A few days ago, a survey conducted by Odoxa-Adviso Partners estimated that there are 5.1 million people teleworking in France during this period of covid-19 health crisis. This means that 3.3 million employees have the possibility to work remotely, in addition to the 1.8 million who already occasionally had this possibility before. This flexibility is excellent news for our economy because it allows us to maintain part of the nation’s productive force, and also to save a few billion in government aid.
An important distinction between mass teleworking and teleworking for all
First of all, when we talk about 5.1 million teleworkers, working conditions should be analyzed in more detail. Are we talking about telework allowing, via advanced communication tools, to facilitate only the replacement of meetings, or are we talking about teleworking allowing everyone to benefit from exactly the same working environment as if they were physically at the office? The latter case does not seem to be the majority yet.
Then, if we consider that there are 25 million employees in France, from which 5 million teleworkers and 6.3 million short-time workers have to be deducted, there would still be about 14 million French people who continue to work every day, serving everyone.
Among these people, caregivers are on the front line and deserve our recognition. Among the others, there is the often forgotten convoy of workers who go to their workplaces every day to pick up garbage, drop off the mail, restock the store shelves, make our bread, etc. It is thanks to their dedication that many of us can continue to work from home.
Even though they are eligible to telework, part of the public service does not have a solution. Therefore, they cannot continue to carry out their collective mission, often because of a lack of investment by previous mandates. Technological advances have not reached the threshold of all their parent departments. For employees in some ministries who are not equipped with laptops, simply reading professional e-mails or consulting a digital file requires going physically to the office, which is in contradiction with the containment measures.
Factories, our most precious production tools, are the first places of social tensions
In practice, telework is a reality for managers or employees in the administrative services. On the other hand, it remains a chimera for machine-tool operators. If they have not switched to short-time working, workers have to commute to their workplaces every day. Even if they adopt the appropriate barrier gestures to avoid any covid-19 contamination, many of them most probably work without masks and physical protection equipment, given the lack of such equipment in France for the players in the health sector… At the same time, our industries must, as far as possible, continue to work in order not to disappear.
This situation is complicated and can foster a sense of injustice. Injustice for those industrial entrepreneurs, caught between a rock and a hard place, who have to safeguard their companies while preserving the safety of workers, and listen in disbelief to those who discover that our manufactured products are produced in massive quantities in China. Injustice also for workers who have no choice but to assume a health risk at the risk of their lives, while a tiny part of the company will be effectively teleworking.
As is often the case, technological change carries the seeds of its own social fracture. Telework is unquestionably a step forward for employees, but it also acts as a revelation of the hesitations of our society, which oscillates between unbridled globalization and industrial renaissance.
The covid-19 health crisis we are facing is a real challenge. We have the opportunity to build, tomorrow, a more peaceful society, to choose local production, whether agricultural or industrial. In a globalized environment, we can choose to restrict our movements because there are other alternatives.
On the other hand, this will require us to go beyond the “technological telework” that we are beginning to master and move towards responsible telework, in a preserved social environment in which those who cannot be concerned will have to receive special attention with regard to their rights, their rewards and, above all, the recognition that we give them.
By Christophe Corne, Chairman of Systancia’s Management Board