Noémie Le Menn is an occupational psychologist, coach and author. She has worked in the field for over 30 years and coached more than 450 professionals. She was recently invited by Le Monde to answer questions from their readers on teleworking and its impacts. I had the chance to interview Noémie for Popwork: she provides answers to questions that we all ask ourselves, managers and employees alike.
Johann Molinari: You hosted a live chat on Le Monde on Monday to answer Internet users' questions on the impact of teleworking: were you surprised by the questions asked?
Noémie Le Menn: I must admit that I was expecting more conceptual questions from the readers of Le Monde, but the fact that many shared very concrete difficulties shows to what extent teleworking has created situations of suffering.
It is also interesting to note that despite these difficulties, 80% of executives (APEC survey Dec 2020) favor teleworking. What is so badly experienced is therefore not telework as such but this current form of working from home imposed by and combined with the health crisis.
Many of the Internet users' questions touched on a subject that is particularly sensitive to me: the situation of women at work. Many women who have their children at home have assumed the overload of domestic work, the occupation of the living space for work leading to additional work. We therefore realize that mentalities have not yet changed and that the household is still too often a sexist place. Within a couple, the relationship must be equal and I must also encourage women to say stop when it’s needed.
JM: Sexism at work was the subject of one of your books (Free yourself from sexist habits at work! - Noémie Le Menn - Interéditions) but here, we are talking about the private space: how do you approach this problem?
The current suffering of many teleworking women shows that the subject of sexism has not yet been resolved in the private sphere. Teleworking crystallizes this imbalance and creates new problems.
We are witnessing the arrival of the professional sphere in the house and it is a real collision! A reflection is called for: how to ensure that the professional and the private can cohabit in the same space? How to allow a fairer distribution of roles within the family?
The good news is that we can all take the time to think about it and get rid of our bad habits. We are responsible for the organization of our private lives. This new confinement invites us to take a step back on the subject and to make concrete decisions.
JM: Does teleworking give rise to new psycho-social risks? Or does it just accentuate problems that already exist?
Yes and no ! On the one hand, the problems that already existed have been exacerbated while others have subsided.
To my amazement, the most important stressors were relationships in the office; the distance means that a lot of people, those who are comfortable at home (often executives with a correct work environment), were much better from the first confinement ...
There are cases where you have to be careful: the “workaholics” who devote themselves to their addiction with even fewer limits than before, people who suffer from isolation, those who do not live in a group or in family, beginners (trainees, taking up positions) and people with little autonomy ...
As a consequence of this new confinement, the work-curfew rhythm creates isolation, weariness and even depression. It is then necessary to recreate relationships at a distance: telephone, video-calls with relatives, new group rituals. If the Zoom drinks - whether we still stand that or not! - appeared spontaneously during the first confinement, it is good that they are a response to a deep need.
When we cannot control a situation, we need to try and extract positives: teleworking reduces transport times, removes the stress of certain relationships with difficult personalities, it is easier to focus and the pace is more adaptable.
JM: Sometimes we have the impression that remote work is "I love you, neither do I". As you said, 80% of executives favor teleworking, but almost 50% of employees today feel isolated or anxious. What do you think is the impact of teleworking?
Teleworking has, in my opinion, a very positive impact. First, it strengthens the autonomy of each person - autonomy being a condition for the empowerment of each employee. Then, teleworking encourages the notion of trust within teams and even letting go in some cases.
Managers who need control remain unsettled. They had to review their behavior and find a way to reassure themselves other than through control. It's quite a good thing that these people are working on themselves and finding a more fulfilling relationship model!
With trust comes more autonomy but also greater creativity in allowing everyone to achieve their goals. Teleworking can therefore be a growth and performance factor for teams and companies.
JM: Let's focus on the managerial relationship: what advice can you share with employees?
The top priority is to make contact. Employees should not wait for their manager to come to them, they have to initiate the movement themselves.
It is perhaps less intimidating with the distance: it should be taken advantage of, especially for shyer profiles. Employees need to dare to ask for feedback more easily and own topics more proactively. Good communication creates a good relationship.
