My name is Arthur Lopez, and, for the past 10 years, I have worked as a Project Manager in tech companies. My article focuses on individuals in my field as well as those whose physical presence in the workplace is not necessary to carry out their tasks. This article is the result of my experience in France and Montreal, as well as my numerous encounters and discussions regarding new work methodologies and employee well-being. Its purpose is to initiate a discussion on the subject and attempt to influence/convince other stakeholders in France to move in a common direction.
There are numerous articles on post-pandemic business in France, detailing the changes for employers and the corporate environment. But what about employees and their well-being?
- Did the pandemic accelerate the implementation of remote work in France?
- Does remote work significantly improve employee well-being?
The answer to the first question is "yes, undoubtedly." However, when it comes to the second question, it is rather difficult to answer, considering the high rate of burnout experienced during this period in France.
Through this article, I will attempt to address this question and identify future challenges that could significantly enhance employees' well-being in the workplace.
Pre-pandemic, we were in a fairly strict and rigorous work environment. In-person work was mandatory, and exceptions were rare. Not only did doubt and mistrust come from managers, but also from jealous or concerned colleagues regarding their peers' ability to work effectively remotely. This created an atmosphere of control and surveillance over each employee.
Then the pandemic arrived and mandatory restrictions were applied in open-work spaces, leading to the widespread adoption of remote work in French companies.
For the majority of employees, it was an opportunity, a chance, or a way to enter a world with unlimited possibilities. The benefits were clear:
- No commuting time, allowing for more personal time.
- A flexible dress code - the return of casual wear.
- The ability to multitask - working on multiple tasks simultaneously (even during meetings in which participation was not required).
- Fewer issues among employees - reduced conflicts, judgments, jealousy, and discrimination (?).
- Greater freedom to manage family responsibilities - childcare, household chores, receiving deliveries, accommodating technicians, etc.
- The possibility of working from anywhere (or almost anywhere) - opening up new possibilities to work in more pleasant locations or escape high rents in big cities.
Companies and managers have the same advantages, but lose the most important one: control. They cannot verify that their employees are actually WORKING from home. During the pandemic, they had no choice but to accept this situation and even though the results may not be so bad overall, most will likely return to a system of mandatory in-person presence, with varying degrees of exceptions (1 to 2 days of telework per week).
Employees feel "better than before," but we are still far from the concept of well-being in the workplace, as the burnout rate continues to rise in France. So, where is the problem?
How could we define well-being in the workplace? Today, this notion is often associated with the work-life balance established by the company – from the working environment (such as the office space) to all the benefits offered to employees to make work more enjoyable – Work is inherently an effort, which is why we talk more about respecting the work-life balance than actual well-being, and respecting this balance means giving employees more freedom.
Recently, I attended a conference at Agile Tour Toulouse, and one of the speaker gave the following example:
There's a manager who asks an employee to work and submit a document by the next morning. The problem is that the employee has a soccer practice scheduled for that evening and would be tempted to refuse. After all, he's right, in his 37.5-hour contract, he's not paid for overtime, and he would prefer to go to his practice rather than spend his evening working. He logically declines the manager's request, explaining that he has prior commitments.
The audience starts laughing. The speaker continues:
And you might say: That's not how it works in real life!
The audience laughs heartily, as if to approve of this final punchline, and to the fact that the notion of freedom is completely disregarded. To be honest, it was this event that motivated me to write this article because, from my point of view, that's how it should happen in real-life business situations.
I have worked in Canada for the past 5 years, more specifically in Montreal, and I have discovered a different way of working. Beyond the long-established practice of remote work, freedom and trust are key values within the tech companies I have encountered. During my stay, I felt that employee well-being is a fundamental value for my employer, and employees are able to find the right work-life balance.
- Remote work or in-person: employees are free to choose the format that suits them.
- Flexible work hours: with a few exceptions based on important meetings or team obligations.
- No overtime (or very rarely): we work from "9 to 5," so at 5 p.m., it is normal for everyone to go home.
Firstly, because employers quickly realized that their employees were often much more productive when working remotely than in the office, for the following two reasons:
1. Work time is not proportional to productivity
The first thing to note is the difference in mindset: in France, there has long been an association between an employee's work and their mere presence in the office. This is a misconception and does not contribute to an accurate measurement of employee’s productivity. An employee who does not want to work will always find a way to "hide" from their responsibilities.
In Canada, the focus is directed on employee productivity, measured by the results achieved.
This approach requires a different method for evaluating an employee’s work to ensure that the outcome aligns with the given objectives. The end goal is the same, but employees have greater freedom and control over their work schedules and environment.
2. Remote work boosts productivity
Working from home is often perceived as negative by employers, as employees have the freedom to mix work and personal tasks throughout the day. But is it really a bad thing?
Let's take the example of an employee who is given X tasks for their workday or sets X tasks as their goal. Since they cannot leave the office earlier if they complete their work faster, it is highly likely that they will spread out their work throughout the entire day and submit it at the end.
With remote work, they know that by completing their tasks more quickly, they can finish earlier, take a rest, or even work on a personal task. In doing so, it accelerates not only their productivity but also that of the entire team.
Next, granting flexibility in work schedules has a strong impact on employee well-being and productivity. In addition to allowing employees to catch up on missing hours later in the day or week, it also helps maximizing our moments of high concentration. We all have a time of day when our productivity is at its peak, known as our momentum. The flexibility in schedules aims, in part, to make use of this momentum and deliver maximum output. Since we are all different, the flexibility provided allows us to adjust our work hours based on our individual profiles. For example, I have met people who enjoy working on Sundays, or developers who prefer to code at night. It is understandable that someone who has their momentum in the evening or at night is less productive in the morning, so why force everyone to start at the same time and follow the same work hours?
