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Crawford, J. Remote Work and Psychological Wellbeing. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 02 December 2023).
Crawford J. Remote Work and Psychological Wellbeing. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 02, 2023.
Crawford, Joseph. "Remote Work and Psychological Wellbeing" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 02, 2023).
Crawford, J.(2023, June 28). Remote Work and Psychological Wellbeing. In Encyclopedia.
Crawford, Joseph. "Remote Work and Psychological Wellbeing." Encyclopedia. Web. 28 June, 2023.
Remote Work and Psychological Wellbeing

The practice of telework, remote work, and working from home has grown significantly across the pandemic era (2020+). These practices offer new ways of working but come with a lack of clarity as to the role it plays in supporting the wellbeing of staff. It was evident that there is a lack of clarity on the actual effects of telework on employee wellbeing, but it appeared that it had a generally positive effect on the short-term wellbeing of staff, and created more flexible and proactive work design opportunities.

remote work telework work design

1. Introduction

Telework and working from home have become necessary tools in the organization’s arsenal for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. The concept, while not a direct product of the global outbreak has moved from the periphery to the fore of work and organizing. Full time work before 2019 was typically situated in offices and workplaces onsite, with only 3.6 percent of U.S. workers and 5.4 percent of European workers required to work from home [1]. Gallup [2] finds that 37 percent of U.S. workers had engaged in some form of telecommuting within their roles, with 32 percent in 2006, and only 9 percent in 1995. In 2013, the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, made it company policy for staff to work inside of the corporate office, and prior to 2020 this was a common position for organizations to adopt.
Indeed, studies on the nature of work, have primarily emphasized on-site work with after-hours answering of emails and international teleconferencing a secondary concern [3]. Yet, working from home is quite different than formal practices of arriving at a previously designated time, occupying a professional workspace to complete daily work, and a recommended end time for departure. Across forty in-depth interviews, teleworkers created physical, temporal, behavioral, and communicative boundaries to enable them to separate work and life [4]. Yet, the authors acknowledge that these boundaries may not be transferable to ‘always on’ workplaces. These boundaries orient toward regimented bureaucratic methods of organizing work [5], and offer considerable constraints to contemporary work. The resurgence of telework opportunities offers a prospective opportunity to re-evaluate restricted measures of organizing work into fixed 9-5 work hours.

2. Theoretical Framework: Proactive Work Design

In a 100-year review of work design research, there are five distinct historical developments identified [6]. Namely sociotechnical systems, job characteristics, job demands-control, job demand-resources, and role theory. Many of these adopt industrialist approaches to connection between work as a highly structured activity. Progression in telework and more flexible work design research have been studied in some of these contexts [1], however it seems less common that telework is examined through work designs more suited to the changing nature of work. As an outcome [6], there is recognition that proactive work designs can support more positive outcomes and reduce negative outcomes in workplaces.
Grant and Parker [7] wrote on the changing nature of work and organizations because of a global transition towards a knowledge economy and away from industrial revolution notions of organizing. The study highlights proactive perspectives of work, where a higher degree of uncertainty creates a need for dynamic response. In their review, social support, outside interactions, interpersonal feedback, and social context were considered key foundations of work design theories. Interestingly, while Grant and Parker [7] focus on the work effects on individuals and organizing, Fuller et al. [8] evidence how employee proactive personality supports a response to the effect that structural and social challenges (e.g., hierarchical position, resource access) have on their felt responsibility for constructive change. That is, the extent to which people with a high proactive personality take psychological ownership of changes made. In the context of telework, employees with high proactive personalities may be more positive in responding and leading change.
While industrial and bureaucratic organizations adopt often rigid perspectives of work, where managers design jobs for employees to be placed inside of, and engage with limited agency in fulfilling those roles, it is not as common among learned employees. Bakkar et al. [9] propose that self-leadership and playful work designs enable psychological need fulfilment and role performance during the pandemic. Underlying these assumptions is self-determination, where the individual has agency to determine their work, and to achieve. In this regard, here adopts a proactive perspective for work design, where work is built in a condition where employees can adapt their work patterns and behaviors to support their own self-determined pathway to performance. In hybrid work environments, this becomes more prominent, although there appears to be institutional resistance to self-designed methods of performing.

