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date: 02 December 2021

Telework and Remote Workfree

Telework and Remote Workfree

  • Matti VartiainenMatti VartiainenAalto University


“Telework” and “remote work” have both increased sharply in recent years during and after the pandemic. The basic difference between telework and remote work is that a teleworker uses personal electronic devices in addition to working physically remotely from a place other than an office or company premises, whereas remote work does not require visits to the main workplace or the use of electronic personal devices. “Mobile tele- and remote workers” use several other places in addition to home for working. “Digital online telework” is a global form of employment that uses online platforms to enable individuals, teams, and organizations to access other individuals or organizations to solve problems or to provide services in exchange for payment. Often tele- and remote workers cowork in virtual teams and projects. The prevalence of various types of tele- and remote working vary. Although there are conceptual challenges to operationalizing the concept, it is estimated that hundreds of millions—and possibly more—people today earn their living working at and from their home or other places using digital tools and platforms. In the future, it is expected that new hybrid modes of working will emerge enabled by digital technologies. These changes in working increase the complexity of job demands because of the increased variety of contextual job characteristics. The main benefits of these new ways of working are organizational flexibility and individual autonomy; at the same time, unclear social relations may increase feelings of isolation and challenge the work-life balance.


  • Organizational and Institutional Psychology

Toffler’s Vision of Telework in 1980

COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions of people around the world into teleworking; what used to be voluntary and agreed became a duty. However, the scaling up of telework and remote work to become a “new normal” mode of working was anticipated 50 years ago by a well-known futurist Alvin Toffler (1980) in his book The Third Wave. The third wave refers to a postindustrial society after the Agricultural and the Industrial Ages. It is intriguing and inspiring to see how these prophesies have come true in recent years and after the pandemic.

Based on the work by Nilles et al. (1976), Toffler envisioned a new production system that would shift millions of jobs out of the factories and offices into homes and local work centers. One driving force he foresaw was that manufacturing workers would increasingly handle information instead of things; they would become knowledge workers. Second, “smart” technologies such as teleconferencing would enable working in “the electronic cottage” (the name given by Toffler to a new workplace). Toffler saw the motivation, management, and efforts needed in corporate and social reorganization as hindrances to this shift, as well as the inability to handle communication vicariously, especially in nonroutine jobs. In the vision, the following drivers justified the change:

The economic trade-off between transportation and telecommunication: The escalating costs of commuting (e.g., construction of new highways vs. the decreasing costs of telecommuting) as well as the price of energy used in computers. In addition, the reduction of commuting would reduce pollution.

Social factors: Shorter workdays because of less commuting time and value changes in the nuclear family working together as a unit.

Toffler further envisioned that as working at and near the home increased, the consequences would include

Community impacts: Work at home could mean greater community stability—for example, making friendships deeper and making engaging in local politics possible.

Environmental impacts: Reduced energy requirements and energy decentralization—for example, the increased use of solar, wind, and other alternative energy technologies and a decline in pollution because of renewable energy sources and smaller releases of highly concentrated pollutants.

Economic impacts: The electronic, computer, communications, and service industries would flourish, whereas the oil, paper-making, car, and real estate industries would be hurt. Small-scale computer stores and information services and other small firms would spring up.

Psychological impacts: Deepening of face-to-face and emotional relationships in both the home and the neighborhood.

Overall, it was expected that the benefits would include more leisure time, an enhanced work-life balance, and greater work autonomy at the individual level, as well as less traffic congestion and environmental pollution because of reduced commuting at the societal level. People could also work at home part-time and outside the home in dispersed telecenters. To foster these developments, there would be a need to develop new leadership and management patterns. During the last 50 years, the evidence on telework—and remote work overall—has accumulated, showing the partial correctness of the vision, but the nature of reality is more complicated.

What Is Telework and Remote Work

There are numerous names used to describe working from a place other than an office or company premises (e.g., Allen et al., 2015). These include: “telecommuting,” “telework,” “remote work,” “home-based work,” “flexible work,” “distance work,” “multilocational work,” “mobile work,” and even “crowdwork.” For historical reasons, there is a slight difference between the “telework” and “remote work” concepts. Their contents are related to the development and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the locations of workplaces. According to the International Labor Organization (2020, p. 6), the basic difference between telework and remote work is that a teleworker uses personal electronic devices in addition to working remotely. Table 1 defines the main types of telework and remote work.

