Is working remotely good for
your employee’s well-being?

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Scientific interpretation

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.

Expert adviser

MARIA CHARALAMPOUS, lecturer in Business and Occupational Psychology, Coventry University, UK

Author

Kimberly Sharpe, research Assistant, University of British Columbia

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY:

Remote e-working

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.

Well-being

 The authors define well-being in terms of five interrelated dimensions: affective, social, cognitive, professional and psychosomatic[1]:

Affective

emotions, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, emotional exhaustion

Social

social relationships at work

Cognitive

trouble concentrating, difficulty taking up new information, being able/unable to switch off from work

Professional

autonomy, aspiration, competence

Psychosomatic

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.[2] Knowledge workers often have a greater level of autonomy than other workers and generally engage in work with a low level of standardization.[3] Examples of knowledge worker include programmers, lawyers, engineers and researchers.

Référence complète

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.

Method

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

Affective

  • 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

 

Social

  • 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)

 

 

Cognitive

  • 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

 

Professional

  • 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

 

Psychosomatic

  • 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

RECOMMENDATION

EXAMPLES

Foster a supportive organizational culture for remote e-working

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

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

 

[1] 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. 

[2] Pyöriä, P. (2005). The concept of knowledge work revisited. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9, 116–127. 

[3] 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.

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

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