge and exchanges where their employees can learn, grow, transmit. An advanced and co-created experience with their members allows organizations to define the most effective work models, between teleworking and face-to-face work, becoming at the same time attractive clusters of knowledge for the best talents of today and of tomorrow.

by Emmanuel Mercier

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