Smile@Work | Solutions for happy workers

Words from pros
18 Mar 2021

Diversity of work spaces: the office as a social catalyst for companies

The development of telework has changed the way people think about their workspace and their interactions with the company. How has the diversification of the office influenced, transformed the social link in the company? This is the question that Smile@Work asks today to Alain d’Iribarne, economist, labour sociologist, and chairman of the scientific board of Actineo.

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In your opinion, to what extent has telework had an impact on human relations in the professional context?

Alain d’Iribarne, working sociologist and Chairman of Actineo’s Scientific Council

Alain d’Iribarne: In 2019, the Actineo survey counted only 27% of the working population teleworking, while the 2017 survey indicated that, while 25% of the working population teleworked, only 8% did so regularly, i.e. at least one day a week. The current situation, with a large number of employees teleworking, is thus quite special.

Overall, telework has had a positive impact on work and team relations. The most affected are the managers. They have had to rethink the management of their teams, giving them more confidence to gain autonomy. They have also had to be creative in proposing adapted formats for video-conferencing meetings, and above all, informal remote exchange times to reproduce afterwork or breaks in the cafeteria. These times are also essential for maintaining the link within the team.

How can today’s office be defined?

Alain d’Iribarne: Over the last twenty years, the places where work is done have multiplied.  And, of course, this trend has been accentuated by the health crisis. In my opinion, the ideal office is above all a question of balance between these different locations, since some of the tasks are carried out at home or in a third location, and some are performed face-to-face on the company’s site.

Traditionally, the so-called office is a closed individual or collective space within the company site. Thus, for a face-to-face office, the ideal would be to combine a workspace adapted to individual work and to offer several complementary spaces to the life of the company such as meeting rooms, conviviality spaces, a cafeteria, etc. These spaces can be reproduced in third locations. Therefore, we can no longer think in terms of ideal physical offices linked to a building. We must think in terms of the variety of workspaces.

Will the office become the catalyst for contacts, the indispensable place for meetings and exchanges?

Alain d’Iribarne: The Individual is a social being. He needs to meet other beings daily, to exchange, and not only in a professional context. This is called socialisation. Each place of life comes to meet a different need. The same applies to the different workplaces in which the individual works. The office is therefore an indispensable place of exchange, but it is not unique.

For the company, the question of socialisation comes down to exchanges between employees, and between them and managers. As an example, in an employer’s office building, we will find employees assigned by workspaces, but also nomadic employees, i.e. employees who will come on a one-off basis in a face-to-face meeting. For them, the office is therefore a place for socialisation, for exchange with colleagues with whom relations are less frequent daily.

How can user-friendliness be characterised in an office?

Alain d’Iribarne: In the more informal, social, and friendly spaces of exchange, the “Starbucks” model is gaining ground and attracting employees. It has been in use in companies for about ten years. These are spaces offering the possibility of working individually or with a colleague while having a coffee. The space offers the necessary equipment to plug in laptops, for example.

With the development of teleworking, user-friendliness is no longer just material, but is expressed more freely through videoconferencing. It is being reinvented by digital tools.


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