Abrupt Transitions to Remote Work May Require Changes in Work Culture, Management

Written by: Gustavo Miranda, research scholar

In its latest monthly news bulletin, the Dubai HFTP Research and Innovation Center at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management explored the sudden and compulsory transition to remote work as a response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Dubai HFTP Research and Innovation Center at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management regularly publishes a news bulletin on the latest in hospitality trends. These bulletins can be found on PineappleSearch.

The benefit of a digital transformation and remote work, forced by unforeseen circumstances, might have a price if management does not transform their work culture.

Editor’s note: The following has been edited for HFTP Connect from the original, published format.

The decision to implement remote work in a company is usually done with a great deal of prior preparation and careful employee selection. The necessary tools would be prepared well in advance such as a VPN domain, digital security policies and employee preparedness.

However, the sudden necessity and enforcement of remote work dictated by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic did not allow for typical planning procedures. Rather, it was the product of imposed regulatory circumstances created by the need for social distancing — circumstances to which the hospitality industry was not accustomed.

Workers have had to stay at home, and if possible, work remotely. However, without the flexibility, the means for measuring productivity, and the methods for delivery, the result can lead to unavoidable frustration for both the employer and employee.

Expectations from management for the same type of work (if not more), paired with the pressure of layoffs, unpaid leave or reduced salaries, might quickly lead to significantly more resignations than your human resources staff can handle. Remote work can promote non work-related stress factors for management, increasing the time spent on coordination and dealing with ambiguity (Giberson and Miklos, 2013; Sewell and Taskin, 2015).

A company that adopts remote work and flexibility typically experiences reduced turnover (Hunton and Norman, 2010). However, these companies also have a corporate culture oriented for this style of work and have implemented key performance indicators (KPIs) that differ significantly from the typical “clock-in/clock-out” attitude adopted by most companies in hospitality. The absence of such management tools that can benefit the worker might lead to decreased productivity, with management then putting more pressure on employees instead of providing more work autonomy. Low autonomy at work combined with an additional workload, without taking into consideration factors like the absence of proper work tools, is a recipe for significant frustration.

Lack of understanding from management for the additional time that would allow unprepared workers to adapt to these sudden changes in circumstances might lead them to interpret this as a lack of productivity — while in fact, employees are simply struggling with working more hours, increased stress and increased pressure.

Remote work is usually associated with lower social contact and less quality in social relationships (Belle, Burley and Long, 2015), but hospitality employees are proud to have high social contact and might not be prepared for such isolation. Therefore, the forced isolation might lower their emotional stability. These factors can lead to increased strain when failing to meet increasing demands, and remote work, which is usually associated with positively impacting motivation and performance (Gajendran, Harrison and Delaney-Klinger, 2015) might actually be counterproductive.

A study conducted by Perry, Rubino and Hunter in 2018 showed that there is a decrease in exhaustion of workers when presented with an environment of high autonomy and high emotional stability (Figure 1). On the other hand, there is an increase in exhaustion in the absence of autonomy and emotional stability. Paired with a perception from management that employees who are working remotely might be in an extremely relaxed environment can lead to an impulsive increase in workload demand and hours, particularly in moments of increased economic pressure.

Figure 1: Work Exhaustion, Strain of Work Autonomy and Emotional Stability
(Perry, Rubino and Hunter, 2018)

From a management perspective, it is imperative to re-design and re-think work, even if temporarily — especially in regards to how the work is conducted and what is expected from workers. Since the choice for employees to work remotely was not by selection as had been typical of the past, the increased strain across all managerial levels might push skilled workers to the limit, while others who are left without guidance will enjoy free time, creating an imbalance of the workload across the company and departments.

The flexibility of remote work in companies is usually done with previous preparation and employee selection. Without that luxury today, management needs to lead in a very efficient manner to manage the company and their human capital. Otherwise, there is an increased chance for employee resignations that will inevitably result in a lack of workers for the future hospitality industry.

List of References

  • Perry, J. S. Rubino, C. and Hunter, E. (2018) Stress in remote work: two studies testing the Demand-Control-Person model. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27(5), pp. 577-593. DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2018.1487402 [Accessed 1 April 2012]
  • Belle, S. M., Burley, D. L., and Long, S. D. (2015) Where do I belong? High-intensity teleworkers’ experience of organizational belonging. Human Resource Development International, 18(1), pp. 76–96. DOI: 10.1080/13678868.2014.979006 [Accessed 28 March 2012]
  • Gajendran, R. S., Harrison, D. A., and Delaney-Klinger, K. (2015) Are telecommuters remotely good citizens? Unpacking telecommuting’s effects on performance via I-deals and job resources. Personnel Psychology, 68, pp. 353–393. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/peps.12082 [Accessed 1 April 2012]
  • Giberson, T., and Miklos, S. (2013) Weighing in on telecommuting. TIP: The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 51(2), pp. 163–166. Available from: https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/TIP [Accessed 28 March 2012]
  • Sewell, G. and Taskin, L. (2015) Out of sight, out of mind in a new world of work? Autonomy, control, and spatiotemporal scaling in telework. Organization Studies, 36(11), pp. 1507–1529. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840615593587 [Accessed 28 March 2012]
  • Hunton, J. E. and Norman, C. S. (2010) The impact of alternative telework arrangements on organizational commitment: Insights from a longitudinal field experiment. Journal of Information Systems, 24(1), pp. 67–90. DOI: https://aaapubs.org/doi/pdf/10.2308/jis.2010.24.1.67 [Accessed 1 April 2012]
  • Perry, S. J., Rubino, C. and Hunter, M. E. (2018) Stress in remote work: two studies testing the Demand-Control-Person model. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27(5), pp. 577-593. DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2018.1487402 [Accessed on 2 April 2020]

Gustavo Miranda is a research associate for the Dubai HFTP Research and Innovation Center, overseen by the HFTP Foundation.

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