@ Tobias Tanzya
Staying emotionally connected while being physically apart
Lesezeit: 4 Minuten
In July 2023, the Research Dialogue 2023 was hosted by the University of Vienna. Professor Sabine Einwiller and her team presented the latest scientific research on employee communications with insights on trends, CEO activism, appreciation, and virtual collaboration.
We have summarized the presentation of Julia Stranzl, University of Vienna, on remote working and virtual collaboration.
What new remote workers need to stay committed to their organization and what internal communication can contribute
For a long time, remote working was a luxury for high income earners. At the latest, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations to offer this form of work as the new normal. The focus in research and especially in practice is therefore shifting from the question of whether or not to introduce remote work to the question of how organizations and employees can make the most of it. Working remotely challenges employees‘ affective commitment. This is characterized by physical and social distance, flexibility, individualization of work days, virtual communication, and limited face-to-face interactions. For example employees‘ emotional attachment to and identification with their organization.
Research has already shown that employees with a higher level of affective commitment experience higher job satisfaction. They also reduced stress and conflict, and enhanced well-being at work. In addition, affective commitment has a positive effect on employees‘ job performance, their willingness to share knowledge in the organization, their extra role behaviors and their intentions to leave. These findings highlight the necessity to find out what contributes to employees‘ affective commitment in a mostly virtual work environment. Furthermore they show how internal communication can be supportive in such a setting.
Hence, we conducted 50 problem-centred semi-structured interviews with Austrian and German employees working at least part-time remotely in large organizations (<250 employees). The interviews were conducted between March and June 2021 via MS Teams, Zoom, or Skype. To get a very broad and differentiated picture, we recruited participants from different sectors, such as banking and finance, retail, logistics, media, healthcare, construction, aeronautics, mobility and electronics.
Factors that drive employees‘ commitment to remote working
The analyses point to eight important factors that drive employees‘ commitment in a distanced work setting:
- how the remote workplace is arranged and conditions for working remotely are set
- how transparent and symmetrical the internal communication flow is perceived
- what possibilities employees have to exchange (work related or private) with other organizational members
- where and how employees can participate in organizational processes
- if there are still events
- if and how employees perceive appreciation
- how present the organization is through branded objects
- what kind of support the organization offers to their members
Especially, the importance of branded object being present in employees’ home offices was surprising.
Project employee, participant of the study
„The branding, for example, the big logo that you normally see proudly when you walk into the company, is no longer there. I used to think „ah cool, that’s just a cool company“ – that’s less the case now because I sit down at my laptop every day and I don’t notice the branding anymore.“
A transparent, symmetrical internal communication flow is particularly relevant for employees who have just started with the company, but in a remote work setting.
Fundraiser, participant of the study
„I would say I don’t feel very connected because I don’t know the organization. It’s always said that something is taking place or has taken place or that’s what’s great about the organization, and I can’t judge that at all because I’ve never experienced it that way. So, sometimes I feel excluded from the organization because it somehow defines itself by a condition that I don’t know at all. Or somehow draws its identity from there .“
Feeling appreciation is one of the most important, but also one of the most problematic aspects in a virtual world of work. Here, participants directly point to the role and responsibility of internal communication experts.
Analyst, participant of the study
„I personally feel connected because I experience good conditions in my company, i.e., transparency, respect, no matter who you are, what you look like, you are treated the same. That’s probably because of the whole communications department.“
We conclude that internal communication practitioners need to keep up in a virtual world of work by expanding their technological know-how and their virtual communication skills. In addition they have to foster their creativity as well as eagerness to experiment. To achieve regular communication goals (such as engagement, commitment), they need more detailed knowledge of the needs and demands of all organizational members. For example individualization of workdays, loneliness, procrastination, or difficult work environment. Besides, they need to invest time and thoughts in specific communication approaches, such as appreciation. In doing so, they need to exchange more regularly with other departments, the general management, and leaders from all hierarchies. Concluding, internal communication practitioners seize the role of an enabler. But not only they, also everyone else in the organization must have advanced communication skills to stay connected in a remote work setting.