«They say things are happening at the border, but nobody knows which border» (Mark Strand)
by Pamela Palmi – Marco Pichierri – M. Irene Prete
Abstract: Despite the increasing attention to remote working – i.e., the possibility for employees to work outside their main office supported by technological connections and devices – due to the worldwide emergency related to the spread of COVID-19, there is currently a shortage of studies related to this phenomenon in the Italian context. This research aims to shed light on the remote working modality, investigating its possible impact on current job satisfaction, as well as the role of prior experience with this modality in affecting employees’ judgements related to job productivity and personal benefits. The research also examines possible motivations for future remote working adoption in order to attain further comprehension on the phenomenon from an employee’s perspective. Theoretical and managerial implications for organizations are also discussed.
Summary: 1. Introduction – 2. Theoretical background and context – 3. Hypotheses development – 4. Method – 5. Results – 6. General discussion – 7. Conclusions – References.
Within the current social discussion, the COVID-19 emergency has brought out themes like “smart working”, “agile working”, “remote working”, and “teleworking”. A quick glance on the amount of resources on the Internet, examined through Google Trends, shows a rising interest on these terms starting from February 2020, at the time when the news related to the contagion in Italy started spreading. However, the first example of flexible working comes from Jack Nilles, who worked remotely on the design of space vehicles and communication systems for NASA and the U.S. Air Force. He introduced the term “telecommuting” (Belanger, 1999; Nilles, 1975, 1988) and, after that, the option to work far from one’s office has developed into what is called remote working, also known as telework, anywhere work, and virtual work. Remote working can be defined as work tasks that are carried out outside the employee’s organizational office by making use of various technologies to communicate with colleagues and customers (Collins et al., 2016). This concept is strictly linked to “flexible working”, an option provided by the organization to allow employees to devise their own schedule and location to get their work completed (Bentley et al., 2016).
Compared with other countries, the practice of remote working has been extremely scarce in Italy, thus occupying the bottom position among the 28 European countries as a percentage of employees doing telework/ICT-mobile work across various locations (home, office or another location) (Eurofound, 2017). A hasty change has been determined by the spread of the COVID-19 emergency, which required social isolation and, consequently, severe restrictions on movements and a lockdown of productive activities.
All of the above occurred in the midst of an unprecedented systemic crisis, which distraught the real economy and redesigned the power relationships throughout the threads of the global value chain, yielding unprecedented pitfalls on the way to work. As part of the measures adopted by the Italian Government for the containment and management of the epidemiological emergency from COVID-19, the President of the Council of Ministers issued on March 1 2020 a Decree that intervenes on how to access smart working, also confirmed by the Decree of March 4 2020. As indicated in the Prime Minister Decree of 11 March 2020, it was recommended that organizations should make maximum use of agile working methods for activities that could be carried out at home, or remotely. According to the same Decree, “agile work” (or smart working) is a mode of execution of subordinate employment relationships characterized by the absence of hourly or spatial constraints, as well as an organization by phases, cycles and objectives, established by an agreement between the employee and the employer. It is a modality that helps workers reconcile life and working times and, by the same token, encourage the growth of one’s productivity. The definition of smart working, envisaged by the Italian Law no. 81/2017, focuses on organizational flexibility, on the voluntariness of parties who sign the individual agreement, and on the use of equipment that allows remote working (such as portable PCs, tablets, and smartphones).
With the lockdown and reorganization of many production activities, millions of workers have experienced new ways of working, communicating and producing. Despite this growth, very little is known about the organizational effects of remote working in the Italian context. Existing literature, which mainly consists of case studies, management surveys and descriptive analyses, does not allow to appropriately identify the boundaries and effects of this phenomenon (Angelici and Profeta, 2020; Errichiello and Pianese, 2019; Neri, 2017). This paper fills this research gap and provides more insights on its main management antecedents and consequences.
The purpose of this research is three-fold. First, it aims at shedding light on the use of smart working and, specifically, on the use of the remote working mode, during the COVID-19 pandemic disease, investigating its possible impact on employees’ perceptions (i.e., current job satisfaction). To this aim, the research takes into account possible antecedents such as the attitude toward this way of working and the number of hours spent in remote working due to the COVID-19 emergency, as well as the level of satisfaction with the current working activity. Second, the research investigates the role of prior experience with this modality in affecting employees’ judgements related to work productivity (i.e., self-assessed work effectiveness and efficiency) and personal benefits (i.e., self-assessed well-being and work-life balance). Third, it examines the factors that lie behind future remote working solutions by employees, investigating the impact of the number of hours worked in remote working due to the emergency, of the previous experience of remote working, of the attitude toward this working method, of satisfaction with the current working activity on the intention to reuse this way of working in the future.
