The Role of Organizational Support in Effective Remote Work Implementation in the Post-COVID Era

The Role of Organizational Support in Effective Remote Work Implementation in the Post-COVID Era

Luisa Errichiello, Tommasina Pianese
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6754-8.ch013
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The COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations to abruptly introduce remote working, without an accurate analysis of organizational processes and employees' expectations about work flexibility. Thus, remote working has been implemented without a rational plan of interventions based on remote work-enabling technologies, managerial practices, and resources. This chapter aims at understanding the role of “supporting” structures and practices in driving the effective implementation of remote working in the post-COVID era. The authors rely on a case study of a multi-national IT company with a long experience with remote work arrangements, focusing on mobile work and virtual teams and looking at expectations and actions of remote workers in relation to organizational support. Findings revealed the importance to adopt a holistic approach to organizational support to remote working based on formal procedures, adequate evaluation systems, tools for self-management, blended training programs, supportive leadership style, along with a collaborative work environment and a remote culture.
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As of February 2021, over 230 countries in the world have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic with 110 million cases and 2.5 million deaths. The need to limit the contagion from COVID-19 through social distancing measures has forced many organizations to introduce remote work programs (Toniolo-Barrios & Pitt, 2020). Employees have thus embraced digital work tools, including videoconferencing, to keep working remotely (Richter, 2020). Although the pandemic facilitated digital work, by unhinging old mindsets and changing social norms related to ways of working (Richter, 2020), two major aspects are noteworthy. First, the lockdown, which has affected countries to different degrees at different times, has implied that remote working mostly resulted in a “forced” home-based telework, with employees physically away from the organization and colleagues all of the time. Second, remote working is a disruptive organizational change, requiring a well-planned intervention on levers for organizational change, notably remote work-enabling technologies, managerial practices and organizational resources (By, 2005; Errichiello & Pianese, 2016, 2018, 2019).

The health emergency has compelled organizations to innovate existing work arrangements, and many governments simplified the bureaucrat procedure by making remote working applicable without trade union negotiations and/or individual agreements (Toniolo-Barrios & Pitt, 2020). This urgency has prevented management from an accurate analysis of implications of remote working on existing organizational processes, and of employees’ expectations about this way of working. Although remote working emphasizes individual autonomy, job control and self-management, it is essential that employees perceive that their well-being is valued by their organizations (Bentley et al., 2016; Kossek et al., 2006; Smith et al., 2019). In this regard, during the pandemic many companies have underestimated the importance (or lacked the time) to define practices and tools for ‘supporting’ employees at a distance, and in turn employee interpretations of this as a tangible manifestation of how much the organization values their contributions and well-being.

Organizational support has been revealed to be even more relevant during the COVID-19 emergency. Many people have approached remote working for the first time and were disoriented by novel work routines and virtual relationships. They felt enormous pressure and had no time to experiment with new tools, and change social norms and work practices (Richter, 2020). At the same time, they felt more sensitive, and experienced a fear of becoming infected with the virus and an amplified sense of anxiety and sadness, nurtured by discordant versions of the pandemic offered by the media and doctors themselves (Richter, 2020; Vera et al., 2020).

The technological tools and systems enable work-from-home. However, organizations do not always understand that their role is not limited to providing employees with the technological infrastructure. During the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have also needed organizations to provide them with technology-related support, i.e. opportunities and resources for learning new technologies, coping with multi-tasking and addressing the constant connectivity and permanent availability to supervisors and colleagues (De et al., 2020; Errichiello & Demarco, 2020; Richter, 2020).

Many remote workers were unprepared and needed support by supervisors for managing the blurred line between career and personal life (Toniolo-Barrios & Pitt, 2020; Richter, 2020). After schools closed, working parents had to supervise children with online learning. They were continuously distracted in improvised work setups in living rooms, kitchen, bedrooms. Although literature has extensively investigated the overlap between private and professional spheres, the exceptional conditions of the pandemic have prevented people from being able to take the measures that would allow them to effectively manage boundaries between the two roles under normal conditions (Fonner & Stache, 2012; Kossek et al., 2006). At the same time, the suddenness of remote working adoption made it difficult for organizations to adequately prepare managers to lead in a virtual work environment (Newman & Ford, 2019).

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