Researchers at Grenoble Ecole de Management and the French Army Institute for Biomedical Research studied the relationship between motivations for telecommuting, working conditions and psychological consequences created by the COVID-19 crisis. The findings offer several recommendations to facilitate telecommuting.
The study was carried out by Mathieu Pinelli, Caroline Cuny et Lionel Strub (researchers at Grenoble École de Management), and Marion Trousselard (French Army Institute for Biomedical Research). The results are based on a study of a specifically limited sample (see box below) of 383 French professionals who telecommuted during the lockdown from April 7 to May 10, 2020. We speak with Caroline Cuny, doctor of cognitive psychology.
What motivated this study?
Telecommuting is generally associated with greater flexibility at work and an increase in responsibility and autonomy, which generates satisfaction. During the lockdown, we were not at all in the same context: telecommuting, as with the entire lockdown, was an imposed requirement. The context was highly anxiety inducing with numerous constraints. The goal of the study was to study the impact of these constraints on motivation, engagement and satisfaction for employees.
What was the end-goal?
The idea was to analyze the negative effects of this particular situation in order to identify factors that could provide protection in such a negative environment. Among the protective measures that can bolster motivation, the study highlights the importance of: receiving support from one's superior, perceiving an increase in autonomy, engaging in mindfulness (or having a non-judgemental view of one's current experience), and continuing professional social interactions despite telecommuting.
And surprisingly, the study found that employees who did overtime while telecommuting were more motivated. Thus 26% of interviewed employees did 4 extra hours of work per week.
What factors emerged as having a negative impact on motivation and engagement?
Overall it was the negatifs feelings perceived during the lockdown that diminished motivation. But perceived stress and uncertainty due to the lockdown played a role. In contrast, certain factors were neutral: the risk of being contaminated and the length of the lockdown did not impact motivation at work.
Given these findings, what are your primary recommendations for forced telecommuting situations?
The study highlights that a mindful approach diminishes perceived stress overall. The first recommendation is therefore to offer mindfulness training to employees. The organization of work is also a determining factor for motivation. Reinforcing autonomy and flexibility is important in order to enable employees to adjust their tasks. Receiving support from managers and fostering durable social interactions are also essential for well-being at work. The employee must feel as if he or she is tied to the organization, in particular thanks to digital tools that facilitate social interactions.
The sample of participants was a very specific category of the general population: managers and higher-level white collar jobs in the private sector with an average age in the 40s. Future studies must look at other social-economic categories and public sector employees in order to generalize the results for the entire population of telecommuters during a lockdown. It would be important to also focus on the feeling of affiliation with one's company.