Teleworking is becoming a work organisation style like any other

Orange is a pioneer in its roll-out of teleworking, which is underpinned by its use of agile methods and a test and learn approach supported by a variety of tools and initiatives. As a company whose entire ecosystem has been transformed by digital, it is taking a look at the issue of teleworking and, more broadly, digital nomadism in a bid to re-examine work organisation and management in a collaborative way. A look back at 10 years’ worth of experience..

What teleworking objectives has Orange set since 2009? 

Teleworking is an integral part of our company culture. France Telecom introduced it in 2009 as way of improving its employees’ quality of life and productivity amid reports that they were spending longer and longer commuting to and from work. From 2013 it has been helping Orange achieve its CSR goals and environmental, social and economic targets.
Today, the number of Orange employees who telework on either a regular or occasional basis, at home or at an Orange site, stands at 23,800. This trend is being driven by the company’s digital transformation, which is right at the heart of its Essentials2020 strategy. 55,000 of our 95,000 employees have notebooks, while all of them are equipped with a 4G smartphone and receive special training in digital technologies. These are conditions that all organisations have to meet before they introduce teleworking.

What sort of questions does the introduction of teleworking bring up?

Teleworking shakes up individual and collective benchmarks, established methods of operating and management and challenges our perceptions of what constitutes work efficiency.

It makes us question what classifies as a typical work space: the desk of days gone by, with its definite physical location and clear boundaries separating our work from our private lives, is represented today by a laptop and smartphone. This can cause us to feel uneasy and overwhelmed, while simultaneously removing the separation between our professional and personal spheres. It forces managers to move over to a management style that is based on trust as opposed to performance indicators. Teleworking encourages managers to give their employees precise instructions and reassess their relationship with their team, the safety and efficiency of whose working environment they must continue to guarantee despite its remote nature.

In a more general sense, teleworking has got people in the company thinking and talking about changes in work organisation and management. This transformation makes it necessary to introduce support mechanisms that provide benefit both in terms of the well-being of the company’s employees and its performance.

What organisation type did you rely on to implement this transformation?

In 2012, we established a network of heads of division and department (e.g. IS and Customer Relations) throughout Orange France. It falls on me to decide on new forms of work organisation, choose which tools we use (soft phone, skype, etc.) and develop the training plans needed before we can roll out teleworking in our various other departments.

In order to make the teleworking process run more smoothly and ensure that it helps us meet our CSR objectives, we developed an app back in 2016 that enables our employees to make non-scheduled teleworking requests, receive managerial approval and specify, where applicable, the number of kilometres saved, which is then converted into the amount of CO2 saved. In the event of a pollution spike, we use the app alongside Airparif to advise our 20,000 employees in the Ile-de-France region to use clean modes of transport or make a non-scheduled teleworking request. It really is groundbreaking stuff.

By creating a tool that counts the number of non-scheduled teleworkers each day, we are now able to identify all categories of teleworker (regular, occasional or mixed) and better evaluate the scope of teleworking within the company.

And isn’t it true that you have developed a wide range of support measures for managers?

Yes, that is correct. In order to support our managers, we have designed a training programme on their behalf helping them get to grips with the specificities of remote communication and relationships, while also giving them the levers they need to support their teams in this respect. Every teleworking request provides employees with the opportunity to enter into a fresh dialogue with their manager who, in the course of a meeting lasting at least an hour, should be able to help the teleworker ask themselves the right questions in order to get up and running working from home. If their manager thinks that the employee is not quite ready for teleworking, they should be capable of explaining their refusal without looking like they are closing the door on it for good. Finally, they should be able to spot any over-engagement and potential burnout cases – a new concern for the HR sector.

To help managers digest and share the complex content as it appears in our company policy document, we have just produced a paper tool called: “The Teleworking Handbook”, which synthesises our company policy into 50 questions and answers in an entertaining format.

How do you familiarise your employees with teleworking?

We have opted for a game-based teaching method to educate employees of the conditions that must be in place to ensure work from home is of high quality, as well as the potential pitfalls they should seek to avoid. Open-invitation discussion days dedicated to the issue of teleworking are also organised with employees across the country (Metropolitan France + overseas territories and departments).
Finally, our open-to-all “teleworking, digital nomadism and remote management” community on Orange’s enterprise social network enables each and every employee to post and exchange ideas completely freely. 1700 employees have already made contributions to this community that serves as a valuable tool for hearing about staff needs and sharing experiences

After almost 10 years of teleworking, what experience have you gained?

As a way of anticipating needs, we have introduced a monitoring system that enables us to tune into the real-lie experiences of teleworkers and their respective managers to help us identify where we can improve.
The most recent survey, published in 2014, shows it to be a unanimously successful initiative:

  • Teleworkers estimated their efficiency gains at 10-15%, while managers estimated theirs at 5-10%.
  • I can also state that – as is proven by the growth of mixed teleworking (regular/occasional) – employees have really taken to teleworking.

They are allowing themselves to design their own custom form of teleworking completely independently.
There is no denying that teleworking is getting a foothold in our company – something the Macron laws encourage. At Orange, it is in the process of becoming a kind of work organisation like any other. Teleworking also presents a prime opportunity to consider the future of work. In HR terms, I feel like Christopher Columbus discovering America.