Learning from Hybrid Remote Work Research Published Before the Pandemic

Steven Hunt
Star Participant

Prior to the pandemic the Society of Industrial Organizational Psychology published a paper summarizing research on virtual work arrangements. This paper included an extensive review of empirical studies investigating remote work. Listed below are 10 tips about remote work provided in this paper. These are a condensed excerpt from the excellent paper by Kristen Shockley. To make the language more current, the word "telecommute" has been replaced with "remote work". With perhaps a few minor modifications, these strike me as being as true today as they were when this paper was written.

 

From K. Shockley's paper "Telecommuting":

  1. "Research suggests that remote worker job satisfaction is maximized when remote working occurs at moderate levels, especially for jobs that require high interdependence. With this in mind, encouraging a mixed work arrangement where employees are not entirely remote may help with employee satisfaction and morale.
  2. Do not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to remote working policies. Each employee is unique and will need to cater the policy to her or her needs.
  3. In order to be most productive, remote workers need to have a strong sense of self-efficacy, or belief about his/her ability to complete tasks. Provide encouragement to remote workers in an attempt to foster self-efficacy, especially during the initial adjustment period for new remote workers.
  4. Professional isolation, loss of identification with the organization, and feeling excluded are real threats to remote workers and can have implications for performance and turnover. Be sure to include remote workers in organizational events, socialization activities, and training and development opportunities that are available to other employees. On a more daily basis, managers should take extra efforts to contact remote workers more frequently so that they feel in “in the loop.”
  5. The mere offering of remote working is not enough. The organization culture must also adapt to support use of these policies. This can be achieved, in part, by: a) shifting norms surrounding face time; judge employees by their actual output rather than the time they spend at the main office. b) ensuring that raise and promotion systems are not biased against those who work remotely. Employees commonly cite fear of negative career consequences as a reason that remote working benefits are deemed unusable. c) creating buy-in from top management. True culture change of any kind requires buy -in the top and the creation of a structural plan that outlines specific behaviors that will foster change.
  6. Communicate and clearly articulate the details and expectations surrounding remote working up front. This may be best achieved by establishing a remote working training program for remote workers, managers of remote workers, and even the coworkers of remote workers.
  7. Deciding who can and cannot work remotely can be a challenge, and it can lead to perceptions of unfairness if not handled correctly. The ideal situation is to offer remote working universally, but this is not be feasible in all organizations and job types. When this is not possible, have a clear set of criteria regarding how remote working decisions are made. Allowing employees, including remote workers and non-remote workers, voice in determining these criteria is also beneficial.
  8. Because remote workers are “out of sight” it may be tempting for managers to give stricter standards or highly monitor their behaviors. But research suggests the most effective supervisors manage remote workers and non-remote workers in an identical same manner. The focus should be on managing the work and not the worker.
  9. Provide employees with advice on how to best structure their remote work office. For many employees forming boundaries between work and family roles is important. Have a separate room for remote work if the home arrangement allows it. Additionally, employees should make sure that family members also understand the work and home boundaries.
  10. Discourage employees from using remote working as a means of childcare. Working while simultaneously caring for children can lead to role blurring, which has been linked to greater work-family conflict and distractions during work time."

For the full paper that contained these 10 recommendations along with extensive citations to relevant research, please see Shockley's original paper here: https://www.siop.org/Portals/84/docs/White%20Papers/ScientificAffairs/telecommuting.pdf