One might suppose that the boom in use of networked technologies would lead to an increase in nomadic work patterns, but research shows this is not necessarily the case.

Interview with Jérémie Rosanvallon, a researcher into the sociology of work and occupations at the French Employment Research Centre, conducted on the sidelines of the Campus européen d'été (European Summer Campus 2011) at the Cité des Savoirs event organised by the University of Poitiers.

L'Atelier: Smartphones, tablets, and of course the already ‘traditional’ portable PCs: are we now in the era of the mobile worker?

Jérémie Rosanvallon: Well, in fact it all depends on your point of view. If a company installs network infrastructure and develops an intranet, this will tend to tie the staff to the workplace rather than encourage them to become more mobile.  On the other hand, if the staff equip themselves with networked technologies such as tablets and smartphone, well then we do observe an increase in the amount of time they’re on the move and the number of different places they go to. So this increase is directly related to specific tools. However, it is important to underline that – contrary to what we were expecting – teleworking has so far remained a minority practice.   

So, these technologies are increasing mobility at companies but not cutting the link with the office?  

That’s right. And by the way, the number of entirely nomadic workers, known as “extra-mural” employees, who make up 19% of the total workforce in France, has not increased at all.  Moreover, it’s interesting to note that in most cases this means employees who don’t even have Internet – construction workers, delivery drivers and so on.  Basically, it seems that a fixed workplace is the norm for employees.  Even if they do have the opportunity to telework, they seem to prefer to base their work activities at a recognised workplace.

To come back to those staff who are actually involved with the new technologies, what impact has there been on them?

From a statistical point of view, we have seen an increase in the number of employees working at what are called “alternate locations”, people who work at several different places, while still maintaining strong links with the fixed office. But from the individual employee’s point of view, the impact of “nomadic” technologies varies acording to his or her profile.  While management staff mostly see the new technologies as highly liberating, non-managerial staff tend to see them as a control mechanism that restricts their freedom even outside the workplace.  Which raises the question: do information and communication technologies promote autonomous mobility or tightly controlled mobility?