“The only constant in life is change” – Heraclitus
As the whole world has been tied down by the shackles of the COVID-19, every aspect of the human life around the world has almost come to a halt, including their work life. The immediate need of the hour for organizations is to bring change in working patterns and modes. So it is a
period of change, resistance, acceptance of effective alternatives and managing the stress coming out from organizational changes.
The bombardment of developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) provide novel and effective ways of working without limitations of time and place. Hence, the concept of teleworking has taken over the traditional work station concepts of working at the organizations. The concept of teleworking, given by Di Martino and Wirth, 1990: 530, define it as ‘work carried out in a location where, remote from central offices or production facilities, the worker has no personal contact with co-workers there, but is able to communicate with them using new technology’. Telework is seen as a way of increasing flexibility in work life, both from the organizational and individual perspective. One form of flexible work practice is Distance Working.
Benefits of Telework
The benefits of teleworking have been consistently cited in much empirical research and review articles (e.g. Mann et al., 2000; Montreuil and Lippel, 2003).
(1) Better balance of home and work life:
Employees are able to spend less time away from home and thus use the time which they might otherwise have wasted on travelling or being in the office, with their family or children. They can also cope better with mini domestic crises
(2) Increased flexibility:
Teleworkers can often (but not always) choose the hours they work, enabling them to work at times when they are more productive and can sit with the work uninterrupted. There is also the freedom and flexibility of being able to work from home for the employer as well, so as to gain
work even if there is difficulty getting to the office due to disability, rural home locations or ring responsibilities.
(3) Reduction in commuting:
The reduction in commuting has potential positive impacts on cost, time and stress and maybe that’s a primary reason for employees to choose telework.
(4) Reduced overheads for employer:
A recent experiment in teleworking at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) yielded savings of around 25 per cent (Loughran, 1998). Companies make these savings by reducing the need for expensive office space and overheads such as heating, electricity and wear and tear.
(5) Increased productivity:
Many popular literatures (e.g. Montreuil and Lippel, 2003) has shown higher productivity among teleworkers than other employess and this higher performance level is attributed to fewer interruptions, longer working hours and the flexibility when planning work schedules.
Problems of Telework A wide range of problems associated with teleworking have been documented. These include:
(1) Social isolation:
Social isolation is the most frequently noted disadvantage of teleworking. This lack of contact with coworkers at times results in poor cognitive and executive functioning, anxious and depressive cognitions.
Presenteeism is not just about working long hours, but also working when sick; Many research results indicate a drop in absenteeism amongst teleworkers as employees may, for example, take a morning off when ill rather than a full day, return to work when not fully recovered—or take
no time off at all (Montreuil and Lippel, 2003). This problem of ‘presenteeism’, whereby people feel unable to take time off from work because of sickness, is, no doubt, a prolonged problem for
all employees in today’s job insecurity scenarios. (Clark, 1994).
(3) Blurring of boundaries:
The commute from home to work has traditionally allowed the transition between roles to occur (Hall, 1989, in Ellison, 1999). Many employees find commuting a useful break between home and work. Although many teleworkers attempt to develop spatial and temporal boundaries
between work and home life, by creating a room only used for work, working from home does blur the contour between the roles, not only for the teleworker but also for the family (Ellison, 1999).
The main aspect is the irritation caused by being physically distant from the source of any problems. This social isolation can restrict the ability to sort out issues, leading to frustration, and prevent emotional support from fellow workers to help deal with the situations. Another cause of
irritation for the teleworkers seems to be the intrusion of family members into work time. This blurring of boundaries between work and home life, as other family members have difficulty in distinguishing the work role from the family role, may lead to feelings of frustration, anger and stress.
Teleworkers both experience negative emotions due to the spillover of work into their family and leisure time which may also affect their levels of satisfaction with the organization. The ability to effectively manage time is a great source of stress for individuals working independently such as
teleworkers (Cooper, 2000).
However office-workers appeared to experience additional stress due to office politics and transport and, as mentioned earlier, studies do suggest that travelling to work increases stress levels (Hobbs and Armstrong, 1998). That office-workers have to commute to work on a daily basis is likely to increase negative emotions such as anger and hostility characteristically related to the stress of transport and travel; for example, in worrying about lost time whilst commuting, fear of being late for work etc. (Montreuil and Lippel, 2003).
Teleworkers emphasize unavailability of social support to talk things through which could produce other negative emotions such as feelings of insecurity and lack of confidence in their abilities. The lack of face-to-face communication and an increased use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) can bring down feelings of belonging, the affective bond with the organization.
Enjoyment can be linked to the comparative complexity of the tasks involved and the positive emotional impact appears to be based on feelings of pride; which is experienced when success is seen to be caused by internal factors (like own ability and/or efforts). The intrinsic rewards gained from their employment may motivate teleworkers, to some degree, to overcome negative emotions such as loneliness.
However, if telework is to be successful, its impact on psychological health and well-being and issues such as isolation, blurring of the home-work contours and emotional ‘spill-over’ are to be focused to minimize any potential negative impact on employees. Whilst some of the emotional impact appears to be positive, such as a reduction of travel-related stress or irritation caused by office interruptions, increased loneliness due to the isolation of working away from the office, more frustration due to lack of technical support, more guilt when calling in sick and more resentment regarding the impact that teleworking has on the home and family life. So utilizing the computer-mediated communication (CMC) channels, employees can go beyond these barriers of teleworking and reduce social distancing and enhance their mental health for the betterment of society as a whole.
Di Martino, V. and L. Wirth (1990), ‘Telework: A New Way of Working and Living’, International Labour Review, 129, 5, 529–554.
Montreuil, S. and K. Lippel (2003), ‘Telework and Occupational Health: A Quebec Empirical Study and Regulatory Implications’, Safety Science, 41, 4, 339–358.
Clark, S. (1994), ‘Presentees: New Slaves of the Office Who Run on Fear’, The Sunday Times, 16 October.
Ellison, N.B. (1999), ‘Social Impacts: New Perspectives on Tele-Work’ Social Science Computer Review, 17, 3, 338–356.
Hobbs, D. and J. Armstrong (1998), ‘An Experimental Study of Social and Psychological Aspects of Teleworking’, Industrial Management & Data Systems, 98, 5, 214–218.
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