This study is structured as follows. The first section describes the theoretical context in which the remote working phenomenon has its roots, reviewing the role of digital transformation on knowledge management and organizational processes. The second section briefly reviews some of the studies that previously investigated remote working and proceeds with research hypotheses, which link remote working to job satisfaction, investigate the role of prior experience with this modality, and examine the possible factors behind the employees’ intention to adopt it in the future. To these ends, the third section describes the methodology and the results of a preliminary study carried out with a sample of Italian remote workers. Then, a fourth section discusses the main findings emerging from the study, relating them with extant literature on the topic, thus drawing practical implications for organizations. Finally, a closing section offers some conclusions and discusses the possible limitations of this research.
2. Theoretical background and context
Several studies in the organizational field (e.g., Palmi et al., 2019; Reischauer, 2018; Roiko, 2017; Stock and Seliger, 2016) have underlined how the pervasive digital transformation, if properly managed, represents an opportunity for companies to address problems and create value, thanks to the close human-machine interaction. However, this opportunity could also derive from the response to the challenge of rethinking a new way of working, with a request to manage the redesign of corporate structures and processes, during this particular period of recession and crisis (Kane et al., 2016).
Knowledge Management methods and the tools through which work practices are accomplished have changed radically over the last decade (see Hamel, 2012; Palmi et al., 2019). Successful organizations are increasingly characterized by the ability to eliminate inappropriate working configurations (Birkinshaw et al., 2008) and embrace new organizational principles, such as emerging collaboration (Vlaar et al., 2008), autonomy in the choices of work settings (Leonardi and Balley, 2008), talent enhancement, responsibility and widespread innovation (Hamel, 2007), and innovation in competence management (Palmi et al., 2019). Furthermore, prior research shows that the generation of value within the corporate domain is no longer linked to the implementation of business models (McGrath, 2013) but, rather, to the way employees interpret, adapt, and customize them, and this appears to be particularly true in competitive or highly critical contexts (Brown and Eisenhardt, 1998).
In this view, it is reasonable to state that inappropriate organizational models may have a negative impact on business results, neglecting the employees’ potential for innovation and creativity (Oksanen and Stähle, 2013). Therefore, an increasing number of companies, especially during crisis times, are rethinking traditional organizational models, thus encouraging new working approaches, such as smart working (see Raguseo et al., 2015). Smart working is defined as “an approach to organising work that aims to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness in achieving job outcomes through a combination of flexibility, autonomy and collaboration, in parallel with optimising tools and working environments for employees” (CIPD, 2008, p. 4). This concept is particularly meaningful in the light of Industry 4.0, a paradigm that includes a new approach to organization and changes in traditional, centralized control structures in favor of decentralized ones (Prause and Weigand, 2016) thanks to the new tools made available by technology (Holland and Bardoel, 2016). This revolution is changing traditional views of time and workspace (see Harvey, 2010): work becomes ever more intelligent, agile, with real-time feedback supporting development and motivation (Sonnentag et al., 2008). Additionally, technological changes also modify the same boundaries of the organization, re-conceptualizing the new way of working as intelligent or “smart” (Howcroft and Taylor, 2014). As Ahuja and colleagues (2007) argued, the development and dissemination of digital technologies – in particular those supporting communication, collaboration and social networks – together with the pervasive spread of mobile devices, all concur to supporting organizations in developing an intelligent work system.
