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Returning to the office: renewed trust in French employers

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After several weeks of working from home, many French people returned to the office on 11th May.

Schools, companies, and public transport have begun the return to normal, still in the knowledge that this will be a gradual and lengthy process. Life will resume its course in stages. In addition to the instructions set out by the Ministry of Labour, many companies are also organising themselves to ensure the safety of their employees. These measures seem to have been received positively by employees, 80% of whom admit to having confidence in their employer, both in terms of the gradual return to work and the measures and tools that have been put into place to ensure safety on the premises.

What are the motivations of French people returning to the workplace? Would they prefer to stay at home? What do they think of the decisions taken by their companies? What factors do they consider indispensable? In a second survey carried out by BNP Paribas Real Estate in partnership with Ifop, focusing on the living and working conditions of French people living and working in confinement (1,501 interviewees) we answer some of these questions. A survey carried out in several stages throughout this unprecedented time, used as a way of monitoring the situation and gathering thoughts on how companies must adapt in the future.

Mixed feelings about going back to the office

Whilst the lockdown is gradually being eased in various stages in France, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, as well as public authorities and companies, are nevertheless calling for an extension of remote working, well beyond 11th May. A position shared by the majority of French people, with only 38% of those surveyed saying they would like to return to their workplace, as it was before the lockdown, compared to 62% who would like to continue working from home. While the need for socialisation is noted (31%), the main motivations for returning to the office are to go back to professional “normality” (38%) and the need to use tools that are only accessible from the company premises (32%).

Employees who favour a continuation of remote working express fears related to coronavirus (61%, but up to 73% for employees based in the Paris region and those working in shops) and also assert a new interest in working from home (37%), as well as saving time not spent on commuting (26%).

Who is responsible for protecting employees from coronavirus when they return to work?

Most French people trust their employer to ensure a safe return to work. The responsibility for protecting employees from coronavirus when they return to work rests, in the eyes of those surveyed, just as much on employers (94% believe it is their responsibility), public authorities (87%) but also on the employees themselves (90%). However, while respondents have a high level of trust in their colleagues (80%) or their employer to do so (78%), the same cannot be said for public authorities, with just over half of working people saying they trust them (53%).

It is also interesting to observe that upper class workers, private-sector employees and those working in companies with 1-49 employees, are even more confident in their employer than others. More specifically, employees trust their company to guarantee a gradual return to a normal situation (80%) just as much as they believe their employers will implement the necessary measures to protect them (79%).

The responsibility undeniably lies on shoulders of employers. Faced with measures that are more restrictive for the working population and which greatly reduce an individual’s freedom:  

  • 53% limiting business travel

  • 50% ban on physical meetings,

  • 43% sanctions for employees who do not comply with the rules

However, when asked to choose between a gradual or swift return to office premises, three quarters of respondents opt for the first option (76%); proving their confidence in their employer, but also an awareness of the task at hand.

Remote working, the star of lockdown?

Most people do not question the development of remote working: more than eight out of ten believe that it should be rolled out on a bigger scale (83%) and three quarters consider this to be an inevitable reality (75%).

While there is a broad consensus for the development of remote working, opinion is more divided on its feasibility. Women, older workers and blue-collar workers are more sceptical.

However, the French seem to put the long-term consequences into perspective. They are relatively divided on the repercussions, for example that employees could choose to live where they wanted (65%), that they can be free to adapt their working hours depending on their own schedule (59%) and that everyone works in a location of their choosing (56%). The correlation between desirability and likelihood is consistently found, and those who find the various consequences credible are also those who want them the most.

One point of caution, however, is experience of company culture, with many sceptical that it can be achieved through remote working (59% believe that those working from home will not be as integrated into company culture), which would have a negative impact according to 71% of those surveyed.

The return to the office as such seems to be taking shape in a new and invigorated way. The last few months have allowed many French people to experiment over a long period of time with new working methods and habits which will need to be analysed and deciphered in depth in the coming months. However, the new organisation and the investments made by companies (tools, sanitary facilities, etc.) show that organisations have lost none of their efficiency through the deployment of remote working. While it is still difficult to predict its generalisation and its continuation in the long term, it is a guarantee that this unprecedented period will deeply impact our vision of work, of the company, and of the future of the head office.