The development of new technologies provides opportunities for businesses to introduce various innovations. In recent months, the concept of remote work has become particularly popular due to various lockdown measures introduced by governments all over the globe to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many companies have implemented work-from-home regimes, which enabled their employees to stay safe while still performing their duties (Brynjolfsson et al., 2020; Gottlieb, Grobovšek and Poshke, 2020). Japan Tobacco International is a cigarette manufacturer that includes brands like Camel, Winston, and Glamour. With many branches across the globe, the company responded to the pandemic promptly by making work-from-home arrangements for most employees (Nadych-Petrenko, 2020). The present research project focuses on JTI’s case and considers the innovative practice of remote work.
Research into remote work has started with the development of telecommunication technologies in the late 20th century. Since then, many researchers focused on the benefits and disadvantages of such arrangements for workers and companies, as well as on potential barriers to remote work. For this literature review, articles on remote work and telework were included as these concepts are commonly used interchangeably in modern research.
First of all, research generally recognizes the fact that employees value flexible working arrangements, including remote work. For example, a study by Mas and Pallais (2017) found that, on average, employees were willing to give up 8% of their salaries to have an option of working from home. This is likely because remote work is perceived as more comfortable – employees do not need to dress up, travel to and from work, and can take breaks when needed rather than waiting for lunchtime (Mas and Pallais, 2017). There are also other perceived benefits of such arrangements, both for employees and employers. Employees who work remotely benefit from higher levels of job satisfaction and job-related well-being (Felestead and Henseke, 2017). Research has suggested that women with young children who work from home are less prone to depression (Shepherd-Banigan et al., 2016). Companies can also experience advantages, including higher levels of workers’ organizational commitment (Felestead and Henseke, 2017). Furthermore, based on an experiment in China, employees who work from home show a productivity increase of about 13%, which is attributed to the lower number of breaks and sick days and the minimization of disruptions (Bloom et a., 2013). Consequently, remote work arrangements are perceived as lucrative by employees, and many employers offer them as part of workers’ benefits.
Still, research has also shown many disadvantages to remote working arrangements, which affect both parties. Among employees, those working from home are at a higher risk of being unable to ‘switch off from their work, and thus experience higher levels of stress, burnout, and associated issues (Bathini and Kandathil, 2015; Bentley et al., 2016; Felstead and Henseke, 2017; Weinert, Maier and Laumer, 2015). This can affect the psychological aspects of employee well-being and cause decreased performance if the issue persists. Additionally, employees working remotely often suffer from the lack of face-to-face contact, mainly if they live alone (Bentley et al., 2016; Koehne, Shih, and Olson, 2012). However, if they have a family, other problems may arise. For example, studies by Eddleston and Mulki (2017) and Lapierre et al. (2015) report a higher incidence of work-to-family and family-to-work conflict among remote employees, meaning that telework both causes family issues and suffers from interruptions due to family matters.
Regarding barriers to the implementation of remote working arrangements, it is essential to note that emote work in today’s environment is facilitated by various virtual tools that support collaboration between employees, from video conferencing to shared office platforms (Karis, Wildman and Mane, 2015). This creates practical challenges for some employees and companies related to the need to purchase specific technology and learn to use it (Aguilera et al., 2016). Moreover, managers can lack trust in employees who work from home because they cannot monitor their activities (Church, 2015). For the same reason, companies with control-oriented cultures face significant barriers during their transition to remote work (Timsal and Awais, 2016). Hence, these barriers should be taken into account by companies wishing to develop their remote work capacity.
The main problem addressed in this research is that the shift to remote work in JTI, as in many other companies, has been quite sudden, and employees may face challenges and barriers that prevent them from working at home effectively. Hence, studying employees’ experiences with remote work would allow the company to review its practices and activities to make telework more productive and avoid further performance losses due to the pandemic.
Research Question and Objectives
The primary research question to be addressed as part of the study will be “What are the barriers and negative consequences faced by JTI employees while working remotely during the pandemic?”. This question is highly relevant to the case because it is unclear when the lockdowns in certain countries will end, and JTI will likely choose to follow the safe scenario and leave some employees working remotely for some time after the quarantine ends (Nadych-Petrenko, 2020). Ensuring that employees face no barriers preventing them from executing their duties effectively will ensure that the company’s performance is not affected by this situation. Furthermore, JTI is a company that cares about its employees and their well-being, and thus it is essential to understand if there were any adverse effects of the new arrangements on the individual level. Based on these considerations and the research question, the study will focus on fulfilling the following objectives:
- Explore the practical barriers that affect JTI employees’ telework.
- Examine the harmful effects of remote work on JTI employees’ psychological, social, and physical well-being.
- Identify the correlation between the adverse effects of or barriers to remote work and workers’ perceived performance.