This attitude also creates performance. The "high potentials" in companies are those who seek feedback and advice from their manager: this is how they evolve faster. We must desecrate the role of manager and see the manager as a resource and a source of support.
JM: What about team managers? Does this mean that managers are almost becoming HR for their teams?
The rule of thumb is that people want to be successful. Deep down, no one wants to fail their career.
It is the manager's role to help everyone succeed because it is also what will help them forge their own success. We must bet from the start on the goodwill of everyone and trust them.
If that doesn't work out later on, don't be afraid of breakups: we aren't always made to work well together. However, if a manager did not create the conditions for mutual trust from the start of the relationship, they then will be responsible for their failure.
This advice is especially true for managers who welcome new people to their teams. Everyone has their own experience and sometimes the memory of complicated managerial relationships, give them your confidence a priori to start again on a healthy basis!
JM: Much of the advice you have shared relates to communication between employees and their managers: what are the best practices to enable an efficient and trusting working relationship?
We must of course keep in mind that each company offers its own framework and culture, so there is no miracle recipe other than a search for reciprocal adaptability...
However, it takes three things to maintain team cohesion: creating one-on-one conversation opportunities, proposing informal forums and leveraging team events.
Creating an informal forum can be as simple as setting up a short coffee ritual one morning of the week where the manager is always present, where whoever wants to join can and where work should be a secondary topic. This type of ritual can easily be transcribed in informal team video-call.
When talking about team events, it could be the organizing regular update sessions, participating in remote training with several people, registering for a webinar or preparing one as a team...
JM: What role for HRs tomorrow if a large part of the teams no longer return to the office?
Their role is and remains the relationship and working conditions. It doesn't change but it gets more complicated.
HRs have been hit hard by the crisis and have often been under the water this past year.
It is up to them and C-levels to promote the adoption of new tools and best practices by leaders and managers. They should not forget that the best solutions are those chosen by the teams. HRs therefore need to trust the teams and give them the space to test new things.
JM: How to fight against the feeling of dehumanization that we sometimes feel when teleworking?
The difficulty is that people who were structured by their work (schedules, commuting, pace of meetings) may find it difficult to take breaks or stop working. It's a personal exercise: you have to learn to set your own limits and become your own manager.
For many, it is also the opportunity to organize themselves differently, to realize that it is possible to perform differently.
Those who fail to set limits need support. I see many cases of workaholics on the verge of burnout. In these cases, it is up to a coach to negotiate with them new rules: not to consult their work laptop or phone after a certain time, totally ban working on Sundays, etc.
A mistake was often made at the start of imposed teleworking: do not change anything, do as usual but from home. For these teams, it was double the trouble: experience the downsides both in the professional world and in the personal world.
My recommendation, again, is to ask yourself this simple question: what are the positives I can get out of it? What are the pace and methods that I want to adopt? What are my windows of freedom? As an example, some women have shared with me that they stopped putting on makeup or started dressing comfortably at home to get rid of the mental load of appearance.
JM: After months of telecommuting, should we be afraid of returning to the office?
It is clear that telework has changed our daily lives. For some people, it changed their lives entirely: they realized that in-person was an option and moved elsewhere. So things won't exactly be the way they used to.
The fear of going back is natural and quite common. For most of those who will return to the office, it should actually be very smooth. If not, maybe there is deeper dissatisfaction and it's time to think about changing jobs...
Basically, it's super positive to see how quickly everyone has adapted and the opportunities that this created for some.
JM: A final word ?
It's pretty great to see the creativity and adaptability that we have shown. In a matter of days or weeks, new collaboration tools have emerged, new ways of collaborating have been adopted.
This crisis and this imposed teleworking are also proof that when we have a common goal and we trust each other, we can make incredible progress. This is real progress for the teams from that point of view.
The biggest black spot for me remains the situation of women. For some, the situation is very complicated: they are expected to be the professional, the mother, the cook or even the housekeeper at the same time. They are doing the best they can, they have nothing to be ashamed of. I really encourage women to express things, to reveal their overload and to seek help and above all to become more proactive in maintaining their autonomy.