In France as in Belgium, working from home is nowadays an “obligation” whenever possible. Beyond this momentary injunction, why does a company have such an interest in offering regular, also called structural, telework to its employees?
Viviane Kock: Teleworking gives access to an adult world. Let me explain: working at a distance, at home, makes us more responsible, makes us more autonomous. It promotes a more balanced management between professional and private life. Leaving the walls of the company and freeing oneself from fixed working hours makes it possible to combine productivity, quality of life and well-being. If there is a relationship of professional trust, it does not matter where you work.
What are the obstacles to teleworking among the companies you support?
V.K: It is above all a question of state of mind. The higher you go up the hierarchical ladder, the greater these brakes are. Some people think that organising telework in the company is time-consuming and complex. Others think that it is expensive to equip oneself with collaborative tools. In reality, those who approach us are already convinced of the virtues of telework. They only lack arguments and neutrality to convince their management.
What levers can be activated to reassure them and change mentalities?
V.K: Telework is still in its infancy, and many organisations are experiencing a phase of crisis rather than profound change. They have a lot of questions about it and need to be convinced before they start. The first thing is therefore to listen to their fears, which are certainly legitimate, and to reassure them. For example on the legal level: are the amendments to employment contracts updated to allow telework? Does the insurance cover extramural accidents?
Apart from this legal screening, we create a tailor-made consultancy path with decision makers to implement or anchor telework within their organisation.
Then we run training courses to successfully accompany managers and their teams at a distance, teleworkers and also to prevent digital stress, etc. Too often managers do not attend these sessions, wrongly thinking that they do not need them. However, Covid has made them realise that they need to develop their skills and become a local manager despite the distance.
Can the company support its employees so that telework is well experienced and does not lead to psychosocial risks in the long term?
V.K: It must be said that before Covid, not much had been implemented for a serene practice of teleworking. However, we have seen that with confinement, working at home is sometimes a source of stress and burn-out. We take fewer breaks; the working hours are longer: it is estimated that employees work 35% more at home than in the company.
Therefore, improving the situation is based on a double responsibility: that of the company and that of the individual to be aware of the risks inherent to telework. But also, that of the employee, who over time will learn to feel “self-responsible” for his or her well-being and efficiency. And to be able to dare to take care of oneself during teleworking hours, it is essential to build a relationship of mutual trust between the manager and the employee, so that the latter does not feel guilty about taking breaks at home.
The crisis has accelerated the growth of telework. What is your assessment of this period?
V.K: The repeated lockdowns linked to COVID have reshuffled the cards, it is true, but only temporarily for some. Companies agreed to test teleworking under the conditions but were not persuaded to continue. Many are still thinking “for or against” teleworking. This is a recurrent obstacle to flexible working because it is not up to the employer to decide, but to the employee himself, because he knows himself well, he knows whether telework suits him or not, whether he is efficient in terms of distance or not. Let them choose, while of course keeping the employer’s priority, the maintenance of a good organisation, efficient and favouring well-being.
Can coworking spaces promote a hybrid, flexible and sustainable way of working for the post-Covid-19 period?
V.K: Absolutely. Today, teleworking is immediately connected to the home working. But coworking spaces, which are booming, offer a happy medium: they reduce the carbon footprint, shorten travel distances, while offering a more developed ergonomic environment for social relations than at home. Third-party and coworking spaces certainly offer a promising future solution for a new way of working. I am convinced that to fully benefit from flexible working, the key to success is the diversity of locations beyond the office and teleworking. There are no ‘ors’ but ‘ands’.