The pandemic has confirmed the strategic value of people for firms. The ability of teams to adapt and their commitment to keeping businesses open have led to the emergence of new, more fulfilling, and also more effective working practices and organizations. Firms considering their future growth model will find it hard to avoid participatory discussion about this transformation of work. Interview with Thierry Papin.
What new aspirations has the crisis given rise to among employees?
The acceleration of new working and management practices has radically changed our attitudes towards working from home. Millions of employees have had to experience it, some of whom for the first time. In the end, they adopted it in record time. They discovered its positive effects: autonomy, empowerment, better time management, and concentration. Firms, on the other hand, realized that this method of working fosters team development, improves efficiency, and renews managerial practices. In France in June 2020, 84% of remote workers wanted to continue working from home on a regular basis (Malakoff Humanis survey) with one reservation: not 100% of their time. Working from home has its limits: it degrades social ties and presents risks: increased stress, difficulties in disconnecting, reduced physical activity, etc.
Furthermore, the crisis highlighted teams’ ability to engage and adapt in order to pursue their work effectively. Almost overnight, employees brought down barriers and overturned traditional systems. They threw themselves into new organizational and operating models in order to continue to serve their customers and interact with their suppliers and partners. Managers, for their part, modified their practices in order to maintain individual and collective ties remotely.
How can firms take these aspirations into account?
If working from home is to be structurally established within organizations, firms will have to address it as a real organizational project:
Invite feedback on their employees’ experience of working from home and identify their expectations in order to work together to define the conditions of working from home.
Train employees in tools and best practices, and raise their awareness of the physical and psychological risks.
Support team managers in managing change.
The introduction of working from home is a real transformation insofar as it questions the organization of work as a whole: the role and location of offices, the layout of work spaces, means of transport, corporate culture, managerial practices, etc.
What will be the specific challenges for managers and how to support them?
Managers will have to rethink their operating and management methods: define how to manage the team both remotely and face-to-face; invent new rituals to maintain motivation and cohesion while employees will be less physically present; find ways to maintain the momentum of projects; learn to trust employees and put them in charge; provide support rather than control, etc. They will have an important role to play alongside their team in the successful accomplishment of this transformation of work organization, in which everyone will have to find their proper place. They will have to be trained and supported to reassure them and ensure overall consistency.
What levers can firms use to help managers create links and maintain group cohesion?
The mass adoption of working from home during the crisis put digital technology under pressure: firms digitized their processes as a matter of urgency with an explosion of certain uses, such as web videoconferencing solutions. Thanks to Klaxoon, Zoom, Skype and Teams, employees were able to meet virtually, move projects forward, and discover new collaborative methods, sometimes more effective than meeting in the office. A lot of other players also turned to digital technology: doctors for virtual consultations, teachers to provide lessons, individuals to keep in touch with their families, etc. In the space of just a few months, digital technology asserted itself as a "basic necessity", essential to economic and social life. These new work habits and modes of interaction and collaboration are set to accelerate the digital transformation
How will it be possible for firms to reconcile employees’ expectations of a better work-life balance with their challenges in terms of performance and productivity?
Far from being in conflict, these challenges are complementary. During the crisis, employees demonstrated that they not only had professional skills but were capable of resilience and agility. They committed to finding solutions quickly, taking meaningful action, and developing new forms of collaboration often tailored to the specific requirements of each group. They found models that fostered a better work-life balance without harming the firm’s efficiency. These models also fall more in line with concerns around occupational health, the environment and sustainable development. I am convinced that employees who thrive in their work create value for their firm. Listening to employees, giving them the floor, and trusting them - in short, prioritizing people when thinking about the future - offer the key to a more balanced growth model for all stakeholders.