The pandemic and the containment measures taken by the Quebec and Canadian governments to smooth the curve are considered by many to be a turning point towards the massive adoption of digital technology in our professional practices, leisure and social life. Indeed, many of us are turning to e-mail, video conferencing, live broadcasting, online shopping and other digital “lifestyles” to continue our activities while respecting social distancing. Two angles of the use of digital technologies are of interest to the members of our professional association: organizing cultural activities online and teleworking.
Initiatives in the cultural sector
Since the ban on gatherings, first in large theatres and then in our offices and homes, the cultural community has been organizing to rethink its activities. Every day, new initiatives are thought up and implemented by astute members of our communities. Some events are entirely moved online or maintained using videoconferencing tools, residence projects are adapted to the digital context, and several support and reflection groups have been formed in recent weeks. The Eastern Townships Digital Hub will also offer a weekly technical support clinic on Tuesdays between 10 a.m. and noon and a discussion room on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Finally, social networks are still places for exchange and information where the many audiences and professional, artistic and social communities who wish to stay connected can meet.
Similarly, for many cultural organizations, such as the RAIQ, teleworking is a possibility and a practical option for not having to stop all activities. Some self-employed members are already used to working from locations other than the traditional “office”.
Many blog posts have been written about telework in a confined environment and offer excellent advice. These include the “Guide pratique au télétravail” prepared by Ana-Laura Baz, Director of Digital Engagement at the Musée de la civilisation and the list of useful tools and resources compiled by Joana Neto Costa, Digital Cultural Development Officer at the Conseil québécois du théâtre. Cloud computing services for document storage and collaborative work also find a reaffirmed relevance in this context. If you are interested in this last topic, I invite you to read my latest column on this subject for ARCA.
However, I would like to insist here on the notion of meta-work developed by Claudine Bonneau and Lucie Enel in the article “Caractériser le méta-travail des nomades numériques : un préalable à l’identification des compétences requises” published in the journal Lien social et Politiques (2018). The researchers identify four forms of meta-work that should be considered in the specific context of telework. This highlighting of sometimes “invisible” activities is important to me because it allows us to better understand what telework involves – its advantages and disadvantages – and to equip ourselves adequately.
The four forms of meta-work identified by Bonneau and Enel are divided into two purposes. The first is to prepare one’s site and way of working. This is achieved through resource mobilization and configuration work. Resource mobilization involves identifying an appropriate workplace, i.e. a space and furniture that meets our needs for ergonomics, calm, privacy and security, and then gathering the equipment needed to perform our tasks (computer, headset, internet connection, videoconferencing application, shared drive on the cloud, remote desktop, etc.). Resource mobilization can also mean seeking help or support from team members, professional and social networks or communities of practice. The second operation to be carried out to make the site and the way of working effective is the configuration work, i.e. the assembly of all the resources previously mobilized to ensure compatibility and proper functioning. This meta-work requires a certain level of digital literacy in order to configure hardware and applications, to use them and to solve any technical problems that may arise. These first two forms of meta-working take place primarily before embarking on the work itself. The next two are part of the teleworker’s daily life.
The second purpose delineated by Bonneau and Enel is to ensure coordination with others and continuity of work across different places, times and projects. It mobilizes two other forms of meta-work, which are articulation work and transition work. These are activities of great importance that call for both communication skills and time and priority management. Articulation work includes the tasks of connecting and communicating with one’s employer, colleagues and/or clients. It is a matter of marking one’s presence, availability and adjusting one’s actions to those of others. This meta-work takes on increased importance in the telework context because, unlike a co-presence mode of collaboration, our actions and those of our colleagues are invisible. Remote collaboration thus requires the implementation of strategies to explicitly communicate one’s actions. These strategies may include regular meetings and the use of project management and/or messaging applications. The researchers also rightly point out the great need to mark one’s unavailability in order to clearly delimit the work periods in one’s personal life. Maintaining the social ties that are normally cultivated in a professional environment can nuance the sense of isolation that some people may experience in the current context. Finally, in addition to this meta-work of articulation, there is also that of transition. Transition work, which is fundamental to our fragmented ways of working, is aimed at managing our various mandates and projects and the plural temporalities and places with which we must deal. It therefore includes the activities of prioritization, synchronization and time management.
By putting forward all the tasks related to the organization of our main professional activities, it becomes easier to formally integrate them into our schedule and identify our needs – skills, tools, help. In doing so, the idea is to take steps to minimize some of the known disadvantages of telework, such as isolation, anxiety and blurring of the boundaries between work and private life.
Support for RAIQ members
I would like to conclude this column by extending an invitation to members of the RAIQ who would like to have support for any digital-related question to contact me. Without having all the answers, I can orient you, refer you to relevant resources or simply reflect with you on the different ways of thinking about your practice or your organization’s activities in the current context.