En télétravail, l’équilibre entre vie professionnelle et privée reste délicat. Shutterstock

Is telework “sustainable”? Lessons from containment


The second confinement – started at the end of October 2020 – made teleworking the rule as soon as this modality proved to be compatible with the missions performed by the workers. Remember that in “normal” times, teleworking can only be set up on the basis of the employee’s voluntary work. However, it may be imposed by the employer in exceptional circumstances, as an epidemic threat.

The two lockdowns have deeply affected the organization of businesses. Managers have been forced to be agile, and employees have developed a form of resilience. Understandably, this type of full-time teleworking is unprecedented and can be explained by the health emergency.

In the context of remote work, the autonomy / control relationship is upset and relationships are assumed to be based on trust and delegation. Employees develop new skills, particularly in the use of technological tools and self-organization.

It is now legitimate to wonder about its evolution: can teleworking become the norm? Is this a sustainable form of organization?

The promises of teleworking

The promises of telework are numerous. For companies, it is synonymous with flexibility in terms of organization and occupancy of premises; the prospect of reducing the number of square meters occupied is thus often put forward.
The question of performance is also raised, but difficult to decide. A study by the General Directorate of the Treasury on the economic effects of teleworking reveals its positive impact would thus be linked to the good conditions for its implementation – better autonomy, flexibility, reconciliation between private and professional life, less transport.

Faced with the risks induced by off-site work (isolation and encroachment of family time on working time, for example), Bercy points out the possible solutions: role of management teams to better reconcile private and professional life, shared workspaces (coworking ), development of childcare arrangements.

Effects on productivity and beyond

The effects on productivity are perceived differently depending on the surveys. The average gain in productivity was estimated at 22% in 2012 by a study carried out for the DGE in large French companies, but for which the methodology is not available. Conversely, a report by ZDnet and Valoir shows that the switch to telecommuting following the coronavirus had the effect of average reduction of 1% productivity. Note that in this area, the lessons of literature remain limited as INSEE points out.

The economic literature, on the other hand, is not unequivocal about the impact of teleworking on productivity. This depends on many factors: the conditions for its implementation (tools, training of teleworkers and their managers); the organization of work in the company and the type of management (employee autonomy, enhancement of the result rather than presence, management’s ability to adapt); the characteristics of each profession (degree of interdependence on other tasks, creative character or not of tasks, autonomy).

In the longer term, beyond the health crisis, teleworking also has effects on the matching conditions on the labor market, the organization of space and the environment. Their quantification is made difficult by the presence of multiple effects, and sometimes contrary, but they cannot be ignored, because a strong diffusion of teleworking would have much deeper aggregate effects, going beyond organizational aspects.

Millions fewer trips

For employees, reducing commuting times is often put forward, as is the possibility of organizing themselves in complete autonomy and devoting more time to their family.

Let us recall here that the environmental concern was one of the first concerns in the development of teleworking. In 1993, the Catral agency project on “neighborhood offices” thus aimed to limit journeys in Île-de-France.

The situation we live in today is different. But if teleworking has not been set up for questions of environmental protection, it has had in its constrained and full-time form a not insignificant impact: either the limitation of the use of transport and the reduction consequent pollution with 3.3 million trips avoided every week.

Unfortunately, this restriction of travel has resulted in a relocation of daily activities around the home, leading to an increase in deliveries of meals and everyday consumer goods.

Drifts and risks

Studies on telework show both positive and negative, in particular on the physical and mental health of employees.

The implementation of telework in degraded mode contributes to the increase in psychosocial risks. There is thus a porosity of the boundary between personal and professional life, a feeling of isolation, forms of stress, the risk of burnout and, sometimes even, the development of new forms of “connected” harassment.

Many drifts appeared from the first confinement: excessive working time, encroachment between professional and private life, difficulties in disconnecting. Remember that confinement does not exonerate employers from their general obligation to ensure the safety of their employees (articles L4121-1 and L4121-2 of the labor code).

What we can learn from confinement

Several investigations were carried out during and after the first confinement. They draw up an alarming report.