While some studies have analyzed how ICTs have made work more flexible and ubiquitous when compared to the past (e.g., Yoo et al., 2010), there is still a lack of comprehensive understanding and empirical evidence in the Italian context with regard to the remote working phenomenon. Although according to some authors remote working is becoming an increasingly popular research topic (e.g., Wilkinson and Jarvis, 2011) with possible benefits for organizations (e.g., cost reduction, Dowling, 2012), there is currently a shortage of studies related to this modality as applied to the Italian context, probably due to its scarce diffusion (e.g., across all job sectors). Some attempts have tried to offer a critical viewpoint (Neri, 2017), examining models and contingent aspects that impact its adoption across Italian companies (Neirotti et al., 2011) as well as the role of smart work centers (Errichiello and Pianese, 2019). A recent experiment investigates the role of smart working flexibility on productivity, well-being and work-life balance (Angelici and Profeta, 2020), although neglecting the role of prior experience and the main determinants that could influence the remote workers’ intention to adopt home working in the future.
However, the new scenario imposed by the COVID-19 emergency represents a huge opportunity for organizations and HRM, especially considering new governmental measures that do not allow physical proximity. Thus, a further understanding of the phenomenon might foster the diffusion of remote working modality, which could be associated with the creation and implementation of innovative digital methods, as well as ground-breaking managerial structures and processes (e.g., Bondarouk and Brewster, 2016).
3. Hypotheses development
The emergence and massive adoption of remote working has a significant impact not only on organizations and their managerial systems, but also on individual workers. The current academic literature has provided findings on the impact of employees’ working conditions on organizational consequences, such as, for instance, individuals’ job satisfaction, performance and well-being (Orhan et al., 2016).
A number of studies investigated the influence of flexible working on employees’ satisfaction. While some studies underlined the occurrence of stressful consequences (e.g., Curzi et al., 2020; Suh and Lee, 2017), most results showed a positive relationship between remote working and a greater level of employees’ satisfaction (Bentley et al., 2016; Coenen and Kok, 2014; Felstead and Henseke, 2017; Göçer et al., 2018; Morrison and Macky, 2017; Vega et al., 2014).
As major findings of remote working provide empirical evidence of a greater level of job satisfaction, it is plausible to hypothesize the following:
H1a: Worked hours in remote working positively influence the current job satisfaction.
Furthermore, as prior evidence in the literature related to technological acceptance suggests the crucial role of the individuals’ attitude – i.e., “a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor” (Eagly and Chaiken, 1993, p. 1) – in explaining technology use (e.g., Yang and Yoo, 2004), and several models and theories in the consumer behavior domain (e.g., Oliver, 1999; Shuv-Ami, 2012) suggest that attitude affects subsequent satisfaction, it is advanced that:
H1b: Attitudes toward remote working positively influence the current job satisfaction.
Theories related to learning suggest that previous experience with technology tend to affect satisfaction (e.g., Hung et al., 2009). Thus, it is reasonable to investigate the role of prior experience with remote working in the subsequent employees’ perceptions. Indeed, when changing to remote working, adopters could suffer a disruption, due to the lack of face-to-face interaction, in terms of difficulties in communications, change in social relations, and achievement recognition (Zhang, 2016). However, due to the COVID-19 emergency, all citizens were obliged to adopt social distancing and stay isolated: away from workplaces, relatives, friends, and support systems. Since all workers could have some benefits in terms of time and money saved while working from home and not commuting to the workplaces (He and Hu, 2015), it is reasonable to hypothesize that, in terms of current job satisfaction, first-time remote workers do not experience a difference if compared with experienced workers. Thus, it is posited that:
H2a: Experienced and first-time remote workers have a similar level of current job satisfaction.
With regards to productivity, a number of studies have investigated the impact of remote working on employees’ performance, showing mixed findings. For instance, in a review on this theme, de Menezes and Kelliher (2011) found indications that remote working may positively influence work performance, but any association differs on the nature of remote working, as well as on employees’ perceptions. To maintain or boost performance, it is indeed crucial to modify or fine-tune organizational systems, procedures, methods and practices (McKinsey, 2020); however, at the beginning of the pandemic emergency, most organizations within the Italian context were forced to adopt social distancing and were thus not well organized to shift to remote working. Therefore, it is reasonable to hypothesize that experienced remote workers tend to report higher levels of perception of work effectiveness and efficiency in comparison with first-time remote workers, probably due to their greater familiarity with this working mode:
H2b: Experienced remote workers have a higher level of perception of work effectiveness and efficiency in comparison with first-time remote workers.