These objectives would assist the company in understanding the current situation and addressing any issues that could impede remote work and damage employees’ well-being.
Case Study and Methods
JTI is a multinational company that operates in multiple locations around the globe, including those that were affected by the pandemic. Even before countries of its operation announced official lockdown measures, the company had implemented a remote work regime, wherein office workers whose immediate presence was not required on production plants had to work from home (Nadych-Petrenko, 2020). The company’s branches in the United States and Russia are of particular concern, as these two countries have the highest number of registered coronavirus cases. For this reason, the protective measures implemented by the company on the global level are likely to stay in place longer than planned, and many employees will work from home until the pandemic is over (Nadych-Petrenko, 2020). The case requires balancing workers’ needs with the company’s interests as it is essential to make sure that every employee can work effectively while staying safe and avoiding the adverse effects of isolation.
Because the research focuses on employees’ perspectives and experiences related to remote work, a qualitative phenomenological design was selected. The qualitative approach allows gathering in-depth information on attitudes, beliefs, and experiences of the participants. At the same time, phenomenological research focuses on the characteristics of a particular phenomenon derived from shared experiences. Both features of the selected design made it the most appropriate for studying the chosen problem. Semi-structured interviews with JTI employees were used to collect data, and the questions focused on their work at JTI, home office arrangements, barriers, interruptions, and features of the experience. Transcripts were then coded to identify commonalities that would help to answer the research question.
Research Findings, Validation, and Interpretation
On the whole, the participants agreed that JTI’s telecommunication infrastructure allowed them to work from home with little to no difficulties. One employee reported that they had to buy additional equipment to be able to participate in teleconferences because their laptop’s camera was not working correctly. In addition, two of the participants mentioned that their home network created practical challenges because it was not fast enough to work effectively with JTI’s internal databases and software. Hence, some tasks took longer than required, and it made employees nervous. Another barrier reported by all employees was the increased flow of information through e-mails, chats, and other communication channels. One participant said, “In the first days of the lockdown, I had to sort through hundreds of e-mails, many of which were irrelevant to my work”. This was a significant barrier because it distracted employees from their duties and prevents them from focusing intensely on their work.
The participants also reported some adverse effects of working away from the office. The first effect that was identified was social isolation. All of the participants stated that they have been feeling lonely since they started working from home and that they wished there was more informal communication between colleagues during the day. One participant commented, “When you’re in the office, there is a sense of community, but here, you’re all alone sitting behind your laptop all day”. Another adverse effect of working remotely for three of the five participants was family conflict. They reported that their children were often distracting them from work and that they were not able to participate in teleconferences sometimes due to the noise. They also reported feeling more strained and stressed, resulting in more conflicts with family members.
Concerning performance, employees’ perceptions were mixed. On the one hand, two of the employees stated that they could work more effectively at home because they could wake up later and feel more rested or because they could structure the day more comfortably. One more employee believed that, despite distractions caused by family members, including children, they were able to keep up the standard of work on the same level as when working in the office. On the other hand, two remaining employees – both parents of two or more children – reported being unable to complete all tasks by the end of the shift and having to stay working longer to make up for the loss in performance. They mentioned that the decrease in performance was likely due to distractions caused both by telework (e.g., e-mails, notifications, calls) and by their family members.
The results of the study fit into current research on the topic as they highlight many of the issues that were present in the literature review. First of all, most of the participants reported feeling more stressed, which fits in with the theory of remote work disadvantages (Bathini and Kandathil, 2015; Bentley et al., 2016; Felstead and Henseke, 2017; Weinert, Maier and Laumer, 2015). Secondly, employees also reported feeling isolated, which was a prominent topic in research (Bentley et al., 2016; Koehne, Shih, and Olson, 2012). Family issues and disruptions discussed by employees can also be validated through other research studies (Eddleston and Mulki, 2017; Lapierre et al., 2015). Lastly, technical barriers to remote work have been highlighted in the research, thus supporting the findings (Aguilera et al., 2016). The fact that employees did not report any management issues shows that managers at JTI generally trust their employees and follow a management style with a lower degree of control.
Conclusion and Future Research
Overall, the study highlighted that JTI employees face technical barriers and distractions while working at home during the pandemic. Furthermore, they feel isolated and stressed and reported a higher incidence of conflict at home. These findings show that, although the company’s approach to remote work is generally positive, there is a need for more significant organizational support during this difficult time. The research also allows suggesting some modifications to JTI’s infrastructure, such as reducing the number of company-wide e-mails per day, which would help to minimize distractions. The present research benefitted from in-depth discussions with participants, which provided valuable insight into their experiences. Still, the study was limited by its small sample size and methodology, which did not allow studying the entire company. Future research could use this study as a framework for quantitative research into the prevalence of these barriers and their influence on actual performance.
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