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January 18, 1994

FRANCE SEES SHIFT TOWARDS TELEWORKING ACCORDING TO SIX MONTH STUDY

By CBR Staff Writer

Teleworking in France took off at the end of 1992 and, in greater numbers, at the beginning of 1993 with the deepening of the French economic crisis, said Thierry Breton, a consultant to the French government, announcing the results of a six-month teleworking study. The study itself was initiated not long after the installation of the Pierre Balladur government: Charles Pasqua, minister of the interior, and Alain Madelin, minister of small enterprises, wanted to know whether technology really did permit this sort of thing or whether it was just some Utopian idea that didn’t work in reality. They asked if there was anything they could do to encourage it. Madelin, in particular, asked if there were a statute they could pass that would remove any obstacles to people becoming teleworkers, Breton said. Breton’s research found that two constraints imposed on companies by the competitive economic environment fostered the growth of teleworking: the need to reduce costs and to have a flexible, mobile staff. It just appeared suddenly at IBM, DEC and Bull, and seems to be a solution to the two constraints, Breton said. Gilles Granier, managing director for Intel France, called teleworking a formidable competitive tool.

Slowly and with difficulty

Some 20% of Intel France’s staff is teleworking. His sentiment was seconded by Guy Viel, exterior programmes manager for IBM France. Currently, France counts approximately 15,000 to 20,000 teleworkers, he said. However, he qualified this by saying that this number corresponds to his study group’s definition, which requires that a move to teleworking involved a reorganisation of the company’s work structure, not just the use of tele-services. We had to set a definition because there were people who said that there were only hundreds of teleworkers and others who said there were thousands. We didn’t include sales representatives because their work pattern hasn’t changed with the addition of technology, he said. Other elements of the group’s definition were: working at a distance from the home office with information systems and telecommunications tools, and being out of the realm of immediate management control. Breton’s study group predicted that teleworking in France will develop slowly and with difficulty, because it changes organisations considerably. It is not something that will spread at the rate new technology spreads, but at the rate an organisation changes. However, the group also predicted that France could have between 300,000 and 500,000 teleworkers in the next 10 years because the state is playing a role in its evolution. The French government has often indicated its interest in using teleworking as a means to improve the balance of economic activity between the country’s various regions. Among companies in France that have implemented teleworking, Breton said, in almost all of the cases we saw, top management was directly involved, which wasn’t the case before. Also in almost all cases, the primary motive is to cut costs rather than improve productivity. It’s afterwards that they think of productivity. – Marsha Johnston

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