Although some studies (Charalampous et al., 2019) have evidenced certain negative facets of remote working, such as social and professional isolation, the majority of empirical findings related to well-being revealed a positive association between remote working and employees’ health (see Tavares, 2017, for a review). Several studies reported that telecommuters may benefit from this work opportunity, showing higher levels of health-related variables and, moreover, workers who remotely spent a significant amount of time per month were considerably less likely to experience depression than traditional in-office workers (Henke et al., 2015). Concerning work-life balance, while some studies have shown negative outcomes, for example in terms of family-work conflict, depression, and one’s partner overall satisfaction with life (Kossek et al. 2006; Lapierre and Allen, 2006; Ordoñez, 2012; Vittersø et al., 2003), the majority of studies proved evidence of the advantages of remote working. It has a beneficial impact on income and out-of-home activities (He and Hu, 2015), provides autonomy and flexibility for people to carry out free time activities, facilitates their family duties and the overall organization of household responsibilities (Allen, 2001; Ammons and Markham, 2004; Crosbie and Moore, 2004; Gajendran and Harrison, 2007; Hilbrechtet al., 2008; Hill et al., 2003). As remote workers may benefit from this working mode, regardless of their prior experience with this modality, it is reasonable to hypothesize that experienced and first-time remote workers may have similar, high levels of well-being and work-life balance. Thus, it is advanced that:
H2c: Experienced and first-time remote workers have a similar level of well-being and work-life balance.
The pandemic emergency has imposed on companies and institutions to reduce or, in many cases, eliminate the number of in-office workers. Despite the massive use of remote working during the COVID-19 lockdown, it is necessary to verify the factors that could induce or hinder the intention to adopt this type of working mode in the future. Following the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991), it is plausible to hypothesize that the attitude toward remote working, and past behavior (i.e., the number of hours worked in remote working, as well as the previous experience with remote working) positively influence the intention to adopt remote working in the future. Furthermore, since prior literature in the domain of technology acceptance links satisfaction with the users’ continuance intention (Roca et al., 2006), it is posited that:
H3: The number of hours worked in remote working, previous experience with it, attitudes toward remote working and the existing job satisfaction, all positively influence the intention to adopt this modality in the future.
In the following sections, the adopted methodology, as well as the results obtained from an online-based questionnaire administered to a sample of Italian participants, will be presented and explained in detail in order to test the above illustrated research hypotheses.
Two hundred fifty-five Italian participants (Mage = 37.36 yrs.; 45% females), who were currently carrying out their working activity through remote working, agreed to complete an online-based questionnaire. After reading a brief introduction, in a first section of the questionnaire participants were asked whether they had already experienced forms of remote working before the COVID-19 emergency, and were asked to rate their attitude toward this modality on a single 7-point Likert scale (Not useful at all/Very useful). Participants were subsequently asked whether they plan to work in the future using remote working (if available) on one 7-point Likert scale (Definitely not/Definitely yes).
In a second section, participants were asked to briefly think about their current working activity and to self-evaluate their productivity. Specifically, they were asked to rate their self-perceived work effectiveness and their self-perceived work efficiency on two 7-point Likert scales (Very low/Very high) using two items adapted from Angelici and Profeta (2020) (“How do you rate your capacity to achieve assigned goals”; “How do you rate your capacity to achieve assigned goals within an appropriate time”). Then, participants were asked to state the average number of daily working hours that, due to the Covid-19 emergency, they were currently carrying out via remote working.
In a third section of the questionnaire, participants were thus asked to report their overall satisfaction with their current job on a 7-point Likert scale (Not at all/Very much), as well as the degree of organizational commitment and the level of moral responsibility toward their organization using two 7-point Likert scales (Not at all/Very much) (“How attached do you feel to the organization in which you work?”; “Do you feel a sense of moral responsibility toward the organization in which you work?”).
Then, in a fourth section of the questionnaire, participants were asked to provide a self-assessed measure of their current well-being, along with an evaluation of their current work-life balance through two 7-point Likert scales (Not at all/Very much) developed by Angelici and Profeta (2020) (“Overall, are you satisfied with your working hours and with how they match your private life?”; “Do you feel able to balance your work with your personal and family life?”).
Lastly, participants provided data regarding their gender, age, education and job sector (e.g., whether they worked in public administrations or private companies).
Key sample demographics of the participants are shown in Table 1.
Table n. 1 – Key sample demographics
|Prior experience with remote working|
|Public Administration (%)||15.7|
Note: Mean age of the whole sample: 37.36 years (SD = 12.51).
