Why telecommuting is becoming normalized since the COVID-19 pandemic
Updated: Mar 16
The practice of telecommuting has grown in popularity as technology has improved and has accelerated with the pandemic.
However, definitional ambiguities and data limitations still make it difficult to accurately estimate the precise number of teleworkers.
Telework a diffuse and scattered practice before the pandemic
According to a DARES survey, only 3% of French workers were teleworking regularly in 2017. This figure could occasionally rise to 7%, for example in case of a transport strike.
According to a Malakoff study conducted in 2019, the share of occasional teleworkers in France was then 29%, with an average of one day of telework per week.
The situation in Europe in 2019 was still very diffuse. The Netherlands (14.1%), Finland (14.1%), Luxembourg (11.6%) and Austria (9.9%) saw this practice more widely democratized on their territory.
The Eastern European countries are the ones that telework the least: Bulgaria (0.5%), Romania (0.8%), Hungary (1.2%), Greece (1.9%) and Croatia (1.9%) are at the end of the European ranking.
France is among the European countries that telework the most, ahead of Germany, Italy and Spain.
This difference can be explained by the service sector, which is predominant in France compared to Germany for example, and which adapts easily to telework.
Countries with a high proportion of managers and professionals in communication, information and new technologies in their workforces are those whose companies are most open to telework.
In addition, more women than men telework regularly (8.4% vs. 5.7%).
In 2019, the numbers were randomly distributed around the world. Brazil (54%), India (43%) and Australia (41%) seem to be the most advanced regions on telecommuting implementation.
Japan (8%) has a fundamentally different culture, with presenteeism being a very strong value. Indeed, relatively few companies there offer telework.
The COVID-19 crisis: a real gas pedal in the practice of telework
The COVID-19 crisis forced many organizations to implement full-time telecommuting for their employees to prevent the transmission of the virus.
People in all professions who preferred not to work from home were now forced to do so.
This pushed the incidence of telecommuting to a point that had never been reached before.
At the time of the March 2020 lock-in in France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe estimated that 8 million people could work remotely, which is 30% of the working population in France.
In fact, a survey conducted by Odoxa with a sample of 3,000 people representative of the French population indicates that teleworking concerned 24% of the working population during the first lockdown. This figure drops to 14% in September.
Moreover, only 29% of French people surveyed in September 2020 wanted to telework more, while they were 55% in April.
According to Gallup, in the U.S., 65% of the workforce was teleworking full-time at the beginning of May 2020.
According to Lomas, Liang and Tay, Europe (40%) and Asia also saw record telecommuting rates during this period.
Reticence and barriers to telework still exist
Companies may be reluctant to move to telework, for example because of the cost of equipping employees with the right technology.
Companies would also have to rethink the notion of human resource management to make telework work.
Technologically speaking, high speed internet is distributed in a disparate way throughout the French territory. Out of a total of 37.1 million premises in France, 55% are served by fiber. This rate falls to less than 9% in some rural departments (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Ardèche, Creuse, Dordogne, Haute-Marne, Haute-Saône), and can thus slow down an efficient implementation of telework.
For Emilie Vayre, work and organization psychologist, it is not the technical and material problems that slow down the democratization of telework in France: "France is late in telework because we have a particular relationship to work, with a culture of control in the manager, and a culture of presenteeism in the employee".
¹ Percentages are given as % of the working population
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