Updated: Mar 16
The coronavirus pandemic and the health crisis have led to changes in the working conditions of millions of employees who now work at home.
This new way of working raises fears and questions. Teleworkers are concerned about the impact of this new way of working on their productivity, their physical and mental health, but also their social life.
Unregulated telework can lead to a feeling of exclusion and social rejection
Telework has its risks. This way of working is an instrument of flexibility which can become a risk of destruction of professional and private identities.
The main difficulty for new teleworkers is the management of working time. Some studies suggest that there is an increase in productivity and efficiency, but this may actually be due to an increase in the amount of time spent working at home.
Telecommuting reduces commuting and allows for a more flexible and personal organization of one's work time. However, teleworkers tend to work longer hours and do not enjoy the benefits of not commuting. Some studies note that teleworkers take shorter breaks at home than at the office.
According to Kelliher and Anderson (2010), this can be explained by social exchange theory: telecommuting is perceived as a privilege for certain categories of workers, a privilege that not everyone has access to. Teleworkers would then feel guilty and, under the pressure of this internalized guilt, would put in more effort and work without limit.
In interpersonal relationships, some authors such as Golden (2009) and Mello (2007) note a greater dissatisfaction among teleworkers than among normal workers.
The physical separation from the professional environment reduces exchanges and discussions in terms of quantity but also quality (a remote exchange does not induce the same social value).
Telecommuting can therefore be detrimental to communication and cooperation within work teams and induce a sense of isolation and professional exclusion.
According to Bentley (2016), this sense of professional isolation can foster perceptions of job stress, including the fear of no longer having responsibility for interesting tasks.
Montreuil and Lippel (2003) find that these anxieties can lead to long periods of sick leave due to occupational burnout.
Telework may aggravate time pressures. It increases the permeability between private and professional domains, which can increase the probability of conflict between work and family. In addition, the overlap of work and personal activities in the same place can disrupt their fulfillment.
As the teleworker stays connected over extended hours, it is more difficult to make a real distinction between work and private life. Psychological disengagement from work becomes more difficult than when one physically leaves the workplace.
Employees are forced to juggle different temporalities, and there is a risk that their different activities - paid, family, domestic, leisure - will become intertwined.
The teleworker may find it difficult to cope with the demands of work and family, and to respond to the demands of family and friends, which happen more frequently when working from home. This can lead to high pressure and increased work-related stress.
These effects have to be balanced against the burden of family responsibility: a teleworker with children is bound to be more prone to this than a teleworker without children.
Institutionalized telework gives control and autonomy back to teleworkers
Some studies show that telework can have positive consequences in terms of balance and reconciliation of different life domains, as well as on the quality of life and work performance of teleworkers.
Telework leads to a transformation of the organization of working time, which becomes more flexible and personal. The sense of personal control over working time is increased, there is also more perceived control over how to organize and perform daily work. According to Gajendra and Harrison (2007), this greater autonomy leads to increased work motivation, organizational commitment and thus job satisfaction. Teleworkers feel freer by working without the constant visual control of their colleagues.
According to Guibourdenche and Carlotti (2016), fewer distractions during work time such as solicitations from colleagues or coffee breaks increase concentration. The rest time needed to recover after work is decreased. The efficiency and quality of work is enhanced.
Teleworking is associated with lower absenteeism and lower turnover. It is an effective way to improve work-life balance. The teleworker can arrange his or her working hours as he or she wishes: longer but less intense and less stressful days, or reduced working hours with maximum efficiency to free up free time.
With fewer breaks in the workday, the teleworker can schedule longer, more effective breaks, such as exercise, which is beneficial for concentration and fitness.
Flexibility can mitigate the negative effects of the above mentioned permeability: the employee is free to plan his or her work in an optimal way to minimize interruptions by the family environment.
Introducing segmentation of the home to create a space for work can discourage family demands.
Time resources dedicated to activities and social relationships are increased due to the reduction of time spent in transportation and the resulting reduction of stress.
A better management, organization and hierarchy of the different spheres of life leads to a better conciliation of the multiple roles to be assumed.
Finally, according to Greer and Payne (2014), the organizational culture must be adapted to telework to prevent these potentially deleterious effects. The company must develop a real policy for the implementation of telework, develop psychological support systems, and change managerial practices.
The teleworker, on the other hand, needs to be rigorous at the organizational level, to delimit his or her different spheres of activity.
Vayre, É. (2019). Les incidences du télétravail sur le travailleur dans les domaines professionnel, familial et social. Le travail humain, vol. 82(1), 1-39
Gajendran, R. S., & Harrison, D. A. (2007). The good, the bad, and the unknown about telecommuting : Meta-analysis of psychological mediators and individual consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(6), 1524‑1541
Oakman, J., Kinsman, N., Stuckey, R. et al. A rapid review of mental and physical health effects of working at home: how do we optimise health?. BMC Public Health 20, 1825 (2020).