Economy

Work From Home, Or Live At The Office?

As boundaries between work and private life fall away, telecommuting has been a rising trend in recent years. But some now have begun to opt for living at work.

Nap time first. Stay the night is next...
Nap time first. Stay the night is next...
Ghislaine Bloch

LAUSANNE â€" "I live in my office," a somewhat embarrassed Virginie Le Moigne admits. As head of the Swiss agency My Playground, a communications and media relations company that employs seven people, she set up a sofa bed in her conference room and regularly spends nights there. "My husband, a designer, and my 2-year-old daughter join me," the 37-year-old adds.

The living conditions are pleasant. Her company is located in the Marie-Antoinette Villa, a 20th century property in Lausanne"s chic Rumine neighborhood. Her office looks like a huge showroom, presenting all kinds of objects My Playground has promoted. Contemporary paintings decorate the walls of this apartment-office. "I wouldn't sleep in an open-space-style office," says Le Moigne, who enjoys changing things up. "I like waking up on Saturday mornings to go and have a brunch in town. Not being linked to just one home is a way to be freer."

She also rents an apaprtment in a home in Cheseaux, in the Swiss countryside. Her next step: working and living in My Playground's offices in Zurich. "We're currently looking for a new workspace that could also serve several purposes there."

Thinner boundaries

Sleeping and living at work could become a trend. Companies are already offering more perks to their employees such as kitchens, and rooms to nap, workout or play. And employees are continuously linked to their jobs via their smartphones and computers. The boundaries between work and private life have never been less clear. A business incubator from the University of Utah, in the United States, has even offered its members the opportunity to move into their workspaces full-time.

Still just a project, these small boxes are designed like bedrooms with only the most basic needs: a bed, shelves, a coffee table and first aid kit. These pods are created in the incubator, and students have communal spaces at their disposal: living room, kitchen and bathroom. Mehrdad Yazdani, the designer of Yazdani Studio in charge of the development of these pods, says ideas sometimes come in the middle of the night. It would be a shame not to be able to get up immediately, wake up co-workers and develop the idea right away.

In Paris, 24-year-old Jean-Baptiste Charpenay-Limon lives in his shop that doubles as his apartment, where everything is for sale, from the coffee mugs to the cushions, lamps, paintings and even the bed.

"I worked at home as an independent, but I didn't at all enjoy this mix between private life and my clients," a professional coach in Lausanne says.

Clark Eliott, an architect, social psychologist and work environment advisor, says living at work goes against a good psychological balance. "In my 32-year career, I've never met a single employee who lived at work," he says. On the other hand, he strongly recommends working remotely, occasionally working from home, which is on the rise in Switzerland.

The heads of Microsoft Switzerland, the Swiss insurance group La Mobilière, the national postal service, the Swiss Federal Railways, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and Witzig The Office Company even signed an agreement in June to engage in flexible work models and encourage other companies to follow suit. According to a study by the School of Applied Psychology of Western Switzerland, employees are more productive and creative in companies that don't require a physical presence. Transport networks would also be less congested because remote working would reduce commuter flows by 13% during rush hours. This would also reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

The corporate union Economiesuisse encourages this practice because it's an alternative way to feed innovation, but it notes that it has limits in terms of employee and data protection.

Cultural, not just technological

"Work flexibility is done through technology, but it also requires a cultural change," says Olivier Collombin, a 53-year-old banker who launched E-merging, a social network designed for independent financial experts. "There is still a certain reluctance among human resource executives and managers. But also, sometimes, in the family, which doesn't necessarily want to devote a room to an office."

He's now launching a start-up based in Monaco called WorkCocoon. It develops concepts designed to favor remote working in the business world. To do so, it offers office kits that are light, recyclable and foldable so that they can easily be stored at the end of the day. They will probably be built in Switzerland.

Companies will be able to customize these offices to their own colors and have a professional background. "Users will be able to hold a conference call without revealing that they're working from home," Collombin explains. "We will probably rent these workstations to companies. The concept will be completed by software enabling the user to supervise the professional activity of his associates thanks to a facial recognition system."

At the same time, employees will be compensated for the space taken at home. "We planned financial compensation linked to the cost of the rent," says Collombin, who hopes to rent his first units in the next six months both in Switzerland and in Monaco.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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