The countries resisting remote work – BBC

“French people are, most of the time, reluctant to change,” says Sonia Levillain, a professor at the IÉSEG School of Management in Lille, and author of the Little Toolbox of Remote Management. “This is a stereotype, but it’s also a reality.”

Hybrid work has made some headway in France ever since workers began returning to the office last June. Many companies are now shifting to a flex office approach with hot desking. Yet, “employees are very sceptical of it”, says Levillain. “They were really attached to the physical office – to the place where they were working – because it was a sign of identity and of belonging to the organisation.”

Reluctance to work remotely may also have to do with how the French workplace has traditionally operated, with bosses feeling a strong need to control their employees. “Historically, the management practices were not developed around trust and autonomy, but more of a top-down approach,” explains Levillain.

Social interactions are also a key tool for decision-making in the French office. Because they’ve traditionally happened quite informally, that’s been hard to replicate on a computer screen. “Communication is spontaneous – it’s not really organised and structured at a specific time with specific people,” explains Levillain, noting that managers prize unplanned contact and interaction in the workplace. “You walk around the office, and you discuss things at the coffee machine, because that’s a place where a lot of decisions are made and solutions are found.”

To work in a hybrid mode on a sustainable basis would mean moving from the current informal office structure to a more structured one. “Culturally speaking,” says Levillain, “I think we still have lots of work to do to achieve that.”

‘Everyone wanted to go back to the office as soon as possible’

Japan is another place whose highly social work structure made it a poor candidate for remote work, as evidenced by the Indeed study, which showed almost no uptick in remote jobs between January 2020 and September 2021.

Parissa Haghirian, a professor of international management at Tokyo’s Sophia University, explains there are a lot of unspoken messages in the Japanese workplace – such as subtle body language cues or ‘reading the air’, which might steer the direction of a meeting – and these just couldn’t be examined on a screen. “In Japan, it’s always better to have a meeting in person than to write an email, because nonverbal communication plays a very important role,” she explains. “There is this idea that I know you, I like you, I have a good feeling about what you’re saying.”

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