In order to investigate the impact of the attitude toward remote working and the number of daily hours spent in remote working due to the COVID-19 emergency on individuals’ current job satisfaction, a multiple linear regression was conducted. The total variance explained by the model as a whole was 19%, F(2, 252) = 30.06, p < .001. Regression model estimates (Table 2) show that the attitude toward remote working (β = .41; p < .001) positively affects individuals’ current job satisfaction, thus supporting H1b. Additionally, the number of daily hours worked in remote mode due to the COVID-19 emergency positively influences individuals’ current job satisfaction (β = .12; p < .05). Hence, H1a was supported.
Table n. 2 – Regression analysis summary for variables predicting current job satisfaction
|Attitude toward remote working||.41||.06||.40||6.93||.000|
|Number of daily hours spent in remote working due to the COVID-19 emergency||.09||.05||.12||1.99||.047|
Note: R2 = .20 (N = 255, p< .001).
To verify whether possible differences in terms of current job satisfaction, productivity perceptions (i.e., self-perceived work effectiveness and self-perceived work efficiency), as well as in terms of well-being and work-life balance between workers who already had previous experience of remote working and those who approach it for the first time, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was performed. Results of the analysis yielded a statistically significant difference between groups on the combined dependent variables (F(5, 249) = 4.43, p < .01, Wilks’ Lambda = 0.92; partial eta squared = 0.08). When the results for the dependent variables were considered individually, the only differences that reached statistical significance were self-perceived work effectiveness (F(1, 253) = 18.44, p < .001, partial eta squared = 0.07) and self-perceived work efficiency (F(1, 253) = 13.55, p < .001, partial eta squared = 0.05). A closer inspection to the mean scores indicated that individuals who already had previous experience of remote working reported higher levels of self-perceived work effectiveness (M =5.92, SD = .87) and self-perceived work efficiency (M =5.73, SD = 1.03) than those who declared to approach it for the first time (self-perceived work efficacy: M =5.30, SD = 1.19; self-perceived work efficiency: M =5.13, SD = 1.33). Thus H2b was supported.
No significant univariate effect was found, instead, for current job satisfaction (p = .064), with experienced (M = 5.49, SD= 1.26) and first-time remote workers (M = 5.16, SD= 1.40) displaying high and similar levels of the examined variable (supporting H2a). Finally, no significant univariate effects were found for workers’ well-being (p = .699), nor for their work-life balance (p = .749), with experienced and first-time remote workers reporting similar level of the aforementioned variables (well-being: MExperienced =4.91, SDExperienced = 1.59; MFirstTime =4.83, SD FirstTime = 1.52; work-life balance: MExperienced =5.16, SDExperienced = 1.34; MFirstTime =5.23, SD FirstTime = 1.48). Therefore, H2c was supported.
Mean scores and standard deviations for measures related to all the dependent variables are shown in Table 3.
Table n. 3 – Means and standard deviations for measures of current job satisfaction, self-assessed productivity (effectiveness and efficiency), well-being and work-life balance as a function of prior experience with remote working
|Prior exp. with remote working||Satisfaction||Effectiveness||Efficiency||Well-being||Work-life balance|
Note: NYes = 89; NNo = 166.
Finally, in order to assess the linear predictors of the individuals’ intention to adopt remote working in the future, a second multiple regression was carried out. In the model, the number of daily hours spent in remote working due to COVID-19 emergency, the previous experience with remote working, the attitude toward this this modality, and the individuals’ existing job satisfaction were entered as independent variables. The model also included as possible predictors the individual commitment and the feeling of moral responsibility toward the organization.
The total variance explained by the model as a whole was 40%, F(6, 248) =27.15, p < .001. An inspection to the regression model estimates (Table 4) show that the best single predictor of the intention to reuse remote working is the individual’s attitude toward this modality (β = .50; p < .001). Furthermore, previous experience with remote working (β = .16; p < .01) and, with a lesser extent, individuals’ current job satisfaction (β = .15; p < .05), positively affect participants’ intention to adopt remote working in the future. There is also a positive association between the number of daily hours spent in remote working due to the COVID-19 emergency (β = .11; p < .05) and participants’ intention to reuse remote working. Hence, H3 was supported. However, neither the individual commitment toward the organization (β = – .11; p = .16), nor the perception of moral responsibility toward it (β = – .03; p = .65) significantly affect the intention to adopt remote working in the future.
