It’s now been almost a week since the transportation strike has crippled France, and a government announcement today will most likely to little to quell the movement. There is a strong chance that the strike remains in place until the holidays, to inflict maximum pain on the population as holiday plans get thrown under the (not-running) bus.
We can debate the merits of the strike as well as the way the government responds, but this is not a political blog. One thing is sure: the strike has opened businesses up to the positive realities of working remotely, and in France, this is a big deal.
Starting a few years back companies began institutionalizing working from home. The management gurus took inspiration from the digital workforce and the popular learnings from the US to push for more flexible work conditions. Workers signed contracts with official days that they would be out of the office but still working.
Progress was slow. Home office (or télétravail in French) was still often clustered in “days off” in time management platforms. The mindset was that being at home in your pajamas means not working. It means looking after your kids and touching your mouse pad from time to time so that your Skype icon was green.
The mindset problem is generational. The older generation occupies senior roles and thus sets office policy. They come from an era before the Internet and collaborative tools made the physical location of where you work irrelevant. For them, being at work equals working.
But study after study and the proximity of positive examples has slowly started to change things. The stigma is starting to wear off. Productivity is no longer considered to happen only between 9 and 5. Wearing a suit and tie does not equate to making a good strategic decision. Tools like Skype and BOX mean all documents and all collaborators are a few clicks away.
Plus, the open space phenomenon has not created the sort of collaborative and open workplaces that we were promised. Instead we got more crowded places to work that are open to each and every discussion and phone call, personal as well as professional, in a context where you are always visible. Absenteeism has risen. Productivity is falling. Not only are our agendas too packed with meaningless meetings, but our actual time spent working is being eroded on a daily basis since there is no barrier between you and your colleagues when you are in an open space.
Remote working is a welcome alternative where you are less bothered and can focus on tasks at hand, not just for digital posts but any type of job where you aren’t working with physical products in your hands on a daily basis.
The strike has pushed more and more people to work remotely as there is no way for them to get into the city. People are still getting things done. People who never wanted to try working from home for whatever reason (thought they wouldn’t be productive, thought their boss wouldn’t approve) are realizing that they are just as productive after a week at home, plus they have more time for themselves because the commute has been eliminated!
For corporate France, the strike therefore is a boon to opening the transformational mindset. Eventually this mindset might include people working primarily remotely, reuniting sporadically in co-working spaces for meetings instead of companies paying dearly for splashy headquarters near the Elysée Palace.
The benefits of working remotely are numerous. More people working from home also means less demand on public and private transportation, easier time facilitating things like doctors appointments or package deliveries, not to mention the (on average) more than 1 hour gained per working day that is not lost in traffic or on the metro. It’s nice to work in pajamas, but time is priceless.