Teleworking: 3 recipes for staying visible, useful and meaningful
Équipe Unatti March 11, 2020
Teleworking: 3 recipes for staying visible, useful and meaningful

Teleworking: 3 recipes for staying visible, useful and meaningful 

During a working meeting after the French union strikes of December 2019, a HR director of a large group told me: "there will be a pre-strike and a post-strike". According to her, now even those who do not want to telework have decided to do it or have taken a liking for it.

The corona virus amplifies this reality by extending the scope of work. Fanny Lederlin, a doctoral student in philosophy, has just published "Les dépossédés de l'open space" (The dispossessed of open space) at Editions PUF, which explains how "working from home has brought work into our homes. But by bringing it into our home, it opens the door to the entirety of our lives" (1).

Some of the concepts and "recipes" presented in our article are inspired by the book "The dispossessed of open space", which seemed to us to be very topical. That said, our article is far from presenting the philosophical construction and concepts of the book in question, which we really recommend reading.

In March 2019, a protest named 996 ICU (2), by Chinese computer developers, explained how their work (often at home) consumed everyone's time by overworking from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit because this overwork would lead to major health risks. If Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire and founder of the e-commerce site Alibaba said "I personally think 996 is a huge blessing" because according to him you don't get anything without working more, 250,000 developers or Chinese Click workers (3) (invisible odd jobs born of the company's digitalization) wanted to warn about the psycho-social risks of over-digitalization. Chinese tech giants such as the QQ browser and WeChat, from the Tencent group, have blocked access to this protest site, which is unfortunately possible in China. In April 2019, Microsoft employees came in support of the 996 ICU campaign and relayed the message from the US. But this protest was reduced to the world of IT technicians or a few whistleblowers.

Unatti, a company expert in mentoring, was founded to recreate the link in the company. We help cooperation through a technology called used as a means of connecting people, for more exchanges between people who see each other in real life when they can or in videoconferencing if necessary, unlike social networks, in a spirit of socialization. Already 7 years ago, we perceived the risks of losing social links linked to new technologies and accelerated digital transformations. And now, more than ever before, teleworking or videoconferencing in the office will be our daily life.

They have definite advantages, promoted by corporate welfare advocates. The saving of time in transport to and from the office or to a meeting, the calm necessary for reflection and intellectual work which is more difficult to implement in open-space, and the freedom to organise one's working time for freelancers or to take 30 minutes during the day to receive the plumber or to look after one's children at home, without talking to one's N+1, while carrying out one's 7 to 8 hours of work per day.

For a long time, freelancers have been familiar with the use of videoconferencing and are unfortunately satisfied with it (we at Unatti are also satisfied with it), thinking that it saves time. And today employees with technical unemployment or partial unemployment (also called limited time work) or employees in professions that allow the use of videoconferencing, will be called to work and/or live at home. Confinement in the Chinese and now in the Italian way!

Labour law will have to adapt but until then (as with the right to disconnection which is fortunate to exist in France), all professionals will have to pay great attention not to become 996 workers. Then, once the corona virus is over, it is certain that telework (like exponential videoconferencing in companies) will be a means of "meeting" which will become second nature.

Here are 3 situations to observe in order not to be passive in relation to this profound change:

1.       Addiction and misinformation of social networks: even if we think we are more visible by communicating on platforms "nobody wanted us to consume our time on our mailbox or on Facebook, Instagram, You Tube, or Twitter... "(4), addiction is insidious. We don't disconnect in order to always be informed, to be able to choose from the multitude of options available to us, all out of fear of the Fear of missing out FOMO (5), "social anxiety, characterized by the constant fear of missing important news or other events that provide an opportunity for social interaction." (6) and because these networks were able to connect us to those with whom we never or rarely communicated and sometimes also relay important information.

The Unatti recipe, the creative fantasy: forcing ourselves to turn off our phones and screens after office hours, taking advantage of this time to spend with family, with friends (if we are not confined), time reading, writing, painting, cooking, meditating or just sitting around, catching up on our missing sleep. All these activities or rest are known to recharge our batteries.

2. The invisibility and gradual desocialization of employees: more social time at the coffee machine, in the canteen and fewer meetings. Yippee! for some. And yet, these meetings and lunches take us out of our offices to exchange with others in real life. 

In videoconferencing we exchange with others, but everything is virtual and this exchange is much less energizing (except for introverts) and the relationship between people in a team cannot be perceived and felt as in the real world. Everyone's emotions, physical attitudes, reactions, all this disappears. 

And in the United States, where videoconferencing has been around for a long time, employees often don't show up any more, they use videoconferencing to share documents and listen to each other, but not to let work into their private lives, which is quite pleasing. But in this way, work has lost "its socializing function "(7) by cutting us off from other professionals, with the risk of becoming invisible.

The Unatti recipe: don't be forgotten, make yourself visible. If you can see your colleagues, see them (with a distance of 1 meter during the health crisis), leave your office instead of sending a chat or an email and be in the real world. It's time to inform GenY and GenZ of this, of an awareness. 

If you are home-bound, teleworking, organize informal conversations or mentoring via a platform, such as when offered by your company, to exchange, share, develop yourself personally/professionally or socialize with people you don't usually see or contact.

Also organize video-conferences for several or two people with members of your team outside of so-called work meetings. It's also a matter of finding time to listen, to socialize in "strolling mode "(8) , for gossip, to awaken to something other than work, such as morning coffee with ones team, and basically to be more open to the world and more creative.

3. Replacing our work with AI: like any crisis, many companies (not all, fortunately) will accelerate the pace of redundancies and seize the opportunity, because of their corporate DNA for the market economy, to propagate "the computational society, becoming automatic" (9) . This is likely to lead to a loss of income for the self-employed, the risk of unemployment or even the liquidation of SMEs and more redundancies in large groups. AI and algorithms have already taken the place of traders in trading rooms, our 996 online presence will feed this AI and who knows, it may also be a laboratory for experimentation in cost reduction. Do we believe in the value of transhumanism and want our bodies to be augmented by new technologies and to what extent? 

Let's not forget the warnings of great physicists like Stephen Hawking that "humans limited by their slow biological evolution will not be able to compete with the machine "(10). The economy cannot continue to grow with everyone at home, or all replaced by machines. The collapse of the stock markets may show us that. 

It is a political moment that is not within a company's role , but also an economic moment to rethink and confront a system that is no longer adapted to our species.

The Unatti recipe: as soon as possible, get together in the real world, see each other (after the time of confinement and videoconferencing) and become actors of change. Collaborate with the company to rethink the governance of work in the digital age and already yes in the age of AI. 

Working and consuming better is a chance for the planet and it is therefore also an opportunity for business leaders to reflect on the impact of AI ethically and economically and to bring together employees to experiment and find ways to get out of precarious and completely digital jobs, if possible be in the real world at  least 50% of the time during the day. By this help everyone to re-enhance their neural capacities (outside the machine) (11) while capturing what can be useful from AI and digital.

Article inspired by :

This article, for its philosophical and societal concepts is largely inspired by Fanny Lederlin's book, "Les dépossédés de l'open space", Paris, PUF, 2020. (References 1,4, 6,7, 8, 9). 

Thanks Fanny!

Other sources :

996 ICU:  (2)

Click workers: (3)

Inventor of the FOMO: (5)

FOMO definition: (6)

Quote from Stephen Hawkings and re-enhance your neural capacities: (10 & 11)