The Involuntary Office Exodus: A Qualitative Study of the Organisational Management of Challenges Arising from Involuntary Remote Work

Kristian Sørensen, Mikkel Macholm Jarner & Rasmus Jesper Jessen

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

COVID-19 has forced many white-collar workers to pack up their laptops, and work from home. Due to the sudden transition, several challenges have arisen. These events are unprecedented in modern times, and as such there is a clear research gap in the literature. While there is an abundance of studies on remote work, the context of the sudden, involuntary transition to working from home, is not covered. The objective of this study was to explore the organisational management of the challenges of involuntary remote work, and the impact that it has on employee satisfaction. In this context, the organisational management covered the overall response from both upper- and lower-level management, HR and in some cases individual employees. Employee satisfaction refers to the overall job satisfaction, based on Herzberg’s twofactor theory. Following the interpretive paradigm, a multiple case study was conducted of Codan, Mercedes-Benz and Naviair. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews, from a total of 17 individuals of varying backgrounds with one common denominator – they were all involuntarily working remotely. Our findings indicated that the individuals were faced with three challenges: a) worsened working conditions, b) reduced interpersonal relationships and c) lack of work-life balance. First, the general response to the worsened working conditions, was providing employees with the needed peripherals – this impacted their employee satisfaction positively. However, if the organisation made an offer that was perceived as unrealistic, such as having the employee pick up an adjustable desk from the office, it impacted the employee satisfaction negatively. Second, most firms introduced scheduled social interaction to satisfy the employee’s desire for purely social interaction. However, this did not sate the desire for casual interaction, or the ‘coffee chit-chat’. Mercedes-Benz addressed this by utilizing an IT-artefact, Jitsi, to recreate a ‘virtual open office’, positively impacting employee satisfaction. Third, there was a distinct lack of response from upper management and HR regarding the work-life balance. However, several employees implemented their own solutions, such as taking walks before and after work, to create a mental boundary. Initiatives like this helped prevent overwork and had a positive impact on employee satisfaction. In conclusion, this paper provides valuable insights to the challenges of the rapid transition to involuntary remote work, and the large impact of the organisational response on employee satisfaction.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Information Systems, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2021
Number of pages101
SupervisorsNicola Ens