Chances, Risks, and Limitations of Remote Work in Return-to-Work Trajectories: A Focus Group Study

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Advancements in technology and the societal changes brought about by the COVID-19 crisis and ‘the new ways of working’ have made working from home more prevalent, and created new opportunities for working from home. Given the great yearly costs of sickness absence for organisations and the importance of creating and maintaining a healthy, sustainably employable workforce for both employers and employees, it is opportune to study how working from home can be embedded in return-to-work trajectories for the benefit of such processes. The aim of the current study was to uncover the risks and benefits of working from home in return-to-work trajectories. In this thesis a focus group analysis was conducted from a realist perspective. The study consisted of two focus groups with 5 participants each, participants either being employees in the field of higher education, or performing screen-work or clientcontact jobs. All participants had experience with working from home, some participants had experience with return-to-work trajectories and other participants had experience working with colleagues in return-to-work trajectories. Based on these focus groups and a study of existing literature within the framework of the Capability Model (van der Klink et al., 2016) 8 themes were identified that appear to play an important role in the embedding of working from home in return-to-work trajectories, each theme containing chances, risks and limitations regarding the sustainable employability of employees. These 8 themes are work-life balance, flexibility, social contact, communication, health, productivity, commuting and organisational factors. These findings contribute to existing literature on working from home in the complex context of return-to-work trajectories, providing rich information regarding how the embedding of working from home in these trajectories may or may not lead to sustainable employability. Results of the study can additionally aid organisational and work design for the benefit of sustainable return-to-work trajectories
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