Table 1. Definitions of the Main Types of Telework and Remote Work

Remote work is a work arrangement in which an employee resides and works at a location beyond the local commuting area of the employing organization’s worksite (e.g., Mokhtarian, 1991). A remote worker can be self-employed or dependent on an employer.

Telework is fully or partially carried out at an alternative location rather than the default place of work, and personal electric devices (i.e., telecommunications) are used to perform the work (e.g., International Labor Organization, 2020). A teleworker can be a self-employed or a dependent worker.

Home-based telework occurs at or from home using electronic devices. “Permanent teleworkers” spend more than 90% of their working time from home. “Supplementary teleworkers” or “regular teleworkers” spend one full day per week working at home. “Occasional teleworkers” have worked at/from home at least once in the last 4 weeks (e.g., International Labor Organization, 2020).

Home-based remote work is carried out at or from home. Home-based workers do not use electronic devices. They can equally work “permanently,” “regularly,” and “occasionally.”

Digital online telework is a form of employment that uses online platforms to enable individuals, teams, and organizations to access other individuals or organizations to solve problems or to provide services in exchange for payment (e.g., Berg et al., 2018).

A virtual team (VT) is a group of people who work interdependently with a shared purpose across space, time, and organizational boundaries using technology (e.g., Lipnack & Stamps, 2000).


One form of telework is telecommuting, which involves using communication technologies and refers to work activities conducted outside a main office but related to it (Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017; Gareis, 2006; Messenger, 2019; Nilles et al., 1976; Olson & Primps, 1984; Toffler, 1980). Telecommuting was first described in The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff (Nilles et al., 1976, p. 4), which proposed telecommuting as an alternative to transportation: “… it appears probable that many information industry workers could ‘telecommute’. That is, they could perform their work by using communication and computer technologies, at locations much closer to their homes than is the case now.” The envisioned firms were broken up into satellite offices, where employees could work remotely when they did not need to be physically present at company headquarters. Telework is fully or partially carried out at an alternative location from the default place of work, and personal electric devices (i.e., telecommunications) are used to perform the work (International Labor Office, 2020, p. 6). The default place of work can be understood as the place or location where the work would typically be expected to be carried out, taking into account the profession and status in employment. What makes telework a unique category is that the work carried out remotely includes the use of personal electronic devices.

Remote Work

Remote work is a more comprehensive concept and does not require visits to the main workplace or the use of electronic personal devices, leaving open many types and places of work (e.g., Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Gareis, 2006; International Labor Organization, 2020; Korte & Wynne, 1996; Sullivan, 2003; Van der Wielen & Taillieu, 1993), and it can involve mobile work. Mokhtarian (1991, p. 3) suggested one reasonable definition of remote work: “work done by an individual while at a different location than the person(s) directly supervising and/or paying for it.” Telework and remote work provide the viewpoint of an individual working remotely using or not using ICT to interact and work with others. The use of technologies also links telework to virtual teamwork.

In both telework and remote work, the physical location that a worker uses is the main criterion, and it categorizes basic types of workplace and work (e.g., Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017; Gareis et al., 2004; International Labor Office, 2020):

The home as a workplace is where a person works full- or part-time. Both independent and dependent workers can do “remote work at and from home”; for example, self-employed people may be engaged in artisanal production or industrial piece-rate production carried out from home. The home is their main workplace. The home is also a place to work remotely for independent self-employed freelancers, entrepreneurs, consultants, plumbers, and so on, who use the home as a base from where they may go to meet partners and customers and communicate with them face to face.

Home-based teleworkers work at home as opposed to working from an employer’s workplace and are dependent on an employer. They use electronic devices in their work. This work type is further subdivided according to the amount of working time spent at home. “Permanent teleworkers” are those who spend more than 90% of their working time at home. “Supplementary teleworkers” or “regular teleworkers” (International Labor Organization, 2020) are those who spend one full day per week working at home. “Occasional teleworkers” are those who have worked at/from home at least once in the last 4 weeks (International Labor Organization, 2020). The rest of the time they work in the main workplace. In addition, telework can be carried out from home, visiting other places for work and using a variety of technologies.

Home-based remote workers carry out their remote work at and from their home. They do not use electrical devices. They also can work “permanently,” “regularly,” and “occasionally” both from home and outside.

