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The lessons of forced work from home situation: the office, common place of living and spatio-temporal landmark

July 2020


Marc Bertier

Marc Bertier

Workplace Strategist

+33 52 65 25 99


Work is a rhythmic object with a beginning and an end. These boundaries are porous: there are times when we are only working and when we are trying to concentrate; times when we work while interrupting ourselves to deal with other matters, sometimes personal; times when we are not in a work situation while responding to professional demands; and, finally, so-called private time. In the latter, any professional solicitation is potentially experienced as an intrusion. We then find the proxemic logics of Edward T. Hall, with the necessary bubble protecting privacy.

This continuum has different time scales: the professional career which often begins during studies and sometimes ends after retirement; the year with the alternation between working time and vacation time; daily life with the question of working hours and weekend time; or even during the day: studies on concentration show that we have trouble concentrating for more than an hour!

The experience of remote work imposed during confinement questions the rhythms of work during the week and on a daily basis. Many people felt that they did not see any difference between the week and the weekend, having endless days of work, spending their day in videoconference or not being able to allocate enough time. to carry out production tasks.

Over-solicitation, hyper-availability and “blurring” (reduction of the border between private and professional life) are some of the concepts used to describe this unprecedented situation. What is more attributable to the stress caused by the crisis situation, what is more related to remote work and its specific conditions? The studies will surely give some answers in the months to come.

We can already learn two lessons from this unprecedented experience. If it was not long enough to obtain real indications on the generalized telework in the long term, the return to the office today desired by many organizations, the way in which the businesses “without offices” function and the scientific studies show the importance of meeting at key moments to create and maintain collectives. This confirms that the office has a vocation for socializing by being a shared place of life. This need is also found when comparing remote meeting practices during confinement with physical meetings: while the former end on time, the latter continue. Many even say that the meeting takes place outside the meeting, especially after, by escorting people or by extending the discussion in a corridor. We then measure here the value of formal and informal with the same interlocutor through different situations.

Beyond living together, the office space is also a landmark to mark uses. In our return-to-the-office surveys, one of the often-cited obstacles is travel time. The fact remains that this time is an airlock, an in-between that facilitates the transition from the professional to the personal world. In addition, by taking place in different places, the continuum of activity tends to split. By changing places, we are helping to root out one dimension from the other. Different surveys show that those who were able to work in a dedicated room during confinement evaluated the period better than those who did not have a dedicated place, and this for all age groups - including those who did not dependent children. Finally, these benchmark needs vary according to the nature of the assignments associated with employees. Thus, the study carried out by the Workplace Chair at Essec shows that executives are more interested, on average, in teleworking than employees. At the same time, employees want more to be in full-time telework than managers.

These specifications, which are one example among others, highlight the different needs according to user profiles. The office of tomorrow will be able to meet their different needs for sociability and benchmarks if the reflection begins with a fine understanding of who they are.

Release date : Mercredi 1 Juillet 2020

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