3. Work Culture Gaps

The studies included have begun to explore pockets of pathways by which workplaces, work designs, and people effect employee wellbeing outcomes. Additionally, this is important as scholars become clearer on what levers incentivize and hinder decent and meaningful work. Of critical importance is considering changes in the fundamental nature of work. One study wrote that when managers focus on results over specifics around hours contributed, wellbeing improves [10]. However, this could also adversely affect underserved workers or incentivize faster and lower quality work. What moderation might be needed to ensure the effect of flexible work on workers is sustainable over temporal and spatial locations.
Indeed, belongingness research has found more significant challenges to the way in which employees engage, stay, or leave workplaces. While job turnover could be considered a lagging indicator of belongingness and wellbeing [11], a better understanding of what happens to engagement, belonging, and wellbeing over periods of time is critical [12][13]. Leadership and followership co-creation practices [14] also seem to be largely absent from the telework literature. When people with specific titles (e.g., ‘manager’ and ‘employee’) come together in onsite work, the spatial conditions effect the way leadership is claimed and granted. How does the blended and hybrid spatial conditions effect how leaders and followers co-create relationships, and likewise contribute to outcomes of wellbeing and belonging?
In relation to equity and relational norms, in traditional onsite organizations, workers are afforded a degree of equivalent opportunity to network with managers, colleagues, and clients. That is, by virtue of being in the same proximate location (e.g., the work office), each employee can attempt to build relationships with most of their peers. Over time, as leader-member exchange theorists would describe [15][16], some of these relationships become psychologically close and others remain distant. For teleworkers, if they have less face-to-face interaction opportunities, will they experience heightened disconnection and social isolation from their colleagues? Likewise, equal opportunity to promotions or qualitative perceptions of their performance by managers may also be different.

4. Environmental Sustainability

Among the studies, many examined social and physical changes experienced by teleworkers in contrast to similar onsite workers. Yet, there were few studies that discussed the impact of decentralized work structures on environmental outcomes. This seems congruent with work on higher education during the pandemic, that indicated environmental sustainability was deprioritized in the place of continuity of work and learning. In one study, working from home was identified as reducing transport costs [17]. However, in pandemic studies that feature working from home, eating habits were seen to be healthier [18], yet it was not clear if out-of-home eating changed. Higher consumption of takeaway food from cafés and restaurants can have a contributory effect on landfill and single-use plastic consumption, when contrasted to home-based meal preparation.
In considering electricity consumption, COVID-19 mandates that effected work from home patterns saw increased power consumption at home by 13 percent [19]. It is however, unclear if the increased domestic electricity consumption features a decline in office and work environment levels by an equivalent level (i.e., less or more overall electricity consumption). There is more research needed with relation to the relative effects of social and environmental outcomes and differences in telework contexts, including controlling for pandemic-effects.

5. Effects beyond Transitory States

Change creates inertia, and change creates resistance and differences in affective experiences. For many of the studies in this sample, scholars produced pilot interventions of introducing telework conditions or measuring the differences between employees who were teleworking and those completing onsite work. Yet, in the latter, it was rarely clear if these teleworkers were only recently transitioned to this type of work or if studies were capturing genuine teleworkers in contrast to genuine onsite workers. Studies pertaining to telework moving forwards should provide clear parameters for the previous experience and temporal duration of telework experienced by those sampled.
To extend, during the pandemic, there are numerous studies on changing wellbeing because of lockdowns [20][21]. These changes are likely having an exogenous effect on employee wellbeing that is exacerbating the effects theorized as endogenous of telework. As the world moves through and beyond the pandemic, some of the assumptions highlighted will need to be re-tested and better control for exogeneity in the telework and onsite work experience.

6. Practical Implications

Here focused on examining the current research on telework work conditions in contrast to onsite work. I was primarily concerned telewith establishing a clear understanding of the published literature on telework and employee psychological wellbeing to support future research [22][23][24][25][26]. However, this has clear implications for practitioners experiencing, or implementing telework. First, telework is not comparable to onsite work. While it seems it contributes to better employee wellbeing outcomes, the reasons why this is the case are more mixed and often conflicting. This means that focusing on creating an environment that works for the specific industry and individual needs is important, and the variability in relationships tested in the sample studies may be reflective of the complexity of employees and specific work practices. Second, telework removes physical boundaries that separate work (in the office/onsite) and life (not in the office/offsite), and this requires a resetting practice for workers. Working from home, productivity, and employee health remain linked [27][28][29][30][31]. While managers could support employees to build effective boundaries, there may be a case for progression towards results-based evaluation rather than performative hours-based work; particularly in knowledge workers.
Third, identifying strategies to build connection and social cohesion between onsite, telework, and hybrid staff is critical for ensuring that work modality does not affect long-term performance, wellbeing, engagement, or belongingness among staff. This could include practices such as mandated onsite days, although this likely offers a disadvantage those who are required to transition to onsite on some days without social and physical systems (e.g., childcare and parking permits) in place. Higher education have been studying students transitioning between modalities for a while [31][32][33][34][35], and could be drawn on in the context of working from home. Indeed, these staff may also find it difficult to reintegrate with the social bonds developed by permanently onsite staff also [36]. It may be more effective to choose neutral easy-access locations for regular blended social and professional meetings and check-ins. Local parks may offer an interesting contribution. In the Australian small business context, attending a public barbeque in the park for a lunch meeting could offer a useful opportunity for developing meaningful connections. Being physically co-located (e.g., shared or adjacent offices) may support social bonding, but without sustained opportunities to connect, this may be more complex.


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