Two and a half years later, the "new normal" remains a disappointment in companies
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
Institut Mines-Télécom Business School
Research Assistant at the Observatory of the New Normal at Work
IMT BS, IAE de Poitiers
*Faculty members of the Business Science Institute
Article originally published on The Conversation France.
The Covid crisis in the workplace has opened up new ways of working, sometimes referred to as the "new normal. In 2022, we launched an Observatory of the new normal at work, bringing together private and public companies and French administrations in order to monitor the transformation of these organizations and work styles over time.
Our latest work for this Observatory shows that for the individual, the work group and the company, the new normal is still perceived as a disappointing evolution. This is indeed the case for a large majority of respondents to our latest study. On the other hand, only 36% of respondents "somewhat agree" with the statement that they are experiencing the latest developments well, and none of them "completely agree" with it.
Answers to the statement: "As a company, in early 2022, I am experiencing the New Normal at work"
Contrary to what is often communicated, the "new normal" at work is not just the implementation of telework. It is a real reconfiguration of work practices, rooted in the gradual evolution of work patterns over the last twenty years. Nevertheless, its brutal and almost generalized deployment following the Covid crisis shows that the current rules set up in the workplace are inadequate.
The new normal revisits management in its three roles: action planning, action coordination and action control.
In terms of action planning, in addition to the classic tasks of identifying and allocating tasks, it is now necessary to plan the rules of the workplaces and spaces. It is therefore necessary to define the rules for occupying work spaces according to the type of task to be carried out, but also taking into account health regulations and those of the spaces (open spaces) newly fitted out for the flexdesk. It is a question of establishing rules on the number of days in face-to-face or remote work and defining the tasks that require face-to-face, remote or co-modal work.
In terms of task and action coordination, the new normal at work introduces the need to coordinate on-site visits and their added value, but also to coordinate the use of different work tools (digital, physical).
Finally, with the new normal, it is necessary to control the essential part of the activity "without the eyes", i.e. to be interested in the results of the work and not in the means by controlling the realization of the task with digital tools. E-management replaces the human and face-to-face relationship.
For each of these points, it is now a matter of defining clear rules and communicating them to the work group. Otherwise, autonomous regulation prevails and employees act as they wish. A woman manager in her fifties in a large service company that we interviewed recognizes this:
« The difficulty as a manager is that you're struggling to make all these schedules and so on, and the employees are just going through the motions. »
Moreover, this reconfiguration of work practices is taking place in a context of great tension in the labor market. Nowadays, individuals aspire to freely make life choices with a work mode that would adapt to their needs and aspirations.
New reasons for dissatisfaction
For the employee, the discovery of the new normal at work is both a source of new satisfactions and motivations, with the possibility of better articulating personal and professional life, of being more autonomous with respect to his work group and more efficient in his work. However, the new ways of working also mean the appearance of new reasons for dissatisfaction: microaggressions or tensions linked to the misuse of information technologies in the group, feelings of injustice, or even work rules experienced as absurd and inoperative, as one manager interviewed points out:
« If we have to come on site, something special has to happen, there has to be an experience, the collaboration has to be top notch for there to be a real interest, a real added value. »
In the absence of a concrete rethinking of the rules of management, the new normal at work is therefore rather disappointing for the individual, the group and the company/administration. The individual goes through a range of negative emotions (boredom, anxiety, mistrust, overwhelm, sadness, anger, etc.). As for the group, it is confronted with difficulties in the daily work to carry out its activity, to communicate, to integrate new employees, for the management and for the work in flex-office.
Finally, for the company/administration, the new normal certainly leads to a gain in efficiency and productivity in the short term, but in the medium term, the employees/agents notice a drop in efficiency with an increase in resignations, disengagement, a loss of serendipity, a loss of knowledge and experience and more generally a drop in collective performance at work One manager we interviewed is particularly critical:
« I think that telecommuting is even a loss of informal knowledge. When I'm with my colleague across the street on a job or when I have to work with this or that entity in another establishment, these informal exchanges allow me to say to myself "oh yes, but wait, I already did that a while ago, and then call a tel because you can save time", etc. »
In short, the new normal at work is today a real challenge for companies and administrations: that of finally taking into account that the massive deployment of information technologies in everyday life as well as in professional life has changed the way of responding to the problems of collective action.
If organization is a "response to the problem of collective action", as the sociologists Michel Crozier and Erhard Friedberg wrote in 1977, it is now time to realize that the current organization of work in many institutions no longer allows for effective collective action.
Aurélie Dudezert's articles on The Conversation France.
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Florence Laval's articles on The Conversation France.
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