< Psychology

How can teleworking be improved?

Text updated on 2020-05-20

Confinement, social isolation, and school closures have led many people around the world to work from home. People often report feeling disconnected from their colleagues and less motivated. Yet employers and workers alike can implement simple strategies to improve their work from home.

The shift to telework is necessary during the crisis for many jobs but care must be taken in its implementation. Over a long period, it can have a profound impact on workers, both on their psychology and on their career development.

Working at home can be particularly difficult for people who do not have an appropriate workspace. This affects productivity and increases stress. As the barrier between work and private life becomes blurred with teleworking, people may also find it difficult to log off at night.

Technology allows us to communicate with our colleagues, but contact may be less frequent and more distant. Talking on the phone or on video is more difficult because we receive fewer body cues such as posture to understand the other person. Informal conversations are less frequent and group work is often reduced.

Finally, working from home can have a negative impact on career advancement. For younger workers, teleworking means that there will be fewer opportunities to interact informally with more senior colleagues, for example, by having lunch. Telework can reduce visibility and thus diminish job prospects.

What can we do?

Creating a suitable workspace at home is important. Having a desk, a comfortable chair, a separation from the rest of your home (even a curtain of fabric) allows you to concentrate better.

Enriching the means of communication through work can improve productivity and mental health. For example, it may be useful to have chat rooms.

Share your daily schedule and work plan with your colleagues, plan weekly "open office" hours during which you make yourself available to talk on the phone or by videoconference with your colleagues to maintain closer contact. Organize one coffee break or group lunch per week with the idea of replacing small informal interactions.

Exchange a list of objectives with a colleague and regularly check whether the colleague is succeeding in achieving his/her objectives.

Organize your meetings in the morning, so that you can get up early and maintain a routine.

As a manager, send a regular message of support to your employees, and send a message at the end of the day to remind them that it's time to log out.

Use the psychological support services made available by your company, such as coaching sessions with the human resources department. If the employer does not have the resources in place, suggest providing employees with solutions such as free access to a meditation application.

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Teleworking can be positive but it is associated with difficulties in disconnecting, more intense work, and greater psychological isolation. Better working conditions at home, effective means of communication and clear instructions on expectations from the employer can improve telework.

Beauregard, T. A., Basile, K. A., & Canonico, E. (2019). Telework: outcomes and facilitators for employees.

Telework is associated with lower pay progression for those who telework. This effect can be partially mitigated by increasing face-to-face contact with one's manager.

Golden, T. D., & Eddleston, K. A. (2020). Is there a price telecommuters pay? Examining the relationship between telecommuting and objective career success. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 116, 103348.

An intervention increasing the sense of belonging in the workplace reduced burnout by 8% among employees in high-stress jobs.

Wilcoxen, M. P. A., & Team, B. I. Belonging Affirmation Reduces Employee Burnout and Resignations in Front Line Workers.

Having friendships in the office and generally good relationships with colleagues is important for productivity and job satisfaction.

Priyasad, K. M., & Weerasinghe, T. D. (2017). The nexus between informal relationships at work and employee retention: a review. Kelaniya Journal of Human Resource Management, 12(1).

Further reading

What are the physical effects of confinement and social distancing?

How to organize a meeting of less than 50 people indoors?

What precautions should be taken in the workplace to limit airborne transmission of the virus?

What is the purpose of social distancing?