The Impact of Job Need for Human Proximity and Communication Technologies on Remote Work Efficacy
31 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 17, 2020
Media reports and large-scale surveys have documented significant heterogeneity in employees’ experience with COVID-19 necessitated remote work arrangements. Prior academic research is limited in the extent to which it can account for this heterogeneity because (1) it has evaluated effects of remote work on workers and organizations that have self-selected into remote work arrangements, and (2) has paid little attention to the role that job characteristics play in determining the impact of remote work. This research note overcomes these limitations and explicates factors that account for the diverse impacts of remote work arrangements. We utilize the context of exogenously imposed remote work arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic to evaluate whether effects of remote work on employee outcomes differ systematically based on the extent to which employees’ work-related tasks are characterized by the need for human proximity (NHP) and whether the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have differential impacts on employee outcomes in low and high NHP jobs. Analysis of a multi-source dataset consisting of NHP scores for 107 job types estimated before the COVID-19 induced country-wide lockdown in India (N=3,099) and a survey of employees’ experience working remotely conducted during the lockdown (N=403) reveals that employees working in jobs that entail high NHP are both less productive and experience greater isolation than those working in jobs with low NHP. Although the use of videoconferencing technologies compensates for the relatively lower productivity of employees in jobs with high NHP, it doesn’t similarly reduce the extent to which they experience isolation. These findings generate several important implications for organizational and governmental policy and make important theoretical and methodological contributions to prior research on remote work.
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