"We provide a wider vision to operational players"
Specialising in the uses of digital technology within companies, Anca Boboc is a sociologist at the Orange Labs social sciences laboratory, SENSE. She tells of her work within this body, which analyses the impact of emerging technologies on our lives, both within and outside the workplace.
From Romania to France, from the automotive industry to telecoms, and from engineering to the sociology of work, Anca Boboc’s career embraces the will of this Orange Labs sociologist to understand the complexity of everyday work situations and to decipher the impact of technical progress on the evolutions of work.
A trained engineer, she soon felt the desire to open up to the humanities and social sciences. She thus left her homeland, Romania, to complement her engineering degree with a master’s degree and a doctoral thesis at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées.
Supported by her thesis on the forms of socialisation in automotive design, which was based on several years of field research at Renault and enabled her to build up her expertise in sociology of work, Anca Boboc joined the Orange Labs social science laboratory, SENSE (Sociology and Economics of Networks and Services), in the early 2000s. At a time of massive increase of digital tools in the workplace.
From the landline and the French Minitel of yesterday, to the smartphones, social networks, and collaborative platforms of today, SENSE studies the impacts of information and communication technology (ICT) on society. It brings together social science researchers from a number of fields, whose works enlighten the understanding of the social and economic changes accompanying emerging technologies, and help to direct the Orange Group’s innovation and the appropriation of these technologies in various contexts.
A cross-functional path and role
“We have a very cross-functional role within Orange, we work with all professions, explains Anca Boboc. We help them to take a step back, we provide a wider vision to operational players, and we disseminate knowledge, so as to feed their thinking.”
The sociologist’s career path bears witness to this cross-functionality. She has, for example, worked with Orange Labs on the trials of technical solutions developed by the research teams, with Orange Business Services on a study of ICT uses on the boundary between private and professional life carried out between 2009 and 2011, or with the CSR within the Digital Society Forum framework where she carried the “Work and digital” forum.
From 2011 to 2013, Orange HR managers and a team from SENSE set up a large-scale study on the usage of corporate social networks, to which Anca Boboc contributed. “Orange was a forerunner in this area as it had just rolled out an internal social network, Plazza, with an already huge array of functionalities and an important quantity of users. In terms of research, it was extraordinary to see how employees sought to appropriate such a tool.” The sociologist undertook qualitative surveys on its users’ usages, but also on the activity of the community manager, a role that was relatively unheard of at the time…
How is work performed within SENSE? “Our work is fed by all questions that are asked, be they from within the Group or from the outside, replies Anca Boboc. We take the question on board and read other scientific works performed on the subject before launching the study. Then we translate the results, providing operational responses as well as publishing in scientific journals.”
This foothold in the academic world and the interactions with other external stakeholders are important. For example, Anca Boboc belongs to the scientific council of the French national agency for the improvement of working conditions (Anact: l’Agence nationale pour l’amélioration des conditions de travail) , which enables her to have a wide view of what is happening and of the questions French companies are asking themselves.
The researchers promote the results of their studies as much internally, in the various entities of the Group, as externally, in the academic world or within the scope of Orange’s intercompany relationship fabric. “We get input from both sides, and we also disseminate to both sides, which, I believe, contributes to the image of a humane and responsible provider. Orange is progressing is the digital arena, and it is doing so knowingly.”
Anca Boboc’s first study was on the future of the landline in business in 2002, at a time when phone boxes were gradually disappearing from public space.
What about today? What are the most interesting tools in the workplace? “I wouldn’t say there are tools that are more important than others. What counts is the added value that these tools bring to a given activity at a given time, the sociologist states. I may be on the internal network Plazza for three months because I have an event to organise, then not use it for a while… There’s email – that’s the basic tool – , and then there is an array of tools from which employees choose depending on individual or collective needs, on their activity, personal or professional inclinations linked to their career path, to what has been made available by the company, etc.”
As for the technologies of tomorrow, Anca Boboc prefers not to get lost in speculation: “I’m waiting impatiently to put the technologies arriving in the workplace into test, to see which tools will be adopted, under what conditions, and how they will contribute to the evolution of the organisation and the working environment.”
The sociologist concludes with a sentence that could be a manifesto “As a work sociologist, what I’m interested in mainly, are the appropriation factors – individual, group, organisational – of these technologies rather than the actual technologies themselves.“
"We provide a wider vision to operational players"