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Understanding remote working impact

Let’s focus in today’s post on understanding remote working impact on individual. I am looking at corporate companies, where remote working can be divided into three situation: -a) the employee is partially remote, s/he is part of a group locally based and at the same time part of an extended team, called the virtual team based across various geographical locations, –b) the employee is not part of a local group and only part of a virtual team, s/he has still access to an office where s/he can meet workers from other groups, –c) the  extreme case, the employee is fully remote, working from an home-office without any co-workers around.

Literature is not prolific when looking at the notion of ‘remote working environment’. Many researchers, like Luckmann (1971), Giddens (1984), or Layder (1990), admitted that the working relationship is complex and multifaceted, with elements of structure and agency. Bion, Tajfel and Ash focused on the notion of group as an entity, the question of institution and the role played by the idea of being part of an institution. The most highlighting information found so far is from Jahoda’s study of unemployment (1982), where Jahoda looked at the functions necessary for a person’s psychological well-being which are fulfilled by work. She identified five vital latent functions which are: 1-regularly shared contact with people other than family members, 2-links with a set of goals and purposes, 3-access to social status and identity, 4-enforced activity, 5-a time-structure to the day.

It is clear that in the case of remote working, particularly the case c) above, two of the vital latent functions are missing, the first one ‘regularly shared contact with people other than family’ and the third one ‘access to social status and identity’. One will argue that employees have regular contact via phone and email (therefore  shared contact with non-family members), and have a role with work responsibilities (therefore a social status), however none of them are visible, the individual then losing his/her sense of being someone in the eyes of others (socio-constructionism perspective). In parallel this ‘invisibility’ effect creates a sense of loss of control, with the following consequences (Warr, 1987) –less variety in life –less certainty about the future –less opportunity for interpersonal contacts –lower social prestige. In addition we need also to understand the concept of group and institutions, and understand if a group dynamic can be created only via verbal communication. Time seems to become a key component in remote working situation where the individual is faced with a time issue as –time is needed to build up proper connection within the virtual team and being aware of everything that cannot be seen –and then time is also needed to balance the invisibility effects by building up a needed social network outside of work and family; as a result the employee’s orientation to work may evolve from a dynamic orientation (where job is fulfilling) to an instrumental orientation (where work is only a tool). We cannot forget there that a clear issue of work-life balance may surface with an invasion at home of employee’s work, and the employee not being able to cleanly separate work from family life. Going one step further we could even conclude that someone working remotely may be under a combined stress compiling unemployment stress and employment stress.

Two questions then –what can be done at management level to support employee in such situation? –what can be done at the employee’s level to cope with such situation? the intent being to keep the employee’s orientation to work dynamic.

© 2011 Florence Dambricourt –

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