100% telework is not sustainable. In particular, it exposes employees to physical and psychological problems, which in the long term have an impact on the well-being of employees and the performance of companies. The future of work will be hybrid, collective and articulated around a new management: that of trust.
The question of the future of work has been emerging for several years, supported by technical developments linked to digitalisation, environmental issues, changes in the relationship with the company, commitment, meaning... This question of the future of work is becoming all the more important with the generalisation of telework, which is disruptive for the methods of work, collaboration and management, with regard to the scaling up of this working method, which is becoming normality. At MAIF, 66% of eligible employees have a telework agreement, with most of them working 8 to 12 days a month. In the context of the health crisis, the effects of this generalisation and the paradigm changes it entails are not yet visible.
Nevertheless, this is probably a good time to anticipate the future of work and to try to set the benchmarks for the 'next world', which will be one of hybridisation of work.
The future of work will be hybrid and collective
Even if telework becomes a new norm, the future of work is not 100% remote, but will instead give value to on-site presence.
Telework cannot become a permanent work organisation because it would expose employees to physical and psychological problems, which in the long run have an impact on the well-being of employees and on the performance of companies. Moreover, work carried out entirely at a distance undermines the closeness of working groups: the richness represented by committed working groups can be undermined by the loss of commitment. Indeed, in a face-to-face setting, employees may bump into their colleagues unintentionally, creating moments of informal communication and collaboration. In a remote context, these unintentional exchanges are spontaneously less strong or non-existent. Without informal communication, team members will find it more difficult to feel close to each other and to share common values.
Thus the current remote operation during the health crisis is based at least in part on the construction of a common culture and social links previously created in person. By being completely at a distance, this capital could be consumed if no time for renewing the links is provided.
The future of work will not be without offices
With the hybridisation of work, the future of work is not a future without offices: on the one hand because offices represent an essential social dimension of work, and also because uniform working conditions cannot be guaranteed in telework, because the company does not control the working conditions at home.
Nevertheless, a major change is taking place as teleworkers expect offices to have added value compared to working from home. The Future of Work is also about the reinvention of the office and office time. In the context of the hybridisation of work, time spent on site is a time for community and the creation of social links, because it is in the office that the informal, which is valuable for building communities, can be inserted into the interstices of work. Reflection on face-to-face uses will probably lead to changes in the composition of workspaces to encourage creativity, innovation, conviviality and exchange. Face-to-face work is important for the group, but it is not exclusive insofar as not all employees will wish to telework, or will not have the optimal conditions at home to do so.
The hybridisation of work is therefore an opportunity to think about the distribution of activities between those that are tele-robust (individual, organised, formal work, etc.), which are easily carried out at a distance, or even more efficiently, and those that are tele-fragile (innovation, group energy): the challenge is therefore to optimise the value of face-to-face time by exploiting it for tele-fragile tasks, without however omitting individual face-to-face working time, and to design the workspaces in this way.
The future of work will be management by trust
Telework reinforces even more the need for a management of trust, i.e. a management that lets go of the employees and leaves the logic of the contract where everything is predictable and formalised. At MAIF, management by trust is a movement that has been underway for several years, and which is essential to the distancialisation of the relationship between manager and employee.
Mutual trust between managers and employees is a major factor in remote performance, as it encourages autonomy and accountability.
The transition to hybrid management is a process that goes beyond the sole question of the face-to-face/remote rhythm and requires organising feedback on the organisation of team time and on the articulation of collective moments of collaboration and individual work time. The co-construction of hybrid working methods by the teams will also allow for the calm establishment of what works and what does not work remotely and face-to-face, in order to set benchmarks and operating rules for the working groups.
The future of work will be the search for meaning for employees
The crisis has confirmed a trend that had already been underway for several years: the search for meaning for employees, not only the meaning of their individual work, but also the search for meaning in relation to the company in which they work.
In the end, with the generalisation of telework, and with the questioning of meaning, work becomes more a time than a space, and more a means than an end in itself: the challenge for companies in the future of Work is to mobilise employees around a mission that makes sense, and to respond to their combined expectations of security and flexibility, to better correspond to their life moments or aspirations.
About the author and the article
Béatrice Guéguiniat is in charge of the OSER project at MAIF and published this article on the AFRC website - L'Association Française de la Relation Client in May 2021