Mobile Telework and Remote Work

Mobile tele- and remote workers (Andriessen & Vartiainen, 2006; Gareis et al., 2006) use other places in addition to home for working:

Other workplaces such as a customer’s or partner’s premises or the company’s other premises. Toffler (1980) referred to these kinds of places as “telecottages,” that is, coworking spaces such as “hubs,” “telework centers,” “satellite work centers,” and “satellite offices.” These are remote from the main office and often close to employees’ homes. The first were built up at the beginning of the 1970s in the United States (Nilles et al., 1976) and later in other countries. Other workplaces include locations used to meet clients, partners, or suppliers. These places may include the premises of another party or of the mobile worker’s company that are outside the main office. In addition to working with local people, other places are often used for interacting with the home office regarding progress and challenges related to the business.

Third workplaces, such as hotels, cafés, pubs, restaurants, conference venues, and fairs, as well as public areas, such as parks, airport lounges, railway stations, and motorway service stations, are usually for short-term transitional stops. For example, airports may be used for reading documents and emails, working from a laptop, making business calls, and conducting meetings.

Moving places such as cars, trains, taxis, buses, trams, airplanes, ships, bicycles, and other vehicles are common places for tele- and remote workers to conduct their work. Work-related mobility can be divided into commuting (i.e., traveling between a place of residence and a place of work) and traveling for work (e.g., traveling to meet a client).

The main workplace (i.e., main office) is a place for a tele- or remote worker to physically visit and work. It is especially a place for meeting superiors and interacting with colleagues and team members both formally and informally.

Those tele- and remote workers who use multiple locations are called mobile multilocational workers (Andriessen & Vartiainen, 2006; Lilischkis, 2003, p. 3) or mobile teleworkers (Hislop & Axtell, 2007, 2009). They are employees who spend some paid working time away from home or away from their main workplace, for example, on business trips, in the field, traveling, or on a customer’s premises.

Lilischkis (2003, p. 8) used a still-valid topology based on the dimensions of space and time to profile five types of physically mobile employees. Space criteria include (a) the number of locations, (b) the recurrence of locations, (c) whether there is a main workplace to return to, (d) whether the work takes place while moving or at a destination, (e) whether work can take place at fixed locations without changing it, (f) whether there is a limitation of the work area, and (g) the distance between locations. Time criteria include (a) the frequency of changing location, (b) the time spent moving between work locations, and (c) the time spent at a certain work location if not moving. The five types of mobile workers are distinguished by an increasing level of detachedness of the workplace from a fixed place (Lilischkis, 2003, p. 3); these include on-site movers (e.g., a farmer), who work around a certain area; pendulums (e.g., an accountant at home), who work at two different fixed locations; yo-yos (e.g., a customer manager), who occasionally go to meet customers away from a fixed location and returning back there; nomads (e.g., a sales representative), who work at changing fixed locations; and carriers (e.g., a flight attendant), who work on the move transporting goods or people.

Digital Online Telework

In the 2010s, fully digital often global telework on online labor platforms appeared and were detached from any stabilized social and organizational setting. The development of digital working environments, also known as online outsourcing, crowdwork, or online gig platforms employing microproviders (Lehdonvirta et al., 2019), has expanded working locations worldwide. Digital online telework is a form of employment that uses online platforms to enable individuals, teams, and organizations to access other individuals or organizations to solve problems or to provide services in exchange for payment (e.g., Berg et al., 2018). Mandl and Codagnone (2020, p. 180) distinguish between (a) tasks that are entirely traded and delivered online or are traded, monitored, and paid online but the delivery is physical and collocated; and (b) the types of tasks that are traded and the skills required to deliver them, that is, low skills which are mostly routine or manual versus high skills which are mostly cognitive and interactive. Based on these differences, it is possible to distinguish online labor markets that are potentially global from local mobile labor markets. The second dimension distinguishes between the intermediation of tasks embedding a relatively lower or higher skill set.

