Virtualization of work and its influence on technostress

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At the end of 2019 a virus known as COVID-19 entered our lives with consequences we, at the time, could have never imagined. Not long thereafter in 2020, the outbreak was declared a pandemic. Following the rising infection and death rates, governments across the globe decided to fight the pandemic with measures such as ‘lockdowns’, thereby imposing a stay-at-home order and requiring people to self-isolate. These measures essentially were a mandate to exclusively work from home and prohibited the traditional way of working: in the office. At the time, working from home was not uncommon (in the Netherlands) and research into the effects of working from home wasn’t either. However, being mandated to work exclusively from home was uncommon, and thus understudied. In addition, prior knowledge with regards to working from home, was only partly applicable to the pandemic situation and could only be generalized to a limited extent due to the unique circumstances. In short, the lockdown required to be investigated in isolation. Due to the mandates, (work) life became more virtual than ever, which on the long-term, has shown to cause difficulties with stress and other mental health issues. Since there was no indication if and when the restrictive measures would ease, research into technology induced stress (technostress) seemed appropriate and highly relevant. This resulted in the following research question: ‘’How do home-based teleworkers, who are mandated to work exclusively from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, perceive (or experience) technostress?’’ In this qualitative research with exploratory approach, the research question is answered by means of conducting interviews, systematically analysing the results, and subsequently hypothesizing how exclusively working from home is affecting the experience of technostress. This is done on the basis of 15 semi-structured interviews with teleworkers who are mandated to work from home. The main findings of the study are as follows, starting with the positives, followed by negatives, and ending with the main conclusion. First, homeworkers perceive their freedom and flexibility to be larger when compared to in the office, especially those who take care for family members or other people in need of care. Second, homeworkers acknowledge the potential for greater perceived efficiency, as digital meetings have become more goal-oriented and distractions such as a noisy environment are generally less prevalent at home. Moreover, homeworkers naturally circumvent flexible workspaces and open-office designs, which is mostly considered as a negative, also because of noise and distractions. This is the final main benefit of working from home. Negatively speaking, first and most notably, homeworkers indicate they feel disconnected from the organization because of a lack of social contact. Socializing and interacting digitally seems to be not as enjoyable in the same manner as having a natural conversation is. Less enjoyable conversations lead to less conversations, in turn leading to a feeling of being disconnected and less overall enjoyment of work. For some, this contributes to a feeling of loneliness and (social) isolation. Additionally, functional work-related business contact suffers as well: less conversations are initiated, conversations lack depth, and are too ‘business-like’. Second, a lack of control and difficulty with monitoring is evident from two perspectives. On the one hand because homeworkers are inherently not directly visible , and on the other hand because the home-office situation lacks social control which in some cases has shown to reduce work ethic. Finally, a shift in acceptance towards working from home leads to more people making use of the ability to do so, thereby leaving offices more empty and increasing digitalization. Constantly interacting with a screen seemingly is less enjoyable. A pattern among some of the respondents is how they want to ‘return to normal’ as soon as possible. Among those do, technology induced stress, a negative attitude towards increased digitalization, and feelings of loneliness were not uncommon. Concluding, homeworkers who perceive more benefits rather than downsides are less likely to experience technostress in a harmful manner. On the other hand, homeworkers who perceive more downsides are more likely to experience technostress in a harmful manner. Additionally, it seems that the benefits of working from home are mostly applicable to individuals and noticeable immediately, while the downsides are more related to groups of people and take some time to develop. The main implication of this research for science is a theoretical model that can be tested in future research. The main implication for practice is that it probably makes sense to make the choice for working from home a group process, and to educate potential home workers about the (long-term) advantages and disadvantages. `
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen