Mobility and fluid workspaces: the building blocks for tomorrow’s businesses?

Telecommuting is now essential

Pollution spikes, an overflowing Seine, labour strikes… in the age of the cloud and collaborative software, more and more French workers are opting to telecommute. Current regulations also encourage this trend:

  • President Macron’s laws have simplified telecommuting and laid the groundwork for the broader development of mobile labour practices, especially at small and mid-size companies.
  • The mobility plan, which has been mandatory since January 2018 for companies with sites comprising more than 100 employees, requires that companies take action to improve commuting conditions. In the future, and for certain regions, failure to implement the mobility plan could even impact a company’s finances, by increasing their transport contributions which in Ile-de-France are not insignificant).

It seems obvious today that public investment in transport networks will not be enough, in the near or even the medium term, to improve the quality of transportation in our major cities, especially during rush hours. So therefore, fostering alternatives to cars and public transport – and especially non-mobility – is becoming an imperative.

Nathanaël MATHIEU, Co-founder of LBMG Worklabs

A hybrid company dedicated to the new ways of working. To this end, he has, since 2010, provided support for businesses and public organisations in transforming their workplace practices and spaces. He is also the founder of neo-nomade.com, a benchmark co-working website in France used by a number of Groups such as EDF, Generali and Cap Gemini. Tirelessly dedicated, he created the Tour de France of telecommuting and third-party locations, and most recently Worklab Paris, an accelerator dedicated to work.

Strong political support

Bicycles, car-pooling, car-sharing, restructuring working hours: solutions such as these are often advanced as credible alternatives to public transport and cars during rush hours. Unfortunately, telecommuting is often completely ignored in such plans. And yet, the demand is there and it’s massive. The Intercompany Travel Plan was set up in 2013 at the La Défense site and involved more than 15,000 employees. Its results are instructive. One out of every two workers at La Défense identified telecommuting as the most attractive solution for improving the daily commute, way ahead of bicycles, autolib’ car sharing and carpooling.

There have never been stronger indications of the support and involvement of public officials. Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud has clearly expressed her support for telecommuting and co-working; and since April 2018, Valérie Pécresse, the President of the Ile-de-France region, has been encouraging business leaders to reflect on and propose practical action plans for telecommuting and streamlining working hours, particularly for certain pilot areas in the Ile-de-France region.

Workplace mobility has gone strategic

It would be a mistake to reduce telecommuting solely to a challenge to improve employees’ commuting times and quality of life. There are a number of other subjects which pose a strategic challenge for organisations, both public and private. What specifically come to mind are changing managerial practices (confidence), attracting talent and, of course, the evolving workplace environment (more flexible offices, often with hot-desking) and the resulting optimisation of a company’s real-estate and finances.

Blending collaborative practices and mobility

The spread of various forms of mobility is the reflection of our need to work together when we do return to the office. Historically, telecommuting and teamwork have been opposite notions. Today, we see that they feed off each other and should be thought of as being in parallel with one another. A manager is tasked both with creating a dynamic of trust required when some or all of his or her team telecommutes and, at the same time, with fostering a sense of collaboration and teamwork when they reconvene. Co-working spaces, with their very special dynamic of fostering community, are a good source of inspiration for companies.

Offices are becoming increasingly fluid

Many companies now have a substantial number of regular or occasional telecommuters (between 20% and 30% of eligible employees), prompting an emerging concern for “empty” offices. Average office space occupancy is about 55% in Ile-de-France and the increasing numbers of telecommuters tends to drive this figure lower and lower. To counter this “desertification” and optimise their physical footprint, some companies are choosing to transition to offices shared between employees. The transition to a flex-office, with its improved dynamic environment, often constitute the twins of the growing telecommuting trend. If we look ahead, it is clear that the very notion of a company leasing property will in the future demand more flexibility in terms of both time and surface area. The notion of a headquarters will have the same importance in terms of a company’s identity, of socialising among its employees and of co-working. It will become the co-working hub, so to speak, extended by a multitude of satellite offices (home, co-working spaces, offices shared with other companies, etc.)

This transformation has yet to be supported by companies themselves. However, in order to transform these challenges into true dynamics for experimentation with, and development of, mobile workplace practices in all their forms (telecommuting from home, co-working, mobile working, satellite offices, or offices shared by several companies), we need to convince senior management, adapt systems, and provide support for these transformations. It is with this in mind that the “What office tomorrow?” experiment will be launched in June 2018, by Neo-nomade and the Centre Michel Serres, with the objective of involving 50 companies and 10,000 workers for one year in the Ile-de-France region and in the city of Nantes.