Remote Working in Times of “With-Corona”: The Key to Improving Employee Performance from the Latest Research

August 13, 2021 [No. 89-2021]

Norihiko Takeuchi
Graduate School of Business and Finance, Waseda University, Japan
Visiting Research Fellow,
Institute of International Management, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan



Remote Working in Times of “With-Corona”: 
The Key to Improving Employee Performance from the Latest Research


#3: What We Should and Should Not Do for Remote Workers (Part 1)


  In this series of articles, we discuss organizational management issues and countermeasures for the “new” remote workers created in large numbers by COVID-19, based on the latest research findings. In the previous issue, I showed that four key findings have been identified by the latest research (see “#2 Academia's Challenge: What Do We Know about Remote Working under the COVID-19 Pandemic?”). In the current issue, I will provide a detailed explanation of two of the four findings.
1. No Excessive Monitoring or Pressure


  The first key finding was: “Among the Virtual Work Characteristics, ‘social support from supervisors and colleagues’ and ‘job autonomy’ both play a role in enhancing remote workers’ job performance and psychological well-being, while “monitoring” and “workload” function to hinder them.”
  In the science of psychology, the former facilitative environment and efforts (i.e., social support from supervisors and colleagues and job autonomy) are called “resources,” while the latter hindering environment and efforts (i.e., excessive monitoring and workload) are called “demands.” Resources not only improve work motivation, but also enhance psychological and physical health. On the other hand, demands, if they are excessive or if no other complementary resources to them are available, are known to result in decreased motivation and interfered with physical and mental health.
  Therefore, the organizational actions and initiatives required in the remote work environment under the pandemic are not to put excessive monitoring and work pressure on remote workers. In a virtual environment, it is important to build supportive relationships between supervisors and remote workers and among coworkers, who tend to be, not just physically separated, but also mentally isolated in a virtual environment. It is also important to ensure autonomous work design in a virtual environment, as opposed to continuous surveillance and pressure.
  So what can we do to support your subordinates and team members while avoiding excessive monitoring in a remote environment? One effective way is to set relatively small milestones for them to manage the progress of their work, and have them report their progress and provide feedback at each milestone. In many cases, you will need to set milestones in smaller increments than you would in a face-to-face situation. If you set large milestones for each member, there is a risk of not realizing that there is a problem until it is too late, and that it will be irreversible.
  Setting milestones for shorter and smaller work units not only minimizes such risk, but also gives you the opportunity to communicate regularly with members in a virtual environment. It is important to note that the degree to which one perceives excessive monitoring varies from person to person. You will need to make sure that progress reports feel like support, not control.
2. Are You Forgetting? - Expressing Gratitude


  The first key finding was: “Among the resources that promote remote workers’ job performance and psychological well-being, ‘social support from supervisors and colleagues’ was found to be the most powerful virtual work characteristic.” To be more specific, support from supervisors and coworkers has a favorable impact on reducing almost all of the remote work issues identified (“work procrastination,” “loneliness,” “work-to-family interference (work interfering family domains),” and “family-to-work interference (family interfering work domains”), which in turn leads to job performance and well-being (lower mental fatigue and higher life satisfaction).
  The importance of such support from supervisors and coworkers in solving various work-related problems, balancing work and family lives, and improving work performance, has been shown many times in past studies targeting general workplaces other than remote work environments. Our study of new recruits also confirmed that the work environment's support resources functioned, even in the early stages of their employment, as a factor facilitating (1) their retention (or reduced turnover), (2) embracement of organizational values, and (3) learning of new job-related skills. In this sense, regardless of the presence or absence of a virtual environment, interpersonal supportive relationships in the workplace are a core element in human resource management.
  So, what are the important things to keep in mind when supporting subordinates and members of the workplace in a remote environment, especially when communicating with them? There are many, but I would like to emphasize that showing appreciation to your subordinates and members is the key. Although it may sound childish, it is actually a point that is often forgotten and yet is very important to move people’s hearts especially when working remotely.
  In psychology, there is a term called “self-enhancement motive,” which means that people have a basic and universal drive to be appreciated and approved by others. For example, when we do something for someone in our face-to-face work at the workplace, we watch his/her reaction. Even if the person doesn’t verbally express his/her gratitude, seeing the happy face of the person makes us feel relieved and satisfied.
  In a remote environment under pandemic situations, the opportunity for such casual verbal and non-verbal communication of appreciation is extremely limited. Moreover, there are many people who have higher stress levels than usual due to limited interpersonal communication opportunities. Therefore, when working in a virtual environment, the very common act of expressing gratitude can be an important emotional support.


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