EDF runs a “deadly risk” if it fails to adapt to

the new reality of remote work. For Philippe Chevillot, responsible since 1994 for the telecommuting mission at EDF-GDF Services and technical adviser to the director, the company’s transformation is a question of “survival” in the face of new flexible companies, using all the potential of computer networks. This “luxury group with the director”, as he defines himself, has undertaken in the company, since 1996, a hundred experiments involving more than 5,000 people: group work via computer networks, work from home, structures virtual.

Why push EDF to experiment with these new forms of remote working?

We must evolve in our vision of work. Telework meets this need for adaptability. The new customer services will come from people who are able to be close to the customers and autonomous. And teleworking promotes autonomy. Technological changes drive evolution. In the beginning, we were building aerial networks. Today, many lines are underground. This results in solid networks, with less need for troubleshooting. The staff assigned to this work has therefore been reduced, but those assigned to customer service have been increased. Customers want tailored services. What they ask for is not electricity, but light, or to be warm. One can imagine that we were selling heat. You have to know how to break away from the counters and offer more global services. Tokyo Gas guarantees the temperature at its customers, provides the appliances, plus security in the event of an earthquake. What experiments have you conducted?

Not all executives who work internationally are gathered in Paris. Thanks to the network, a head of technical department in Clermont-Ferrand can be a project engineer in Prague. To get closer to customers, we set up ephemeral micro-agencies. Thus, only one person makes the reception at Cateau-Cambr├ęsis and all the rest of the structure is located in Valenciennes. We have also set up teleworkers near decision-making or knowledge centres.

Why not wait for technological changes to become really necessary?

If we wait, EDF runs a mortal risk. The problem with a large structure is its ability to adapt. At EDF, employees are subject to a system. The change of state is more difficult than the creation. You have to be able to react to competition from individual home-based businesses. They have no overheads and few labor regulations. If the competition uses these methods, we will have to go through it.

Is it easy to encourage such practices in a company the size of EDF?

We come up against a double opposition: management and trade unions. Middle managers find it very difficult to accept these new practices, which alienate employees and make them responsible. Behind them, there is a century of manufacturing work, exacerbated by a strong culture of engineers. Their real fear is a loss of legitimacy. The idea that the peripheral collaborator cannot be trusted is tenacious. The unions, on the other hand, find it difficult to manage increasingly individualized situations. In addition, when an external employee works remotely, a telesecretary for example, he enters into competition with internal employees. But, if we wait for the day when the need arises, we will no longer have time to adapt. When the Titanic was mortally wounded, no one believed it. When people noticed it, it was too late.