Let us quote first of all the CSA perception study for Malakoff Humanis, carried out from April 15 to 20, 2020: 33% of teleworkers believe that this particular context of teleworking has a negative impact on their workload and 30% on their motivation; 30% of confined teleworkers believe that their psychological health has deteriorated; 28% believe that their mental load has increased; 39% find it difficult to combine professional and personal time; 45% of teleworkers find it difficult to disconnect from work. Finally, 28% experience tensions with their family circle.

An OpinionWay survey – conducted from March 31 to April 8, 2020 with 2,005 representative employees for the firm “Human Footprint” and on the impact of the health crisis on the psychological health of employees – shows that after only 2 to 3 weeks of confinement the psychological well-being of workers had already greatly deteriorated; it is 10 points less than the Eurofound survey carried out in 2016. 44% of employees say they are anxious and perceive psychological distress. This concerns more women (22% in high distress against 14% for men).

It should be noted that the main risk factor would not be teleworking directly, but the conditions in which it takes place, since only 45% of respondents were able to isolate themselves and 60% worked in the living room of their home. 79% of employees favor the support of their colleagues and 70% that of their supervisor. Finally, managers seem particularly exposed, 20% of them mentioning “high” psychological distress.

A CGT survey on working conditions and exercise of professional responsibility during confinement, dated early May 2020, shows that nearly 80% of employees do not have the right to disconnect; 97% do not have ergonomic work equipment; a quarter have no place to isolate themselves; a third, especially women, must telework while looking after the children; 35% of teleworkers complain of unusual anxiety and almost half of physical pain. Finally, 40% of managers saw their time and workload increase.

A Harris Interactive survey, from November 4 to 8, 2020 for the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Integration, confirms that all assets:> ” […] cannot telecommute, but the vast majority of employees able to do so have done so, on average, one day more than the previous week. It has been observed that teleworking 5 days out of 5 represents a real effort for employees who, for some, suffer from isolation. “

This survey also reveals that 58% of employees who have teleworked 100% would prefer to come to their workplace at least 1 day a week; 4 out of 10 employees who teleworked during the week of the study feel isolated; 3 in 10 say they do not live with this situation on a daily basis.

What future for teleworking?

Successful implementation of teleworking is never a given: organizing remote work can cause questions, even tensions and conflicts.

The labor code indicates that teleworking must not modify the employee’s usual missions and activities, his objectives, the number of hours worked as well as his workload. It must not become a sole flexibility tool threatening the health of employees.

Whether regular or occasional, teleworking can be set up by collective agreement or by a charter. And, in the absence of a collective agreement or charter, by a simple agreement between the employee and the employer. The employment contract is not necessarily changed by amendment. As we have seen, except in exceptional circumstances provided for by the labor code (threat of an epidemic or force majeure), teleworking cannot be imposed on the employee.

Echoing the survey carried out by the CGT, the social partners have initiated discussions after exiting confinement to improve the existing framework in the National Interprofessional Agreement (ANI) of 2005. A national agreement “for the successful implementation of telework” was thus concluded on November 26, 2020. This text specifies the contours of the managerial relationship in teleworking in its article 4 (“support for employees and managers”).

Taking up the agreement of February 28, 2020 on various orientations for executives, ANI calls for a renewal of managerial practices. The signatories underlined the importance of taking telework into account in the risk analysis process provided for in Article L 4121-1 of the Labor Code, and which is the subject of a transcription in the single document. risk assessment.

The agreement indicates that teleworking is based on a fundamental premise – the relationship of trust between a manager and each employee – and two complementary skills, the autonomy and responsibility necessary for teleworking.

Teleworking is not new – it was mentioned in 1993 in the interministerial report of the Breton mission – and it is not the future of work. Organized in sustained, full-time and degraded mode to respond to the global health crisis of Covid-19, it quickly induced multiple problems: psychosocial risks, isolation, porous borders.

Both companies and employees agree that it must be implemented to the right extent, even if it remains the norm on time until Christmas. The CFTC therefore recommends a maximum of 3 days a week.

Caroline Diard, Associate professor in HR and law management, EDC Paris Business School / Teacher-researcher (temporary), ICN Business School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.