"Allo bureau bobo": Documenting remote working from Bali to Europe

·3-min read

Loungers, sun, shorts, T-shirts and tropical plants ... another day at the office for some workers who have reconfigured their lifestyles to fit a world hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

French photojournalist Jérôme Gence captured such changes in office mores in "Allo bureau bobo" or "Telework". His panorama of employees working from island paradises for companies around the world - the digital nomads - is on show in Perpignan in southern France until 26 September as part of the Visa pour l'image festival.

"I have been working remotely since 2011," the 37-year-old Frenchman told RFI.

"One day I was working at a café and I saw another computer next to me with a beach paradise as the background.

"There are a lot of people who have that wallpaper and it's kind of dreams that people have put aside."

Scores of young people - mainly working in new technologies - embraced the chance well before the first wave of the pandemic to relocate to places such as Bali in Indonesia and yet - thanks to their computers and speedy internet links - remain a viable part of a team in Paris, London, New York or Rotterdam.

"I have tried to understand why these young digital nomads were leaving," added Gence who was awarded the prestigious Pierre & Alexandra Boulat prize in 2020 for his vivid images documenting a trend that has come into sharper focus since the onslaught of the pandemic.

"They are people who are really looking for a quality of life and to give a meaning to their lives," said Gence.

"This is a generation that was born into a world with AIDS, unemployment, precariousness, with the feeling that they won't have a pension.

"Taking the risk like our parents did of waiting for retirement to enjoy life ... it's not the way this generation wants to do it."

"Allo bureau bobo" is a play on the title of a famous French song Allo maman bobo by Alain Souchon that evokes the brutality and absurdity of modern life.

Lifestyle

Frequent surveys report high percentages of office employees and executives are bored at work.

No such likelihood with the digital nomads who take advantage of balmy climes, a low cost of living while keeping their advantages in terms of salary.

They also have the feeling of belonging to a community while co-working.

The nature of the beast though is transience. Nina left Bali after a few years. The 31-year-old Dutchwoman used to write a blog on Instagram called "Digital Nomads Daily" where she featured interviews and tips on her lifestyle.

"She actually realised that it's more of a world of distraction," said Gence.

"She came to find a community, a meaning and in the end she found everything you can run away from in the West.

"You have design and surf shops in Bali that cost the same price as in Europe. There's co-working and you actually find yourself like in a bubble."

Before the Covid-19 health crisis, most of the people working remotely were in new technologies. With the several lockdowns imposed during the pandemic, remote working and telework have been democratised.

"But the difference is that we have gone from a lifestyle choice of working in Bali with people who 'design' their life and we are going to another model where remote working is imposed on people," added Gence.

Visa pour l'image from 28 August to 26 September 2021.

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