The health crisis: a lever for reflecting on the transformation of the work organization model

Tue 20 Oct 2020

Crises accelerate change. Lockdown imposed new working and management practices to which employees and managers adapted, often with agility and inventiveness. It revealed new expectations and the possibility of more efficient models. The large-scale testing of working from home and greater employee autonomy presents HR managers with an opportunity to re-examine their work organization model.

The health crisis is having a strong impact on work organization.

Lockdown provided a major boost for the move towards working from home, which established itself as the solution for work continuity. Until the health crisis, firms were reluctant to negotiate agreements on working from home for fear of losing visual control over their employees. Where such agreements existed, few employees benefited regularly and only for a few days per month. A Forum Vies Mobiles survey estimated the number of people working from home in France at 7% in 2019. With lockdown, millions of employees were rushed into working from home within hours, and over the weeks the popularity curve of the hashtag #workfromhome exploded on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The crisis demonstrated the ability of employees to change their habits and move away from traditional attitudes. They were able to mobilize quickly and on a long-term basis in order to remain effective. They showed flexibility, agility and inventiveness in switching from an organized and supervised way of working within a physically united team to a more autonomous way of working from home, away from their manager and colleagues. They became more empowered.

Imposed working from home deprived managers of the informal discussions in the office that normally enabled them to settle many questions with their teams. To monitor project execution and maintain individual and collective ties and motivation, they focused more on people and less on processes, scheduling regular listening and monitoring times. What used to be covered in informal face-to-face exchanges was structured to become more organized remotely.

During the same period, managers also accepted a certain loosening of their grip. As a result, the manager-employee relationship evolved, based more on trust and empowerment.

Taking time to listen and exchange feedback

These changes brought about by forced working from home changed working habits and behavior in just a few months. They revealed the possibility of more efficient work organization and team management models. They exacerbated pre-existing malfunctions and imbalances. They gave rise to unprecedented aspirations among employees, raising the question among HR managers of whether they constitute temporary epiphenomena or fundamental changes? When the health crisis is well and truly behind us, will employees want to return to the world as it was before, or continue to work from home?

To answer these questions and reflect collaboratively on the organization of work in the future, it is important for the firm to take the time to listen to its employees, capitalize on their experiences, know their expectations and reflect with them on the working model of tomorrow. Their recent large-scale experiment in working from home constitutes an ideal field of study.

Incidentally, large groups such as Orange already launched internal surveys on the subject. The results are surprising. They show a fairly radical change in the perception of working from home in a very short time:

  • Both employees and managers express very high satisfaction with regard to their experience of working from home during the crisis. It provided them with both comfort and autonomy in their work.
  • New remote workers in particular would like to continue working from home in the long term, up to 10 days per month.
  • To make the most of working from home, keep in contact, and meet remotely, they ask to be equipped with effective web conference tools.
  • However, they express certain reservations: by distancing, some fear they will lose their bearings within the team, and also fear a loss of social contact at work. Working from home 100% of the time is not the solution.

Working from home could, therefore, be a lasting phenomenon.

Launch a global reflection on the future organization of work and value creation

If working from home becomes structurally widespread within the firm, it will shift a certain number of lines. It will thus encourage firms to review a large number of topics in order to imagine their future work organization:

  • Their relationship with occupational health.
  • Their relationship with transport vs. environmental and societal issues.
  • The changing role and configuration of the office building of tomorrow.
  • The development of a flex office culture.
  • Technical solutions that meet employees’ needs, even virtually.
  • Changes in management methods.
  • Support for managers in managing the transformation.
  • Increased employee empowerment and autonomy.

The challenge will be to design this new model in such a way that it creates value for all the firm's stakeholders: not only employees, but also customers, shareholders, partners, and society as a whole.

Read the article in Telecom Review Africa

Philippe Mazaud

Head of Human Ressources