How can telework be adapted to maintain employee well-being during the COVID-19 crisis
Scientific interpretation: Is working remotely good for your employee’s well-being?
With improvements in communication technology, more employees are working remotely than ever before. Organizations can benefit from remote e-working arrangements due to reduced overheard, travel and relocation expenses but how does working remotely impact employee well-being?
To answer this question, Maria Charalampous and colleagues published a study in 2018 reviewing the evidence on how remote e-working impacts the well-being of knowledge workers.
MARIA CHARALAMPOUS, lecturer in Business and Occupational Psychology, Coventry University, UK
Kimberly Sharpe, research Assistant, University of British Columbia
This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.
DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
During the COVID-19 period, Global-Watch has decided to adapt the content of this Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation to the current context and make it accessible to all employers so that they can benefit from scientifically-based best practices.
This Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation was adapted by Prof. France St-Hilaire, Associate Professor in Human Resources Management at the School of Management, Université de Sherbrooke, and Director of Scientific Interpretations at Global-Watch.
Working remotely can be good for mental health, but in times of crisis, it needs to be adapted. Here are some suggestions:
– Prioritize health and safety over performance
– Accept that there is an adjustment period with trial and error (give employees some wiggle room and a sense of control)
– Be flexible and realistic, and be prepared to not reach the usual objectives (manage the workload)
– Communicate to reassure (increase the sense of control)
– Remember that this is an exceptional situation; regularly reexamine priorities (increase the sense of control and manage the workload)
– Create new methods of social interaction (promote social support)
– Highlight successes (recognize work)
– Support management teams so that they, in turn, can support their employees (managers’ health)
We invite you to learn about possible steps employers can take during the COVID-19 period, which are presented below.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY:
Any employee who works away from the traditional office and uses information and communication technology to connect with their workplace. This work can be conducted in a variety of locations, such as: an employee’s own home, satellite company or customer sites, hotels, airports or coffee shops.
The authors define well-being in terms of five interrelated dimensions: affective, social, cognitive, professional and psychosomatic:
emotions, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, emotional exhaustion
social relationships at work
trouble concentrating, difficulty taking up new information, being able/unable to switch off from work
autonomy, aspiration, competence
health complaints including: headaches, stomach-aches, musculoskeletal issues
Knowledge workers: Employees who “think for a living” and who use more theoretical and abstract knowledge as part of their work. Knowledge workers often have a greater level of autonomy than other workers and generally engage in work with a low level of standardization. Examples of knowledge worker include programmers, lawyers, engineers and researchers.
Charalampous, M., Grant, C. A., Tramontano, C., & Michailidis, E. (2019). Systematically reviewing remote e-workers’ well-being at work: a multidimensional approach. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 28(1), 51-73.
Leblanc, S., Longpré, P., Fouquet, É., Charbonneau, J. (2018, décembre). Plus qu’une saveur du mois | Les défis du télétravail.
The authors conducted a review of research looking at the relationship between remote e-working and work-related well-being. The focus of the review was on the well-being of knowledge workers who spent at least one day working away from the office and who used information and communication technology to carry out their work.
A total of 63 studies published from 1995 to 2017 were identified and included four studies from Canada, one study from France, as well as a number of studies from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Germany. Of the 63 studies, none examined all five well-being dimensions, 26 examined more than one well-being dimension and 37 examined a single dimension.
Because studies must always be interpreted with caution
Remote e-workers who were self employed, freelancers and individuals with disabilities were excluded from the study. It is not clear if the results can be applied to these groups.
WHAT DO THE RESULTS OF THIS STUDY TELL US?
Principal Conclusions of the Study
While there are both positive and negative aspects of remote e-working, the evidence suggests that remote e-working can generally be a beneficial working arrangement. A common theme across all dimensions was the pivotal role of a helpful and supportive organizational culture and environment for the success of remote e-working.
Effect of remote e-working on well-being dimensions
- Associated with positive emotions and reduced feelings of emotional exhaustion
- Increased job satisfaction, especially when remote e-working was done on a part-time basis (15 hrs a week or less)
- Increased organizational commitment levels, especially when good relationships with co-workers were maintained
- More satisfaction with supervisory relationships and less social isolation when there was organizational support, including transitional training to working remotely and managers who recognize and praise employee efforts
- Physical absence from the main office can challenge relationships with managers and co-workers, making communication difficult
- Risk of social isolation and depletion in social support when employees worked remotely extensively (more than 3 days a week)
- Remote e-working was sometimes linked to increased cognitive stress when there was low social support, while at other times, remote e-workers considered their home a place of restoration
- Higher levels of work autonomy than office counterparts
- Potential for professional isolation and perceived threats to career advancement when employees are excluded from developmental activities including networking, informal learning between co-workers, and mentoring from colleagues and managers
- Obligation to work outside of normal work hours as reciprocation for a flexible working schedule may blur work-life boundaries
- Limited evidence of complaints specifically related to remote e-working, however remote e-workers in one study attributed pain in their arms, shoulders back or neck to inadequate workstation equipment
WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO?
