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Telecommuting and employee autonomy

Séverine Le Loarne, esiegnant chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management
Publié le
20 Avril 2020

During the current lockdown, telecommuting has been a blessing for many western economies that are based on service sectors. What if this boost in telecommuting opens the way for a new era of management? One built on a fundamental understanding amongst employees: trust.

Interview with Séverine Le Loarne, , researcher, professor and head of the FERE Chair (Women and economic renewal) at Grenoble Ecole de Management1. She recently launched a research project on the topic of managing professional and personal time when working from home. The project is studying a panel of female entrepreneurs in California and will soon expand to include French participants.

You're leading this study with the help of your DBA students and it's based on the telecommuting context in which many of us are living. All of the female entrepreneurs in your study are working from home and managing both personal and professional agendas. What is the goal of your research?

This study correlates professional and personal time management with company performance, in particular in terms of turnover, as well as household and family tasks. Our analysis focuses in particular on how female entrepreneurs balance professional activities and child-rearing responsibilities. In other words, how they balance professional and family life when working from home. The study looks at agendas in order to analyze daily schedules and understand how time is dedicated to both professional and personal spheres. We study the agendas of every participant and carry out a qualitative interview every three months. The goal is to highlight stress factors during telecommuting and the impact on company performance.

What are the first results?

That there's no perfect solution, or rather no standard solution. We find no correlation between a type of daily schedule and a company's performance. Nor do we find a correlation with expressed stress levels. There's no one-size-fits-all recipe which is an important fact to understand. We do, however, highlight one apparent best practice: the manner in which a participant organizes a daily schedule in accordance with natural rhythms of both the woman, work and children is important. Without this harmony, there is both stress and poor company performance. We know that "doing it all at once" is a source of stress and bad for long term performance. Our results should be presented at the DIANA conference in October 2020.

What is your advice for employees and managers who are currently combining telecommuting, household activities and their children's education?

You have to improvise at individual levels and trust employees! Each person knows their place. The particularly strong French aversion to telecommuting is mostly based on the directors' fear that they will lose control. Mayer is an author that has written a lot about trust in organizations and at individual levels. It's a determining factor. Trust is a secondary emotion that can be measured with three key variables:

  1. A belief that the other knows how to do the work
  2. Benevolence in terms of understanding that the other wants to collaborate and work with you
  3. Honesty as a founding principle in terms of intellectual property in particular

In the current context, which nobody chose, telecommuting is based on trust. It's almost an act of faith.

What message do you want to share with company leaders, both large and small?

The system has to ease up! People have to be able to organize themselves in the best way possible. You have to question the project logic and how you usually manage time for projects. Today, we have to break with standards in terms of work time based on a 9-5 schedule. Standards are already different from region to region: people don't work the same in Spain, London, New York or Paris. Family companies in sales and food services often operate as a whole system in which children are an integral part. Asynchronous activities such as writing, research, teaching or IT have long worked with systemic models and they're successful! For contract employees, the challenge is mostly in terms of legal regulations, trust and overall organizational factors both inside and outside the company.

What will be the primary challenges in the future if we wish to continue and encourage this online autonomy?

We have to switch from a symphony orchestra mode to an improvisation mode built on networks. And we definitely have to stop checking up on whether or not a telecommuter accomplishes a task, it's completely counter-productive!

Managers and HR directors have to be agile, just like their employees, and place themselves at the service of others. In other words, how can I be useful? So put an end to control measures for employees and focus on results. In this framework, telecommuting generates greater involvement and sharing of knowledge.

During this lockdown, we have to know how to build an organization that is similar to earthquake-proof buildings, in which the structure is designed to bend and not break.

  1. The FERE Chair carries out many studies for the Entrepreneurs Network, BNP-Paribas, EIT Health and recently, a study on female entrepreneurship for Bouge Ta Boite. This study reaffirms previous results that will be presented at the Babson conference in 2020. This previous study was based on the analysis of parent entrepreneurs that work from home.

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