Table n. 4 – Regression analysis summary for variables predicting participants’ intention to adopt remote working in the future
|Previous experience with remote working||.65||.20||.16||3.23||.001|
|Number of daily hours spent in remote working due to the COVID-19 emergency||.12||.06||.11||2.14||.033|
|Attitude toward remote working||.71||.08||.50||8.99||.000|
|Current job satisfaction||.21||.09||.15||2.23||.026|
|Commitment toward the organization||–.14||.10||–.11||–1.41||.159|
|Perception of moral responsibility toward the organization||–.05||.11||–.03||–.453||.651|
Note: R2 = .40 (N = 255, p< .001).
6. General Discussion
This research helps shedding light on the remote working modality in the Italian context, investigating its possible effect on employees’ perception (i.e., current job satisfaction), as well as the role of prior experience with this modality and the factors behind future remote working adoption by employees. To this end, an online-based survey was administered to a sample of 255 Italian participants who were experiencing this working mode during the COVID-19 emergency.
Firstly, results show that workers’ attitude toward remote working influences their current job satisfaction. This evidence is aligned with prior literature in the context of technology acceptance: for instance, Ho (2010) found that the attitude toward an electronic platform (i.e., its perceived usefulness) positively affects individuals’ satisfaction with it. Additionally, results showed that the number of hours spent in remote working positively influence the current job satisfaction. This result is in line with prior works in the human research management field, showing a positive relationship between flexible working and job quality (Kelliher and Anderson, 2008). Additionally, if the amount of time spent working remotely appears to be associated with job satisfaction, organizations should encourage the adoption of this modality, as it may bring benefits to employees in terms of satisfaction, which has been related by prior literature in the organizational field to reduced turnover intentions and higher levels of retention (e.g., De Ruyter et al., 2001). Moreover, if a positive attitude toward this modality influences job satisfaction, organizations should strive to enhance employees’ perceptions related to remote working (e.g., promoting communications that highlight the beneficial effects of this modality to the workers).
Secondly, results show that prior experience with remote working does not significantly influence current job satisfaction. Specifically, experienced and first-time remote workers showed high and similar levels of current job satisfaction. This result seems to exclude the impact of prior experience with remote working on participants’ current job satisfaction, suggesting that both groups of workers received benefits from this modality. However, the high mean values related to current job satisfaction for the two groups are in line with the stream of research supporting the positive relationship between telecommuting and job satisfaction (e.g., Belanger, 1999; Norman et al., 1995). Again, this result could encourage organizations to implement remote working modalities. Regardless of their prior experience with the modality, either they had the opportunity to work remotely because forced by law (during the pandemic emergency) or because facilitated by the organization in which they worked, employees appreciated this opportunity and considered it a useful option, as they reported to be satisfied with their current job.
Instead, experienced remote workers reported higher levels of perceptions of job effectiveness and efficiency in comparison with first-time remote workers. This result appears to be in line with what suggested by Staples and colleagues (1998), who surmised that more experience and training in remote working lead individuals to report higher judgments of self-efficacy when evaluating their capability to work remotely. In this vein, organizations should foster the diffusion of remote working modalities, as prior experience with them may lead to higher productivity perceptions, which are likely to be due to a greater familiarity with the working mode. Furthermore, although this finding is based on self-reported evaluations, it is worth to notice that perceptions of self-efficacy appear to be associated with performance (e.g., Parker, 1998).
Additionally, no significant differences in terms of self-assessed well-being and work-life balance were found between participants with prior experience with remote working and those who approached it for the first time. This result seems to suggest that both experienced and first-time workers had similar benefits in terms of personal well-being and work-life balance, regardless of their prior experience with the remote working modality. As both groups reported high values for the examined variables (mean values around 5), organizations should not neglect the possible beneficial effects of remote working in terms of how employees perceive it affects their personal lives.
Finally, findings show that the number of daily hours spent in remote working and the previous experience with this modality significantly affect individuals’ intention to adopt remote working in the future. This evidence finds support in the role of past behavior in influencing behavioral intention since, as remarked by the psychological literature (e.g., Bamberg et al., 2003), frequency of past behavior is an indicator of habit strength, and a capable predictor of later action. Taken together, these results highlight the need for organizations to enhance the diffusion of remote working among their workforce, as a more frequent use of it may break down potential barriers (e.g., by increasing workers’ knowledge) and foster its future adoption when necessary.
