Interview: The debate over remote work must be framed in terms of quality of life at work
Flichy Grangé partners Florence Bacquet and Caroline Scherrmann help companies tackle remote working issues head on, paying attention to both the micro and macro aspects. They spoke to Leaders League about upcoming French legislation governing working from home.
Leaders Leaque: As a way to continue functioning during the pandemic, remote work quickly became the solution. Does regulation covering it has some catching up to do?
Florence Bacquet. The jurisprudence of the Conseil d’Etat (French administrative supreme court) has reminded us that the nationwide protocol designed to ensure the health and safety of staff at work does not absolve employers of ensuring that risks are properly evaluated and the necessary steps are put in place. Going by the letter of the law, recourse to remote work should only be taken after agreement between the employer and their staff. However, if there is significant risk of infection spreading at the company, management can mandate working from home. Looking to the future after Covid, the social partners do not seem to currently be in favor of allowing companies to impose remote working.
Leaders Leaque: What progress has been made to enshrine the right to disconnect in law?
Caroline Scherrmann. The first thing I would stress is that, in order for any such law to be workable, a meaningful dialogue needs to take place over not just the right to not respond to work related requests outside of work hours, but also the needs of individual companies vis à vis digital solutions (collection and storage of data, usage statistics, staff and managerial surveys). The effectiveness of any law on the right to disconnect depends on its adaptability to a company’s method of operating. That said, several concrete measures have been envisaged. A kind of early warning system could be set up for those workers finding it difficult to separate their professional and personal lives. For example, staff could have the right to set up automatic response messages to colleagues informing them that the person contacted will not respond to their request out of hours. In addition, another possibility is that if, beyond an occasional increase in working hours, an employee finds himself working outside of their usual hours on a repeated basis, an automatic meeting with their manager could be triggered to discuss their workload and organization. Should this not resolve the issue, a meeting with the head of HR can follow.
Leaders Leaque: What can we expect from the upcoming remote work agreement?
Florence Bacquet. It is essential that these agreements provide for a regular follow up, once they have been put in place. Companies need to pay close attention to how remote work is organized and, if necessary, correct over time any issues it may lead to, notably psychosocial problems. More generally, the debate over remote work must be framed in terms of quality of life at work, in order to tackle the problems that can occur when remote work is not properly regulated. This includes things like expense accounts and meal vouchers, which should not be stopped just because a person is working from home. The law must be applied evenly to limit the scope for opportunism and, indeed, opportunistic litigation.
Caroline Scherrmann. From a digital point of view, we believe that the remote work agreement must also take into account the heightened risk of cybercrime that comes with working from home. It increases the risks of companies falling prey to hacks, and staff working from home need to be more aware of this. Training programmes should be put in place to minimize this emerging risk, which would also, more generally, help staff make a smoother transition to this type of work.