The State of Web Working in France


Articles on web working abound in the U.S. press, but that’s not so much the case in France. French society is, for various historical and cultural reasons, rather resistant to change, especially compared to the United States. Change in the workplace is no exception.

But things are changing, slowly but surely. An article about web working in France appeared in the June 17 issue of the major French daily newspaper Libération (a strongly left-leaning paper). The title, Le télétravail n’a pas la santé (roughly: “Telecommuting is not in great shape”), reveals the gist of the article; that web working in France has had an anemic start.

The article cites a 2005 study by the French government body ANACT (Agence nationale pour l’amélioration des conditions de travail/National agency for the improvement of working conditions), which indicated that 46% of French workers would like to be able to telecommute. But today, only 7% of French workers actually do so, compared to 15% in Northern Europe in general.

The article touched on the usual arguments in favor of web working: increased productivity when work is objectives based (+20%, according to ANACT); environmental, quality-of-life, and mental-health benefits. It stated that it is managers who are reluctant to change (not wanting to let employees out of their sight) and offered practical suggestions for placating nervous management (regularly scheduled phone calls or meetings, etc.).

I learned from this article that the French government, in particular the Senate, is actively exploring ways to promote web working in an effort to revitalize the villages of France; a topic I wrote about recently, and one that has been tossed around in France for years. In March, senators met to discuss the issue, and Eric Besson, a high-ranking government official responsible for public policy in the digital economy, will be presenting a plan in July to promote web working.

As the author of this French blog on web working points out in reference to the Libération article, the only problem with telecommuting from rural areas is that it’s pretty hard to live in the country without a car, which reduces the environmental benefits. However, I still think driving two or three miles to run errands a couple times a week beats sitting in traffic every single day. On many levels.

What is the state of web working in your country?


Pamela Poole

Hi Rob. My French husband expressed the same skepticism! As for the talking, you’re right. They do go on. It’s impressive to watch them dissect issues, though, and their desire to really understand and be well informed is commendable. It’s that “taking action” part that often seems to be missing. But I wish there were a little more talking before taking action in American culture.

Rob Grayson

As a web-worker living in France for the last two and a half years (though freelance rather than “telecommuting”), I can only say that I agree with your analysis that France is somewhat behind in this area, as in many others. Resistance to most kinds of change seems to be one of the strongest features of the French national psyche. Another is the ability to talk about any given subject for as long as you like without actually changing anything – so it will be interesting to see whether the current and upcoming talks bear any real fruit.

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