Furthermore, the individuals’ intention to adopt remote working in the future is also influenced by their attitude toward remote working, and this finding appears to be in line with prior research investigating the role of attitudinal factors in influencing individual decisions to telecommute (e.g., Mokhtarian and Salomon, 1997).
Lastly, an individual’s intention to adopt remote working in the future is also influenced by current job satisfaction. This finding relates the extent to which people like their job activities (cf., Spector, 1997) with the intention to re-adopt the remote working modality, and adds to prior literature in the organizational field, which associate job satisfaction to several workers’ behavioral intention (e.g., turnover intention, Huang, 2011). With this in mind, organizations should carefully monitor workers’ rate of satisfaction with remote working, in order to keep it high and resolve any problems that could, instead, hinder the future adoption of it.
A disruptive external event, such as the spread of COVID-19, is accelerating, especially in Italy, the adoption of remote working as the only way for organizations to continue their activity and survive. Despite the growing attention on the phenomenon, current scientific knowledge on the topic appears to be scarce, leaving organizations devoid of useful information on this working modality.
To this aim, this research attempts to shed light on the remote work modality, investigating its possible impact on current job satisfaction, as well as the role of prior related experience and the possible motivations for future remote working adoption.
Considering results as a whole, organizations should encourage the adoption of remote working modality, as it may bring benefits to employees in terms of satisfaction, perceived productivity (both effectiveness and efficacy), and personal benefits (in terms of well-being and work-life balance). From an employee’s perspective, the current overall job satisfaction, as well as the perceptions of well-being and work-life balance, all appear to be high regardless of prior experience with remote working, thus suggesting the usefulness of this modality for all workers. The need to foster the diffusion of remote working is also supported by the evidence that prior personal experience with it may lead to higher judgments of job productivity and encourage its future adoption by workers.
Therefore, results of this study offer useful insights in order to gain a more fine-grained comprehension on the phenomenon from employees’ perspective, providing organizations with preliminary evidence that could assist them in implementing effective remote working applications.
However, as this study only offers preliminary evidence gathered from the Italian context, future research on the topic is obviously needed to add more robust evidence. For instance, it should be acknowledged that, unlike previous studies, participants to this research were forced to work remotely due to the COVID-19 emergency and were thus not free to choose remote working as an option.
It should also be acknowledged that this study only took into account a limited set of aspects related to remote working, and only considering the employees’ perspective. Thus, future studies could investigate the potential impact of other factors neglected herein (e.g., the lack of traditional social interaction that may be suffered by workers) and examine in depth the corresponding employers and teams’ perspectives of the phenomenon. This could lead the organizational transition from a first “forced” remote working instance to a real smart working model, which also requires a transformation of managerial models and the organizational culture.
In this vein, the COVID-19 emergency indeed represents a valuable test of organizational robustness and resilience. Companies and public administrations that had already introduced smart working models probably had many benefits, absorbing the discontinuity with greater easiness, resulting surprisingly more prepared and resilient. Within these organizations, in fact, workers might have already had the tools, skills, culture and resources to work effectively outside the traditional office. Although the emergency forced organizations and people to complete in a few weeks paths of learning and awareness that in normal conditions would have taken years, many workers have learnt the use of innovative collaboration tools, administering their efforts across remote teams through a multiplicity of digital tools. Managers and workers, once skeptical of the application of remote working activities, have probably realized that many of them – traditionally and up to that moment carried out in-office – could be carried out remotely through digital tools, with equal or superior efficacy.
Following what Mann (2012) underlines, the implementation of smart working models should pursue several gradual steps: introducing advanced solutions based on ICT; innovating human resources practices and organizational models; and, finally, reconfiguring the workplace. In this perspective, remote working could represent a first step in move to re-organize processes, the workplace and work models which might guide companies, public administrations and society as a whole toward the development of smart working environments.
It is therefore crucial that people and organizations learn, once more, that responding quickly to change may represent the most important solution to effectively relaunch our personal and working lives: fostering remote working by helping workers and organizations to implement it could aptly be the smart move for organizations and policymakers.
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