Risks of a virtual work environment and how to avoid them


Dangers of “always-on” mindset

  • More flexibility entails the risk of an “always-on” mindset, which can trigger technostress
     
  • Technostress means feeling like your personal life is being invaded, digitally monitored, or struggling to keep up with the constant changes and developments of virtual desktop infrastructure (Nimrod, 2018).
     
  • An increased sense of technostress leads to more job stress, the person feels overwhelmed and exhausted.
     

How can organizations foster a healthy culture of flexibility?

  • Implement virtual formats (e.g., podcasts, vlogs) regarding the issue of technostress and blurring boundaries
     
  • Communicate life-hacks to prevent technostress and handle blurred boundaries
     
  • Coach managers to support their co-workers
     
  • Regular communication of expectations and rules by managers

 


The potential threat of two-class society

  • Shop floor work can’t be done from home. Oftentimes, production workers are also excluded from digital internal communication because they don’t have computers at work, impeding their access to the intranet. This can lead to envy and resentment.

 

Which specific measures could be insert, to reach all employees?

  • Shop floor visits by top management
     
  • Info screens, QR codes and flyers to communicate important information and messages of appreciation in production sites
     
  • Posters bearing appreciative messages and statements from the CEO
     
  • Sending text messages with warnings and instructions to employees’ cellphones for e.g. on an employee app
     
  • Free lunches and personal protective equipment

 

"We are currently developing a new app that will give all employees access to the intranet and later also to the digital employee magazine. During the transition phase, production employees have access to the intranet via central information terminals, and we’re trying to reach them with poster campaigns and digital information boards."

Nina Skrzyszowski, Senior Communication Manager, B. Braun


 

Eight lessons learned by internal communication experts:

  1. See yourself as a strategic business partner! Internal communication is not just a supplier of content and services – especially in times of crisis and change towards a hybrid work environment.
     
  2. Think and act more strategically in the hybrid environment. This means setting clear goals, developing measures to achieve them, and regular evaluation.
     
  3. Have a sympathetic ear for employees’ problems and concerns.
     
  4. Communicate in an authentic, short, transparent, and emotionally charged manner. Employees need relational communication to commit themselves to the organization and show engagement.
     
  5. Empower employees and managers so that they can effectively communicate and contribute themselves. This improves communication and makes the message content more interesting and expedient.
     
  6. Strengthen the expertise of internal communication practitioners because with communication needing to be fast and two-way, outsourcing is becoming increasingly unattractive.
     
  7. Think “out of the box.” Be courageous and experiment with communication formats and messages to find the most suitable ways to communicate in an employee-centric manner.
     
  8. Increase the proficient use of virtual and digital (communication) tools in order to apply them effectively in an employee-centric manner.


Further topics: 

 

Key findings of the study

  • Potential: The study suggests that communication professionals see digital nudging as an interesting and promising method to increase the effectiveness of communication activities. Learning about digital nudging could be useful even if the method can’t be applied by communication professionals directly.
     
  • Application possibilities: Most interviewees hadn’t yet implemented digital nudging themselves. But the interviewees identified the following applications as particularly promising:
    • Supporting digital transformation
    • Encouraging learning and development as well as knowledge sharing
    • Increasing compliance behavior, especially regarding cybersecurity
    • Improving employees’ health and well-being
       

  • Challenges:  The applicability of digital nudging depends on whether the organization uses digital platforms that allow for customization, if there is leeway regarding corporate design, and whether ethical concerns can be sufficiently addressed.

 

Methodology

The research was conducted by Prof. Dr. Sabine Einwiller and her team at the University of Vienna. It comprised four successive phases:

  1. Literature review of academic and practitioner-oriented literature on virtual internal communication and collaboration.
     
  2. In-depth Interviews with 16 communication experts from different German and Austrian companies were conducted virtually in March and April 2021, approximately one year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. The aim was to find out about objectives, challenges and suitable communication measures in times of virtual internal communication.
     
  3. Semi-structured Interviews: 60 employees in Austrian or German organizations were asked how they experience the changes to virtual and flexible working and how they perceive internal communication measures in this regard.
     
  4. Two online surveys of 1,000 employees were conducted among people employed by Austrian or German organizations with at least 250 employees.
    - The goal of survey 1 was to investigate the perception of internal communication and its effects on an organizational level. 
    - Survey 2 addressed communication and collaboration in teams.

Sixteen internal communication experts from these organizations were interviewed in March and April 2021. 

Research background

How to transform internal communication to a virtual work environment?
This was a question often asked when discussing the results of the Communications Trend Radar 2021, a research project recently completed by the Academic Society for Management & Communication. The study describes five key trends from society, management and technology that will influence corporate communications in the near future. The virtualization of communications was one of them. 

 

Research team

  • Dr. Sabine Einwiller is the professor of Public Relation Research at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna.
     
  • Julia Stranzl, M.A. is a research associate at the Department of Public Relations Research at the University of Vienna and a member of the Corporate Communication Research Group (CCom).
     
  • Daniel Wolfgruber, M.A. is a research associate in the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna
     
  • Jana Brockhaus, M.A. works for the Academic Society for Management & Communication as a communication manager.