In digital online telework, work-related social interaction fully occurs in a virtual space, making the global Internet a work platform in addition to a local working location. From the viewpoint of the work organization, having platforms as a virtual space for work is a necessity for teleworkers so they can access knowledge and their clients and collaborate with colleagues if needed. Online, digital, and crowdsourcing platforms as new working environments are varied and numerous, ranging from those based on volunteer work (e.g., Wikipedia) and those exploiting it (e.g., Facebook, Google, and YouTube) to global platforms providing employment services (e.g., Amazon Mechanical Turk) to enterprises using internal social media. Routine microtasks (e.g., translating an advertising slogan from Finnish to English) as well as large innovation projects are carried out on digital working platforms. Online digital teleworkers often work from their homes on different continents. Mobile Internet and cloud services also enable mobile, multilocational telework. People collaborate if needed from their present locations in temporary or permanent virtual teams and communities. One difference from conventional jobs is the fact that this kind of work often involves temporary entrepreneurial freelancing, often without any kind of social protection. Figure 1 shows the trajectory from traditional remote work to home-based and mobile, multilocational telework, and then on to platform-based digital online telework.

Figure 1. The path from traditional remote work to the concept of mobile, multilocational, and global digital online teleworking.

Source: Modified from Vartiainen and Hyrkkänen (2010, p. 119).

Teleworker Often Virtual Team Member

By definition, members of conventional co-located, face-to-face teams are not remote workers as they participate in joint efforts locally and work at fixed locations, although they can also be considered “semimobile” in the sense of moving around their workplace (e.g., a nurse in a hospital). The members of nonconventional teams also work outside their fixed locations. Team members working in different locations and geographically distant from each other make a distributed team. A team becomes virtual when dispersed group members communicate and collaborate with each other via electronic media and do not meet each other face to face. The physical mobility of group members adds a new characteristic to distributed work. Mobile virtual teams are always distributed; however, not all distributed virtual teams are mobile. In conclusion, it can be said that mobile virtual teams are the most complex types of teams to lead and manage because of the changing contexts of individual mobile workers. In each working context, the physical settings, virtual tools, and people who are met vary. The use of various spaces varies, depending on the type of work and the interdependence of the tasks to be done. Remote solo work carried out in solitude at home without virtual connections to others is an extreme and rather rare case. Usually, home-based teleworkers communicate sporadically with superiors and colleagues either virtually or face to face.

Prevalence of Telework, Remote and Digital Online Telework

Challenges Measuring Telework and Remote Work

Showing the type, incidence, and intensity of telework and remote work (e.g., the number of days, hours of work performed, or changes of places in a particular period) across countries involves some important conceptual challenges because telework and remote work are defined in many ways, resulting in heterogeneity in what is meant by a tele- and remote worker. The current surveys do not always capture features of work on digital platforms due to the work’s temporary and transient nature. In addition, platforms are highly protective of their proprietary databases on work and compensation flows, and thus research that uses such data is scarce (Piasna, 2020). Mokhtarian et al. (2005, p. 423) demonstrated how definitions, measurement instruments, sampling, and sometimes vested interests affect the quality and utility even of seemingly objective and “measurable” data. In addition to varying measures, there are substantial limitations in the available global data. Therefore, the evidence shows large differences in the prevalence of telework and remote work—not to speak about mobile and digital online telework—among different continents, countries, professions, and so on.



The basic trend of shifting to tele- and remote working was quite slow until the corona pandemic starting in 2020. In 2019, approximately 11% of dependent employees in Europe worked from home at least some of the time, which was up from less than 8% in 2008 (Sostero et al., 2020), whereas 35% of the self-employed reported working from home sometimes or usually in 2019 compared to 29% in 2008. Yet just 3.2% of European employees usually worked from home—a share that has remained quite stable since 2008. There were, and still are, large differences among countries, sectors, and occupations: The figures were above 25% in most Northern European countries and below 10% in 15 of the 27 European Union (EU) member states; the numbers were high in information technology (IT) and communication services and low in manufacturing, and high among white-collar IT service occupations and low among sales workers (similar differences have been found in U.S. data (see Wulff Pabilonia & Vernon, 2020). From the viewpoint of mobile work, the Eurofound (2017, p. 62) survey showed that the vast majority of workers in the EU (70%) still had a single regular workplace (particularly employees), while 30% carried out their work in multiple locations (often knowledge workers). Additionally, the proportion of workers with multiple workplaces varied substantially between countries. The figure was larger for self-employed workers, agricultural workers, and managers and was particularly prevalent in the construction, transport, and agriculture sectors. A majority of self-employed workers worked daily on their own premises (72%) but were also quite likely to work on a daily basis at a client’s premises (13%), in a car or vehicle (14%), outdoors (13%), or from home (16%). In general, a small proportion of workers reported working in public spaces such as coffee shops and airports: 3% daily, 3% several times a week, and 4% several times a month.