Measures and actions employers can take to help support remote e-workers’ well-being
Foster a supportive organizational culture for remote e-working
1. Support employees transitioning to remote e-working
- Create educational videos, online modules or in-person workshops where experienced remote e-workers in your organization share their tips for success and overcoming challenges (i.e. social isolation).
- Develop an online repository of resources on how to remote e-work in a healthy way (i.e. encourage employees to take regular breaks; how to ensure workspace is ergonomic) on your organization’s website or employee portal
- Implement a buddy system: match employees new to remote e-working with experienced remote e-workers who can share their personal experiences, tips and tricks. Or connect new remote e-workers with an office-based counterpart to help maintain co-worker relationships and to keep each other accountable
DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
- Meet primary needs: begin by enquiring about the state of employees’ physical and mental health, which can change at any time. Keep in mind: limit this subject to an appropriate but contained time and place.
- Offer diversified and flexible methods of communication (ex.: online chats, phone calls, video calls) to match the diverse needs and resources of your employees.
- Create a communication routine; offer daily contact, even if it’s short. Keep in mind: be flexible if an employee or manager cannot make themselves available because they need to deal with personal responsibilities.
- Establish rules for communication and interaction; the use of online chats can increase interruptions at work and create stress and efficiency problems (ex.: supervise the use of online chats or spontaneous calls).
2. Institute supervision practices that make remote e-workers feel as though they are trusted or their efforts are appreciated
- Offer in-person workshops or online modules that orient managers to effective management practices for remote e-working, such as such as focusing on output and outcomes rather than number of hours worked
- Encourage managers or supervisors to schedule regular “check-ins” with remote e-workers to communicate expectations and provide direct feedback. Check-ins can also be used to address challenges employees are experiencing while working remotely
DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
- Maintain contact to understand the needs of employees and managers, which will constantly be changing.
- Communicate, even if you cannot answer some questions. In the face of uncertainty, you should always take stock of the situation, even if it’s just to say that you don’t have all the answers but that you are taking note of the questions.
- Go over the tasks to prioritize each day; because the situation is constantly evolving, there will be daily changes to the workload and personal responsibilities.
- Let people make mistakes. The reorganization of activities, schedules and work methods is unprecedented; expectations need to be managed regarding the quantity and quality of work performance, and they need to be communicated.
3. Develop practices that help remote e-workers negate potential blurring of home and work boundaries
- Initiate discussions with remote e-workers to understand their personal preferences for working hours and set and communicate boundaries that respect these preferences. For example, when a manager sends emails outside of working hours, it is clearly communicated that they do not expect a response until the following day
- Circulate weekly email blasts that promote tips for well-being (like getting up regularly from your chair and stretching) and remind remote e-workers to “switch off” from work
DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
- Depending on the personal (ex.: inadequate workspace) and familial (ex.: young children at home) realities of each employee, show some flexibility. Ask each employee what the best method is and adjust when the situation evolves.
- Provide for planned and spontaneous moments to “log off” depending on the priorities to manage. These moments should be announced.
If possible, encourage remote e-working as a part-time arrangement
- Employees can be encouraged to do tasks that require them to be social for their office-based days, while tasks that require more concentration can be completed on days they work remotely
- Help remote e-workers keep their connections to the office if a part-time arrangement is not possible:
– Remote e-workers can visit the office at regular intervals (i.e. once a month; every other month) for in-person meetings their managers/supervisors and to meet colleagues
– Include remote e-workers in social activities such as promotion celebrations, team lunches/dinners or office parties
DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
- Support employees in establishing an optimal work setup and planning moments to be productive and to communicate with the team or with clients.
- Plan virtual social meetings (ex.: take a coffee break or lunch together), depending on the availability of employees and their desire to participate.
Ensure employees have an ergonomically sound working area
- Create an online workstation assessment survey to identify workers who need assistance with their workspace or are struggling with their workspace or experiencing physical pain and connect them with your organization’s health and safety team who can suggest improvements
- Develop in-person workshops, online modules or informational videos with tips on how remote e-workers can work healthily in various locations, such as the kitchen table, home office, coffee shop, or hotel room
TO CITE THIS GLOBAL-WATCH SCIENTIFIC INTERPRETATION
Charalampous, M., Sharpe, K. (2019). Is working remotely good for your employee’s well-being?. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at www.global-watch.com
TO CITE THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY THE AUTHORS OF THE STUDY
Charalampous, M., Grant, C. A., Tramontano, C., & Michailidis, E. (2019). Systematically reviewing remote e-workers’ well-being at work: a multidimensional approach. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 28(1), 51-73. doi:10.1080/1359432X.2018.1541886
 Adapted from Van Horn, J. E., Taris, T. W., Schaufeli, W. B., & Schreurs, P. J. (2004). The structure of occupational well-being: A study among Dutch teachers. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77, 365–375.
 Pyöriä, P. (2005). The concept of knowledge work revisited. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9, 116–127.
 Frenkel, S., Korczynski, M., Donoghue, L., & Shire, K. (1995). Re-constituting work: Trends towards knowledge work and info-normative control. Work, Employment and Society, 9, 773–796.