Out Of Office: The Stress And Serenity Of Teleworking

Working from home is more and more common in French companies as the perks need no longer to be listed. Still, some workers constantly worry about accounting for their days away from the office.

Remotely working
Remotely working
Florent Vairet

PARIS — "Honestly, it looks a bit sketchy when your automated email response says ‘absent"…". For this young manager of a major consumer goods corporation, teleworking saves commuting time but it also entails that you make yourself always available.

For Suzie, in her early thirties, who works in a Paris-based American company, the occasional days of teleworking feel strange and wonders if she is suspected — wrongly so, she insists — of wasting time on her couch, far from the sight of her manager. "When I have that feeling, I send an email. It is a small proof that I am working," she explains.

Grégoire Epitalon, associate in the firm of consultants LBMG that helps big companies to implement teleworking, has seen many wrestle with this guilt. "The joke ‘enjoy your vacation" to a colleague about to work from home the next day is sadly quite common and it says a lot…"

This understanding seems to go against the enthusiasm teleworking inspires. In 2018, in the private sector, 29% of workers did it occasionally or regularly, it was 25% in 2017, according to a survey conducted by a French polling firm IFOP for Malakoff Médéric Humanis and published in February 2019.

All the young people interviewed for this article considered teleworking as a great organizational opportunity. It allows you to preserve the balance between professional and personal life according to everyone's obligations — a medical appointment, the nanny needing to leave early, a train to catch. According to this study, 85% of teleworkers have gained "a better balance between professional and personal life," and have noticed they were less tired and more motivated. Overall, it can be a great way to increase productivity and to be able to focus on specific topics, far from the brouhaha of the office.

We see people trying to prove their commitment by being ‘over-present" online.

Still, due to French office culture, working away from one's manager does not always play out smoothly. Firstly, there is "the fear to be forgotten," explains Aurélie Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, researcher from the National Centre for Scientific Research, teacher in LEM/leseg and specialist of work and management evolutions. "People fear they will no longer stand out in the eyes of their colleagues or bosses, and by extension, they fear inequality in the way they are treated, regarding promotions, progress, recognition of their work, and so on. Hence the tendency for the teleworker, to show that ‘non-presence" in the office does not necessarily mean ‘absence"."

Some people even stage their own visibility. "We see people trying to prove their commitment by being ‘over-present" when sending emails or using instant messaging, by going online beyond working hours, very early or very late, in a logic of proof they are committing themselves to the job," Aurélie Leclercq-Vandelannoitte adds.

"Beats commuting? — Photo: Chau Cédric

On top of this fear to disappear from the radar screen, you can add a feeling of gratefulness for a granted advantage. "Teleworkers quite often feel in debt for the trust they have been given by their company or managers', the researcher thinks.

It has been observed that a significant part of the commute time that is saved in teleworking is given back to the company. Thus, if for 89% of workers, teleworking has not had an impact on their workload, 11% of teleworkers say they have noticed a rise, or even a large rise, of their workload, according to a study conducted by LMBG on 6,000 people. Six out of 10 teleworkers regret "a difficulty to draw the line between personal time" and professional time, according the French polling firm IFOP study for Malakoff Médéric Humani.

Teleworkers quite often feel in debt for the trust they have been given.

"It's certainly true when you start to telework", Grégoire Epitalon points out. "Generally speaking, after six to twelve months, teleworking enters corporate culture and this feeling fades away."

Charles, a 31-year-old manager in a French big consulting firm, says he has gotten used to some teleworking from his team. "But it is true that when my consultants work remotely, I like to see what they have done at the end of the day, with a recap email on their progress. I feel reassured."

Teleworking won't happen unless there is some cultural change regarding management. For Aurélie Dudézert, a lecturer at Paris Saclay University specialized in management, it requires a paradigm shift, a new philosophy that must incite managers to rethink the organization so that the office is not the only place where one can work from. Instead, too many companies still think in terms of "technology determinism," where digital technology will somehow naturally guide the changes.

Instead, different ways of leading teams must be invented within companies. For Aurélie Leclercq-Vandelannoitte: "teleworking makes new means of managing necessary, especially built around goals and results, and based on trust." Shall we?

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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