How to consider settling home office following a context of collapse of the ordinary
“A mobile world, always more mobile, a world of all types of mobility. A world where the more we move the more we telecommunicate; where you are mobile even at home and at home in transport; where mobility transforms and mixes time, distance, space; where the real and the virtual intermingle to merge; where work, commerce, value, the city, war, friendship, family - in short, society - are reinvented around mobility ". Kaplan and Lafont, 2004
March 17, 2020 will be remembered. On that date, an unprecedented episode of containment began in France to prevent the spread of an epidemic: the Covid-19. This for a then indefinite period precipitated millions of French people into teleworking without anticipation or preparation.
This way of working is not new, however, considered "emblematic of the transformations affecting the world of work", but it was for the first time in this spring of 2020 deployed in haste and on a large scale. These exceptional circumstances call for a review of the results of research conducted during ordinary periods. What about saving transport time, one of the main arguments for the implementation of teleworking or the feeling of freedom but also of isolation when the standard that served as a measure of these feelings is dissolved by events? What about matters of work-life balance when the imbalance is institutionalized? The context disrupts the established knowledge of teleworking as much as it disrupts labor law and the internal operating rules of organizations. The actors however need rules to coordinate and distribute the workload, even if it would be reduced by the events.
The acceleration of research
Since the start of my doctoral thesis (September 2019) my research has revolved around the digitalization of HR, but from March 17, 2020, it takes a turn. I set out to better understand the way in which regulations operate in the implementation of telework. The theory of social regulations offers a suitable explanatory framework for this (Reynaud, 1997). The first interviews carried out (about twenty) carried out during confinement and therefore remotely concerned ten organizations, with a double entry point into the same organization on three occasions.
Today, hindsight is sufficient to analyze this episode of crisis
A few months later, several lessons can be learned from this work. The announcement of confinement prompted immediate adaptations abolishing the usual rules of control, emanating from those in formal power, with a whole range of reactions. Scenes unimaginable in another context illustrate the passage of certain organizations into resourceful mode, such as the departure of neo-teleworkers with computers or managers' printers under their arm, without any control. In other situations, forms of regulation are immediately reconstituted. A director of information systems very quickly assesses the capacity of the servers, numbering 100 possible teleworkers. There won't be one more. The methods of access to the network, by checking the level of security of each computer, professional or personal, is checked from the first hours of confinement. In addition to the variety of regulations at work at the start of containment, there is the diversity of levels of rupture or continuity. The rupture can be felt by the use of tools little or not used before this episode (Skype, Teams or Zoom often used in a punctual way or the rapid acquisition of tools in professional format), by the weakening of the control of working time, by reinforced forms of coordination (more frequent but shorter points, more marked “temperature measurements”), or even by the desire to create spaces of conviviality in a virtual way which the organization initially lacked (WhatsApp groups for example). Conversely, continuity can mark other operations on similar criteria: maintaining the usual work tools, permanent control of working hours, reconstitution of coordination bodies or even reconstitution of convivial moments as in certain organizations.
At the end of this exploration we find that there is no link between the history of teleworking in an organization and the process of setting up rules. On the other hand, in each case, the remote working tools play a role. Thus, in some organizations, collaborative platforms, such as Teams, become obligatory passages with a tempo of collective coordination and interaction dictated by meeting times, without the possible spontaneous exchanges in person.
Research in progress
After this first exploration and this first assessment, we will deepen our research via other interview sessions. More targeted, they are directed towards some of the organizations questioned and widening the prism of our interlocutors (teleworkers, managers, etc.). The general problematic of our research therefore questions the establishment and evolution of the rules surrounding teleworking in organizations. In other words, "How are the rules in telework evolving through remote work tools? ". We will deepen this research through two other observation sessions six months and then a year after deconfinement.
Damien De Carvalho
- Fernandez, V., Guillot, C., & Marrauld, L. (2014). « Télétravail et « travail à distance équipé » Quelles compétences, tactiques et pratiques professionnelles ? », RFG, n°238.
- Reynaud J.D. (1997), Les règles du jeu – L’action collective et la régulation sociale, 3ème Edition, Armand Colin, Paris, 3ème édition.
- Vayre, É. (2019), « Les incidences du télétravail sur le travailleur dans les domaines professionnel, familial et social », Le travail humain, Vol. 82(1), 1-39.
Release date : Mercredi 9 Décembre 2020