August 30, 2021 [No. 90-2021]
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
#4: What We Should and Should Not Do for Remote Workers (Part 2)
In this series of articles, I discuss organizational management issues and countermeasures for the “new” remote workers created in large numbers by COVID-19, based on the latest research findings. This is the final article in the series. In my previous post (#3: What We Should and Should Not Do for Remote Workers (Part 1)), I focused on two of the four key challenges in managing remote workers. Specifically, “1. No Excessive Monitoring or Pressure,” and “2. Are You Forgetting? "Expressing Gratitude.” Below, we will continue with the remaining two points for what we should or should not do for the remote workers under the COVID-19 pandemic.
3．Work Autonomy Is a Double-Edged Sword
Third, many previous studies, which were conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak, have shown that the personal flexibility and autonomy available through remote work, such as telecommuting and work from home, can reduce work-family conflicts and enhance the quality of their personal lives. However, a study of remote workers during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that, contrary to previous findings, “work autonomy did not have any meaningful effects on reducing work-family interference” (key finding #3).
This point may largely be explained by the characteristics of remote work under the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, remote work, such as telecommuting and work from home, has most often been a matter of choice based on the employee’s will and desire. Therefore, it is thought that the more the environment allowed for one’s own autonomy and discretion in managing one’s own work, the more flexible one could be in responding to the demands of one’s family (childcare, housework, family care, etc.), leading to better family relations. The reason why remote work was being promoted as part of the work-style reform was exactly because of this scenario behind it.
On the other hand, after the COVID-19 outbreak, a large number of new remote workers have emerged in a form that is disconnected from their own intentions and/or the family environment in which they are situated. It is a fact that there are many COVID-19-derived remote workers who are unable to draw a good boundary between work and home, because their own mental readiness and the “capacity for acceptance” on the family side were not sufficiently developed. In such a case, it is quite possible that the increased autonomy and discretion that comes with a virtual work environment could lead to a reverse functioning phenomenon, such as the loss of a sense of balance between work and private life, which in turn could have a negative impact on the family. In the age of with-corona, therefore, it may be better to stop assuming that an increase in autonomy through remote work always leads to a better work-family balance.
4．Taking a Close Look at Remote Workers’ Self-discipline Level and Providing Optimal Support
The fourth and last key finding #4 was: “The effect of social support from supervisors and coworkers on the resolution of remote work issues varies depending on the degree of “Self-Discipline” (i.e., self-management skills and abilities) of the remote worker.” As mentioned earlier, support from supervisors and colleagues is an important resource to help remote workers solve problems such as “procrastination (not doing work until the last minute)” and “loneliness.”
Interestingly, even people with weak self-discipline or poor self-management skills can avoid procrastination and meet deadlines if they are well supported by their supervisors and colleagues. On the flip side, people with weak self-discipline are less likely to feel loneliness in a remote environment, even without support from their bosses or colleagues. In contrast, people with strong self-discipline do not delay their work regardless of the support from their bosses and colleagues; however, the support from their bosses and colleagues tends to be effective in reducing the sense of loneliness.
These observations are very interesting when considering the management of remote workers. In the past, it has been common practice to look at the degree of employees’ self-discipline and self-management skills as a screening criterion to decide whether to allow remote work assignments for employees who are wishing to work from home. However, the results from the latest research after the COVID-19 outbreak suggest that the risk of a “remote work failure” of subordinates and colleagues can be reduced by the managerial actions taken by supervisors and managers, even for those who lack a good level of self-discipline and self-management.
The key points are to (1) provide “task-oriented” support to subordinates and colleagues who do not have high levels of self-discipline, and (2) provide “relationship-oriented” support to subordinates and colleagues who have relatively high levels of self-discipline and self-management. In this way, even in a virtual environment, if supervisors and colleagues provide “optimal” supportive actions, it is thought to be effective, to a certain extent, in minimizing the risk of encountering the issues of “work postponement” and “loneliness” that can be experienced by remote workers.
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