By Philippe Mazaud - Head of Human Ressources of Sofrecom Group - October 20, 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.
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.
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:
Working from home could, therefore, be a lasting phenomenon.
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:
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.