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Teleworking: COVID-19 could revolutionise the world of work

Hundreds of thousands of Europeans have discovered teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic. This experience will “have a long-lasting effect” according to a specialist on teleworking.

Jon Messenger, a specialist at the International Labour organization has authored a number of studies on teleworking and had this to say on the situation during the pandemic: “I have said for a number of years that teleworking is the future. With the confinement, it has arrived in a brutal way and often without any preparation. Nevertheless, one must say that it functions.”

He has no doubt that now that teleworking has been forced upon us, previous resistance within companies will be overcome. Messenger explains that “the biggest obstacles to the generalization of teleworking – when it is possible of course – comes from managers. A real change is needed in the managerial culture of any organization or company.”


Support and confidence

Messenger considers that “some managers rely on presence, on how many seats are filled in the office. However, mere presence is not a criteria of results. One has to leave behind the policy of the presence of staff and have a clear vision of the objectives and the measurement of results.”

Messenger assesses that there are two key-words: the support that the management must provide and confidence. “Confidence is a key and the base of teleworking. It is important between managers and staff, the staff and their supervisors, and also between individual team-members.”

The success of teleworking also depends on preparation, according to Messenger, who will soon publish a guide to help companies and staff on the issue.  “Now that enterprises and employees have had to adapt to teleworking in a “crisis mode” the first challenge has been to secure connectivity and “to make sure that everyone has the right tools for teleworking and the knowledge to use them.”

In his opinion employees must have the possibility of working when, and where, it is most convenient for them to maximize their productivity. However, a balance between private life and work must be maintained. “The advantage of teleworking is its flexibility, but one has to learn when to disconnect.”


To learn to disconnect  

At the beginning of lockdown in Europe, Jon Messenger posted a video on the ILO website where he summarised some simple rules on teleworking. The video can be found here:

“Contrary to the preconceived idea that teleworking decreases productivity, one realizes that people have a tendency to work longer when they are away from the office, not least because they don´t have to spend time on transport and that they are eager to show that they can be just as efficient as in the office,” Messenger says.

It remains important to know when to disconnect. Learning to put boundaries between work and private life is essential. “The ideal is to have some space, an office or a corner of a room dedicated to work. And to impose self-discipline and know when to turn off the computer and cease looking at emails once working hours are over.”


“Working closer to home or wherever one chooses, for instance in shared work spaces, will also develop,” Jon Messenger adds. He is the co-author of the study  ‘Working anytime, anywhere’ for the European Union.

Reducing the commuting time not only decreases CO2 emissions but also reduces the stress generated by travelling to the workplace. The ILO specialist considers that the optimal amount of time spent telecommuting is between two and three days a week, to ensure the staff member is not disassociated from the team.

“There are also people who are more autonomous, who adapt well to travelling and who perform even better. The key is flexibility, that everyone is at ease and has the best possible conditions to execute the assigned tasks,” concludes Messenger.


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