Guest article by PERI#WORK: Anne-Laure Le Nadant (Univ Rennes, LiRIS), Clément Marinos (Univ Bretagne Sud, LEGO), Gerhard Krauss (Univ Rennes, ESO)
In the Digital Age, work is changing at unprecedented speed. Although still small, independent and entrepreneurial work is gradually progressing since the mid-2000s. In our « hypermobile » society, a growing part of skilled workers – individual entrepreneurs, independent workers, telecommuting employees – particularly sensitive to the environmental issues and quality of life, are looking for a way out of mandatory working conditions, such as location, work environment or schedule. Digital tools are a powerful lever to freely choose where, when and how those workers live and work, their professional and their life project merging as one. This is referred to as « global project ». Even though they could work from their home, in a « home office », some workers prefer coworking. For the past fifteen years, collaborative workspaces appeared in many places, from major cities, mid-sized and small cities, to rural areas, offering to this population a new working environment that they can select freely.
The current crisis of the COVID-19 might, however, alter durably the professional practices of coworkers, who have been forced to work from home for several weeks. Geographic proximity, which is necessary to develop professional collaborative activities, shall have been replaced by electronic proximity during the lockdown. The electronic proximity is the possibility for the users to consult, exchange and elaborate digital data, in real-time on- or off-line, using the information and communication technology (ICT). The generalization of the use of ICTs during the lockdown played a crucial role in maintaining various professional activities, to overcome physical distancing. The benefit of geographic proximity which consists mostly of favoring interaction and collaboration might have faded – or even disappeared – for the coworkers who managed to maintain their professional activities from home. Therefore, there is a possibility that coworkers decide to use less – or even stop – frequenting the coworking workspaces after the health crisis, as attendance in coworking also has a cost that could be difficult to afford in the context of economic recession.
Coworking as a means against isolation at home
On the contrary, others may have suffered from severe isolation and reinforced their choice to work in collaborative spaces. The crisis may foster the development of coworking, especially outside metropolitan areas. Indeed, city workers may, after a long period of confinement in relatively tight spaces, change their professional choices and lifestyle, in order to reconcile professional activities and project of life. New coworker’s residential and professional mobilities favoring small cities and rural areas over metropolitan areas may greatly increase, a phenomenon that can be already observed. Furthermore, coworking could be developed among workers who experienced telecommuting during the lockdown, with management styles forced to loosen up and to evolve. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis affects directly the work organization as a whole. It shall accelerate work digitalization and the development of telecommuting, already experienced by many French workers during the strikes of winter 2019. The use of coworking may expand greatly within society and, after the collective experience of telecommuting, it could be included more profoundly – and durably – in our habits and institutions. The question thus arises as to whether or not, at the end of this major health crisis, coworking will expand at a larger scale and become a model for the future. A prospective reflection on the evolution of coworking after the COVID-19 crisis is needed.
A survey is currently in progress to question coworkers in France, Germany and Canada, as part of the PERI#WORK project, funded by the ANR (French National Agency for Research). One aim of this international survey is to measure the impacts of the COVID-19 health crisis and lockdown on the work practices of coworkers. Firstly, we shall try to see if coworkers successfully maintained their working activities by telecommuting from home. We shall identify the advantages and the constraints of this specific working situation according to the coworkers, along with the changes they plan to do, after the crisis, in their personal life – mobilities, lifestyle, changing place of residence, ecological awareness, etc. – and professional life – change in status, change of profession, etc. Particularly, we shall measure the expected effects of the crisis on work organization and the evolution of their career paths. In conclusion, the survey shall try to learn if the coworking spaces will play a more or less important part in the personal and professional life of coworkers.
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