Moreover, respecting schedules is a collaborative effort involving managers and clients. Challenging deadlines and managing the risk in case of potential delays are part of the process. By combining the two, we frequently reach an agreement that allows us to respect our employees' personal lives and desired work hours.
Finally, workspaces have had to be redesigned to make them more comfortable and appealing for employees: no assigned seats, meeting spaces for privacy, comfortable lounges, areas to "disconnect," more frequent events, and so on. The goal remains to encourage employees to occasionally come to the workplace to stimulate team cohesion and to encourage effective collaboration.
The employee, the human being, is constantly seeking well-being. Having the freedom to choose between working from home or in the office, as well as being able to adapt their work hours, are undeniable advantages.
That freedom provides the employee the necessary means to find the right balance between their personal life and professional obligations. This balance should contribute to the employee's well-being by reducing their stress and associated emotional burden.
This flexibility allows the employee to work from anywhere they want, and conversely, to work for any company that offers remote work.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon to experience fatigue during the workday (or to be slightly ill), so it is logically easier to take a rest at home than at the office.
Lastly, I have realized that we are much more demanding of our colleagues in the workplace than when we are remote. Recently, a friend of mine expressed strong frustration in his office life: two of his colleagues spent a significant portion of their time chatting with each other, in other words, not working, which greatly annoyed my friend. But why do we experience this situation differently when we are working remotely?
Canadian companies have understood the importance of taking care of their employees' health and well-being to foster loyalty and achieve better results. In addition to remote work and flexible hours, I have also encountered other benefits during my various experiences, such as:
- Unlimited paid vacation - a concept based on the idea that it is better to give an employee requested time off rather than forcing them to work.
- 2 hours per week during working hours dedicated to sports or volunteer activities.
- Summer Fridays - during the summer, the option to condense the workweek into 4.5 days to finish at noon on Fridays and have a longer weekend.
- Telemedicine tools for healthcare or mental health support.
- Make your dreams come true - a program that rewards employee loyalty with an additional 2 weeks of vacation and a $5000 check to fulfill one of their dreams. Renewable every 5 years.
- Work from anywhere - the ability to work for a maximum of 6 months in a foreign country or province.
- Family support program to assist in starting a family.
However, this model also carries dangers and risks to the employees' health and productivity.
The Canadian model has demonstrated numerous advantages for both employers and employees, but it is not without risks. These new ways of working have created other problems that need to be addressed :
- An inequitable system: Not everyone has access to the same benefits because certain individuals, even in the technological field, may not be able to work remotely (e.g., warehouse workers) or have flexible working hours (e.g., customer support).
- The danger of multitasking: We all know that multitasking has several advantages, especially during video conferences. However, the resulting lack of concentration is a problem that can reduce the efficiency of certain meetings and even other tasks.
- Trust put to the test: The system is based on trust between the employer and the employee, as well as among themselves. A lack of response or delayed response can quickly undermine these relations.
- Empty offices: By giving employees the choice to come to the office or not, there is the risk of encountering empty offices. This may demotivate some employees and cause the employer to terminate the lease, leading to other issues.
- Risk of isolation or poor choices: How can we ensure that employees make the right decisions? Family situations can be complex, the workspace may not be suitable, and there is a risk of isolation, particularly for individuals who live alone. A fully remote company (without a physical workplace) also poses risks. While it is important to give employees the freedom to decide what is best for them, they should be encouraged to visit the workplace from time to time.
- Rethinking collaboration: New alternatives must be found using available tools to rethink and optimize remote collaboration.
- Hybrid equipment: Naturally, for this system to work effectively, the equipment must be appropriate, both in terms of hardware and the tools deployed by the companies.
- Company culture and team cohesion: Employees should be encouraged to visit the workplace (occasionally) but not be obligated to do so. This contributes to team cohesion and strengthens their attachment. However, new ways of developing company culture and maintaining team cohesion in a remote setting still need to be considered.
The pandemic and remote work have completely reshaped the way we work and collaborate. While remote work has proven its effectiveness, some companies remain reluctant to offer it to their employees on a daily basis. Although some have completely banned it, others have decided to restrict remote work. This limitation hinders employees' freedom and affects the trust between both parties. To ensure that it remains beneficial for both the company and the employee’s productivity, as well as for their well-being, its usage should not be limited.
Today, a company that takes care of its employees is a strong value-added and showcases its human side, both for recruitment and with its clients and other partners.
To ensure the well-being of your employees involves giving them more freedom and trust, thus allowing for a better work-life balance. These initiatives have an impact on employee health (e.g. the risk of burnout) as well as their productivity.
To address the current challenges, it is essential to reevaluate company culture and promote team cohesion in remote environments. We are actively engaged in navigating this transformative period, and I encourage companies to explore and share new methods and their outcomes.
After my return from Canada, my intentions were clear : to retain all the benefits (freedom) I had gained over the past five years. Therefore, I chose a Canadian company - Osedea - which had successfully exported the Canadian model to their office in Nantes, France. At the moment, my role is to establish an office in Toulouse and recruit a high-performing team who will benefit from these various advantages:
- Remote work / flexibility
- Make your Dreams Come True
- Work from everywhere
- Support for starting a family
My objective is also to share my experience to convince other companies to adopt this model.
I believe that prioritizing employee’s health and well-being is a significant competitive advantage and that it will play a crucial role in attracting and retaining new talents. By taking part in this major change and embracing innovation companies are actively contributing to shaping the industry of tomorrow.