Telework (part 2): how to find the perfect balance?

Illustration homme en visio conférence avec d'autres personne


This article is a follow-up to the article “Telework: where do we stand today? “.

Although it seems unavoidable today, the practice of teleworking remains a fairly recent phenomenon in France. In 2017, only 3% of French employees teleworked at least once a week(1). Driven by the health crisis we are going through, teleworking brings as many advantages as challenges. How can we get to grips with this new way of working and make the most of it?

Telework, a real asset


Television, press, social networks… We talk a lot about telework since the confinement, but do we really know its definition? Telework” refers to work that could have been done in the office, but is done in a different location: it can be the employee’s home, or a third place, such as a café or a coworking space. This practice is made possible by the use of digital tools. Unsurprisingly, it only concerns a third of the French population, mostly executives: 61% of teleworkers are executives, according to the Ministry of Labour.

An increase in telework in France?

If the increase in telework was undeniable in France in 2020 (27% of French employees worked exclusively in telework, during the period of confinement), its use is delicate to quantify. Telework is, in fact, undervalued, as it is often done informally. This is what Lætitia Vitaud explains in her article for the Institut Montaigne (2)

Today, despite a persistent health crisis, the practice of teleworking has increased to 15%, according to a Yougov survey. The Citymapper Mobility Index also reveals that Paris and Lyon are among the most mobile cities in the world today: in other words, their inhabitants move around as usual – or almost. There are several reasons for this French reluctance to telework: a culture of presenteeism, distrustful management, a real need to share time with colleagues, etc. It is worth noting that France has had a particularly strict lockdown in place for several months. It may seem legitimate that French employees are now looking for social links and conviviality.

Telework, recognised advantages

However, if the use of telework is struggling to become more widespread, its advantages are no longer in doubt. Among its main advantages, we note the reduction of transport time (and the stress that results from it) as well as a gain in productivity. Indeed, if it is carried out in good conditions, teleworking allows employees to concentrate more (coffee breaks, various interruptions and noisy work spaces being eliminated). According to a Malakoff Médéric study (3) , 9 out of 10 teleworkers believe they are more efficient. Their productivity, for its part, would increase by 22%.

On the employer’s side, the advantages are not to be underestimated! For example, teleworking allows for a reduction in certain substantial costs, such as rent. With fewer employees present at the same time, the employer can opt for smaller offices. It will then be important to review the internal organisation of the company, by rearranging its spaces and favouring the use of “flex desks”, a system which eliminates the need for dedicated office space. Adopting teleworking also allows a company to improve its employer brand, by offering its employees more flexibility and autonomy.

What are the limits of teleworking?

Telework has its advantages. But should it be practised without moderation? Nothing is less certain. If used improperly, this practice would eventually have many limits, and even dangers.

The first risks involved? The disengagement of employees and their loss of social ties, which can result from repeated teleworking. Man is a social animal,” Aristotle said. There is nothing like informal exchanges and shared moments to stimulate the collective spirit of your teams! However, according to an IPSOS survey (4) 44% of employees believe that teleworking is likely to limit relations between colleagues.

As far as health is concerned, repeated teleworking would, in the long term, encourage a sedentary lifestyle, the number one enemy of a healthy lifestyle. This alone would increase all causes of mortality, the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, as well as certain cancers and depression.

There is also a misconception that teleworking improves work/life balance (e.g. by allowing parents to do more activities with their families). In reality, teleworking tends to increase presenteeism. According to INSEE figures, some intensive teleworkers work twice as much as non-teleworkers (up to 50 hours per week for some). If it is not done in a trustworthy company, telework can also mean spying and virtual harassment.

Telework, finding the right balance

Ask your teams

So how do you find the right balance to enjoy the benefits of teleworking without suffering the disadvantages? There is no magic answer to this question. As with all business issues, you need to listen to your needs and be true to your corporate culture. Don’t hesitate to survey your teams! Measure their needs, preferences and feelings about teleworking through anonymous questionnaires.

  • How did your staff experience confinement and forced telework?
  • Is telework relevant to your company and its culture?
  • Do your employees have any particular needs or aspirations?
  • What would be their ideal teleworking pattern, and why?

The answers to these questions will enable you to set the right rules: set a minimum and maximum number of days for teleworking. There is no magic formula, but an ideal telework rate is around 30% – that is, 1 to 2 days per week for an employee.

Look after the well-being of your employees

It is your responsibility as an employer to ensure the comfort and well-being of your employees. It is up to you to ensure that your teams telework in good conditions. The boundaries between work and personal life can be porous when teleworking from home. Don’t hesitate to invest in coworking spaces to allow your employees to telework in an inspiring environment. A good example to follow is Google, which pays subsidies to its employees to enable them to finance their work furniture.

From a strictly legal point of view, on the other hand, the company must ensure the health and safety of its employees. Avoid, for example, encouraging your employees to work overtime when they telework, for example by respecting their disconnection hours. You should also prevent anxiety and isolation by checking in regularly with your employees and their morale.

Communicating well from a distance

With today’s collaborative tools (such as Slack, Zoom, Teams, Notion, Trello… to name but a few), communicating easily with colleagues is within the reach of everyone, regardless of generation. Don’t hesitate to use these valuable solutions to stimulate the team spirit of your talents!

But be sure to use these tools sparingly. Too many notifications can be as anxiety-provoking as a noisy open space. Also, avoid having too many meetings if they are not absolutely necessary. In video conferencing, a meeting requires more visual effort. This is because contact is made mainly by eye contact, and not by the non-verbal communication that can be witnessed in the office. Accumulating meetings would thus create a “collaborative overload” (also called “Zoom fatigue” by the Harvard Business Review (6) among employees.

The effectiveness of these communication tools must be qualified. According to an OECD study (7) on teleworking, “face-to-face meetings are more conducive to effective communication than other forms of remote exchange such as e-mail, chat or telephone”.

What about junior employees or new recruits, who need coaching?

Another major problem with teleworking is that It is not fully compatible with training and knowledge sharing. Junior profiles need to learn from the experience of their senior colleagues to develop expertise and grasp the company’s product/service.

This idea is supported by the OECD study, according to which “teleworking could slow down the process of acquiring skills through practice”.

So encourage your young employees and new recruits to prefer face-to-face work to telework during their first few months in your team!

What about recruitment?

Telework has also changed the recruitment process, not only in terms of life in the company. As a first contact, video-conference interviews are preferred. While these may increase the stress of some candidates (8), they are still a way to conduct shorter and more efficient interviews.

During your interviews, be sure to examine the candidates’ personal skills. Are the qualities you were looking for yesterday necessary today? Look at the candidate’s relationship to teleworking and their independence. Will he/she be able to adapt quickly to your company, should a widespread teleworking scenario occur again? Is he/she operational enough to carry out a successful onboarding, even from a distance? Does he or she understand the issues raised by this health crisis for your company?

By asking the right questions, you will choose the ideal candidate who will adapt to your organisation easily, even in turbulent times.

Our recruitment software JobAffinity will help you to facilitate recruitment during the teleworking period. In addition to the integrated discussion module, you can offer video interviews.

(1) Source: Work Ministry

(2) What’s behind the telework figures in France

(3) Annual study Telework 2020 Telework: the French are on board!

(4) Telework: the French are on board!

(5) Does telework improve working conditions for managers? (6) How to Combat Zoom Fatigue
(7) Potential positive effects of telework in the post-COVID-19 era
(8) Source: Challenges

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