Social relations on the workplace in the age of teleworking
mardi 9 mars 2021 à 04:00
Long periods of teleworking can disrupt social relations within firms. Usually, working from home pays off in terms of employee’s satisfaction, but doing so for a long time can erode relationships, and threaten firms’ culture. Social relations help keeping together a firm and facilitate its activity. Firms’ bottom-up initiatives to maintain employees engaged and nurture their sense of belonging in troubled times show the importance of social relations for firms’ success.
Numerous studies and successful firms indicate that satisfied and engaged employees are key to firms’ success. Cooperating with others to reach a common goal, having clear roles, the right tools, the opportunity to contribute ideas, and feeling in control and responsible for one’s work are some of the ingredients of job satisfaction, engagement, and constitute the intangible backbone of a company. Work relations can be extremely difficult, time-consuming, nerve-wrecking and expensive in a conflictual environment characterized by mutual distrust. Creating a community of people, rather than a collection of human resources, pays back in terms of quality of outcomes, problem solving, cooperation, less conflicts, absenteeism, and turnover. In short, a number of intangible, and often neglected, aspects of production that contribute to firms’ productivity, competitiveness, customer satisfaction, and partly explains firms’ rise and fall.
In 2019, nearly 20% of workers in Luxembourg were, to some extent, working from home. This number arguably exploded in 2020 because of policies to contain the spread of Covid-19. Figures from the Joint Research Center of the European Union indicate that more than half of the workers who started teleworking since Covid-19 had no prior experience with working from home. The effects of nearly exclusive and unprecedented periods of teleworking on the work environment are not clear yet. Preliminary figures from Belgium provide mixed results : on one hand, teleworkers report more job satisfaction, efficiency in performing tasks, work-life balance, concentration and less work-related stress and chances of burnout ; on the other hand, they also perceive less chances to be promoted, to develop, and they feel less connected with their employer, and colleagues.
Thus, concerns about preserving social relations during prolonged periods of teleworking are fully justified. In times of physical distancing, the initiatives to keep employees engaged and support their sense of belonging relied on internet or focused on improving the working conditions at home. Some firms ensured the material comfort of workers at home ; others provided online services to entertain children, while the parents work remotely, or psychological support ; and many others offered a variety of online services : virtual coffee time and lunches, regular team meet-ups, webinars, access to libraries, meditation courses and online training. It is early to say whether the firms who adopted these solutions managed to preserve their social relations better than others. However, it is clear that many realized that social relations constitute a real competitive advantage on today’s market.
Francesco SARRACINO, Ph.D., Economist, Statec Research Division
 The report is available here : https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/jrcsh/files/jrc120945_policy_brief_-_covid_and_telework_final.pdf.
 The working paper is available here : https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3596696.
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