has become an increasingly
prevalent work arrangement in the U.S., but adoption has been somewhat slower
than originally predicted. In part, this may be linked to the assumption
that working remotely isolates employees and in turn may inhibit their development of a sense of
organizational identification, or feelings of belonging and attachment to the
organization. This is especially a concern related to employees teleworking the
majority of the time, as they are more removed from the daily face-to-face
interactions and organizational practices that are assumed to help shape a
sense of attachment to the organization and feelings of identity as an
employee. We conducted a research study that explored these issues and
challenged some of the inherent assumptions regarding teleworkers’
communication and their organizational identification.
Teleworkers use various modes of communication (e.g., email,
phone, instant messenger, videoconferencing, face-to-face) to remain connected
to their colleagues and manager. By communicating frequently with others,
teleworkers may experience positive and negative outcomes that affect their
organizational identification. Frequent communication may help teleworkers
establish a sense of closeness and
connection to others in their workplace interactions. However, frequent
communication may also generate stressful
interruptions and detract from the benefits of the remote work arrangement.
In our research study, we tested these potential outcomes of frequent
communication and analyzed their influence on teleworkers’ organizational identification.
We surveyed employees who regularly telework at least three days a week (teleworkers) and
compared their responses to those of employees who work alongside their
colleagues in an office or shared workspace at least three days a week (office
How is communication
related to feeling close to others in workplace interactions?
For teleworkers and
office workers, the benefits of frequent communication appear to be minimal.
For both groups, more frequent communication (using email, phone, instant
messenger, videoconferencing, and face-to-face modes) does not significantly
increase feelings of closeness with others.
In addition, working remotely does not hinder teleworkers’ sense of personal
connection with others. Although teleworkers were more reliant on all
forms of technology and less likely to communicate face-to-face compared to
office workers, both groups experienced similar levels of closeness with others in their
How is communication
related to feelings of stress?
Teleworkers’ frequent communication with others has distinct
disadvantages. The more teleworkers communicate with their colleagues and
manager using email, instant messenger, videoconferencing, and face-to-face
communication, the more they feel stressed due to interruptions. Rather than
feeling isolated, teleworkers may feel overly connected to their organizations.
Office workers also experience stress from interruptions
stemming from their face-to-face and email communication. Overall, phone
communication was not significantly related to feeling stress from
teleworkers’ sense of organizational
Feeling a sense of closeness with others during
workplace interactions helps teleworkers to feel more attached to their
organization. However, an even stronger relationship exists between
teleworkers’ level of stress from interruptions and their organizational
identification. When teleworkers experience stress due to interruptions, they
feel less attached to their organization.
The more teleworkers communicate with others (using
email, instant messenger, and face-to-face communication), the more stress they
experience due to interruptions, and the less they feel identified with their
First, contrary to common assumptions, more communication is not always
beneficial. Teleworkers who communicate more frequently with their colleagues
and manager do not feel a greater sense of closeness in their workplace
interactions, but experience increased stress from interruptions. Rather than
facilitating remote work, frequent communication appears more likely to detract
from the benefits of working away from the office.
Second, it is often assumed that working
remotely will isolate teleworkers, and that in turn they will experience
challenges forming an attachment to the organization. Our study counters these
assumptions. Our findings indicate that teleworkers’ feelings of organizational
identification diminish when they feel overly connected to, rather than
isolated from, others in the organization. When teleworkers are in frequent
contact with others, they experience stress from interruptions, which in turn
leads to a lower sense of organizational identification. Teleworkers’
attachment to the organization appears to be hindered by stressful
interruptions brought on by frequent communication with colleagues and
Third, teleworkers and
office workers may have different expectations and reactions related to
workplace communication. Although office workers experienced more stress from
interruptions compared to teleworkers, stress did not interfere with their
feelings of organizational identification as it did for teleworkers. Employees working primarily
in an office or shared workspace may expect or become immune to the effects of
ongoing communication. Conversely, as a part of the
remote work arrangement, teleworkers may expect a certain degree of autonomy,
flexibility, and time to work uninterrupted. To attain this, they may
anticipate less frequent communication with their colleagues and manager. When
these expectations are not met, teleworkers may begin to perceive fewer
benefits associated with being a part of the organization.
Teleworkers should proactively communicate with their colleagues and managers to set shared expectations
regarding levels of communication and connectivity. Often, teleworkers’
frustration stems from office workers’ tendency to overcommunicate
in an effort to ensure teleworkers are not being left out of the office
communication loop. Teleworkers may need to engage in boundary management in
order to prevent overcommunication and stressful interruptions from interfering
with their work. Whereas office workers may shut their office door or indicate
in other ways when they are not to be disturbed, teleworkers must find
alternative ways to communicate these boundaries. By proactively managing
communication expectations and setting boundaries, teleworkers may establish
productive work patterns with their colleagues that also enable them to avoid
stressful interruptions and to attain the benefits of their remote work
Organizations need to address the stress and
time pressure associated with the constant barrage of workplace communication.
For both teleworkers and office workers, several modes of communication were
associated with stress from interruptions. Organizations should promote
streamlined communication practices such as limiting mass emails, decreasing
the number of weekly meetings, creating information stores and other spaces
where employees can proactively access information, and fostering an
environment where employees can schedule uninterrupted time to work.