Let’s try to get a clearer picture of the rules related to teleworking
How many days a week can you telework?
“How many days a week can you telework?” For anyone who can work remotely, this is the question that marks a real break in the way we work. Before the crisis, it was a case-by-case concern. Now it’s an essential question for any Company’s top management.
In practice, the answer could stop at a number: N days of telework per week. But the way in which the measure is to be applied leads to a multitude of other questions:
- Should the company impose a number of days or just recommend it?
- Are we talking about a minimum or a maximum?
- Should it be applied by the managers of each department or in an undifferentiated way?
- Should the number be defined on a weekly or annual basis?
To try to get a clearer picture, let’s distinguish four angles of analysis.
For well-being, flexibility is the rule
The first relates to the employee’s well-being at work. And here the principle is simple and clear: flexibility. Indeed, how can we impose a uniform rule on employees who have very different working conditions at home or who simply have different aspirations? Similarly, how can we imagine a young graduate having to work in isolation in his or her student room during the integration phase in the company? So, from the employee’s point of view, the principle of freedom of choice left to each individual seems obvious. To go further, the company should even help its employees to create the best working conditions at home if they wish.
On the cost side, telework should be mandatory
The costs for the company, for the employee, for the community and the impact on the environment constitute a second analysis grid. Here again, things are clear: telework should be imposed every day! It saves office space for the company; it saves transportation costs for the employee and it has a positive effect on the planet. All this far outweighs the extra costs associated with the more intense use of digitalized exchanges. Moreover, teleworking makes it possible to hire talented resource far from a given office as long as the time difference is little: this is a fantastic enrichment of the Company’s human capital.
For the efficiency, it depends
There is no clear-cut answer as to the effectiveness of this mode of work. Collective creation activities or negotiations would not be compatible with telework. On the other hand, daily operational meetings would gain a lot in terms of preparation, rigor of animation and respect of schedules if they were held remotely. And let’s not forget that they can follow each other in a relatively efficient way, and that there can be many more of them in a day than in a in-person meeting. So, it is the nature of a meeting that would determine how it is held – remote or in person. In all cases, the use of “woulds” is necessary, because no one has solidly established facts to have a definitive opinion and empiricism is the law. There are, however, two opposing certainties. For the telework advocates, we should eventually be able to find the tools and methods that will enable us to achieve the efficiency of in-person meetings even at a distance, whatever the nature of the meeting. For the others, if exchanges with one’s usual interlocutors are limited to a succession of remote meetings, there is no more room for the unexpected, for the improvised discussion at the coffee machine and we all know that many ideas are born in these spontaneous exchanges.
Telecommuting does not foster attachment to the company
Finally, there is the question of commitment to the company. Here we enter the world of fine alchemy. Of all the elements that make up an employee’s commitment (the meaning of work, recognition, intensity, the work environment, etc.) the link with peers or managers is essential. Can this link be established through computer screens? We are probably tempted to answer that it cannot; that precious moments of collective emotion, shared contingencies, glances and smiles weave a corporate culture and the desire to work together. Moreover, the office is a constituent element of the personality of a company. “La Ruche” at Renault’s headquarters, “Challenger” for Bouygues Construction, and the “Omega” architecture at Alstom’s headquarters are the concrete expression of their culture. The physical presence of employees in such symbolic premises is essential for sharing a common culture.
So, what should we do ?
Between contradictory conclusions and admissions of uncertainty, it is not easy to define a course of action. At this stage, here is what mine would be:
- Generally speaking, responsible flexibility should be favored. It is the employee’s responsibility to choose his or her workplace according to the in-person meetings to be held and his or her own working conditions.
- Tools and methods to work remotely must be researched, evaluated, implemented and constantly improved
- Let’s learn to exchange, discuss, create collectively at a distance: the virtual meeting must become the default situation.
- Telework should not be imposed at any time, except for regulatory obligations. Presence in the office can be imposed in connection with scheduled activities.
- Let’s impose physical presence at certain exceptional meetings. Exceptional because they are no longer the norm and because the subject matter or location is exceptional.
- Mandatory and scheduled physical meetings will be held as much as possible during the same days of a week to allow employees who prefer to telecommute to organize themselves accordingly.
- Hybrid meetings should be avoided whenever possible. Meetings are easier to facilitate when all participants share the same mode – in person or remotely.
- The decision to hold a meeting remotely or in-person is up to the host or a manager.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!