The COVID-19 epidemic dramatically changed the number of those working remotely. The Eurofound survey (Eurofound, 2020a) in April and July 2020 showed that more than a third (37%) of those working in the EU had begun to telework—more than 30% in most member states. The largest proportions of workers who switched to working from home were found in the Nordic and Benelux countries (close to 60% in Finland and above 50% in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark and 40% or more in Ireland, Sweden, Austria, and Italy).

The United States and Canada

According to a survey collected in 2004 (Wulff Pabilonia & Vernon, 2020), 15% of wage and salary paid workers in the United States reported that they did some work at home, but only 3% of workers worked exclusively at home at least 1 day every 2 weeks. More recently, based on data from a 2017–2018 survey, 25% of wage and salary paid workers did some work at home, and 13% of workers worked exclusively at home at least once every 2 weeks. A U.S. pandemic study (Brynjolfsson et al., 2020), conducted in three waves in April, May, and July 2020, covering a total of 75,000 respondents, showed that about half of those employed were working from home during the pandemic, including 33% who reported they had previously been commuting. The study showed that younger people and employees in knowledge work, including management, professional, and related occupations, were more likely to shift to working from home and were more likely to switch to remote work. In Canada, the pandemic also led to a significant increase in telework. At the beginning of 2021, 32% of Canadian employees ages 15–69 worked most of their hours from home, compared with only 4% in 2016 (Mehdi & Morrissette, 2021).


Messenger (2019, p. 294; see also Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017) showed the estimated share of regular teleworkers based on the intensity (i.e., the number of days or hours of telework performed in a particular period) among all employees in a number of regions in the 2010s, including Japan (16%), EU-28 (8%), United States (20%), Argentina (2%), and India (19%). Furthermore, according to a recent survey (Citrix & ANSA Latina) conducted in 2019 in six Latin-American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico), up to 45% of the workers surveyed in Colombia claimed to have the possibility to work remotely or from home, whereas only 21% of Peruvian respondents said the same. In Australia, before COVID-19 restrictions, 24% of people with a job were likely to work from home one or more times a week, whereas in February 2021 the count was 41% (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2021).

Globally Online

In spite of the difficulties getting data for digital online work, some estimations have been made. According to the ILO study (2021), the number of online web-based and location-based (taxi and delivery) labor platforms rose from 142 in 2010 to more than 777 in 2020. A European study covering almost 39,000 Internet users in 16 member states (Pesole et al., 2018) indicated that on average, 10% of the adult population used online platforms for the provision of some type of labor services. Fewer than 8% do this kind of work with some frequency, and fewer than 6% spend a significant amount of time on it (at least 10 hours per week) or earn a significant amount of income (at least 25% of the total). The main platform workers are defined as those who earn 50% or more of their income via platforms and/or work via platforms for more than 20 hours a week. According to Pesole et al. (2018), they account for about 2% of the adult population on average. There are differences between European countries: The United Kingdom has the highest incidence of platform work. Other countries with high relative values are Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. In contrast, Finland, Sweden, France, Hungary, and Slovakia show very low values compared to the rest.

In the United States, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Current Population Survey, 2018) measured electronically mediated work, which it defined as short jobs or tasks that workers find through websites or mobile apps that both connect them with customers and arrange payment for the tasks. In May 2017, there were 1.6 million electronically mediated workers in these kinds of jobs, accounting for 1.0% of total employment. The estimates include all people who did electronically mediated work, whether as their main job, as a second job, or as additional work for pay.

Overall, the number of platform workers is still low, although it is growing, especially due to the pandemic (International Labor Organization, 2021). For example, The Online Labour Index (OLI) produced by Kässi and Lehdonvirta (2018, see also Kässi et al., 2021) showed that in May 2021, the number of starting projects on platforms had increased by 93% from May 2016. The index tracks the daily number of new projects or tasks posted on five major English-speaking online labor platforms. In their recent paper, Kässi et al. (2021) estimated the size of the global online freelance population gathering data from globally relevant online freelance platforms and using public data sources. According to them, there are 163 million freelancer profiles registered on online labor platforms globally. They conclude that online workers represent a nontrivial segment of labor today, but one that is spread thinly across countries and sectors, although it is clearly growing.

Drivers and Enablers of Telework and Remote Work

Over the past few years, the “natural experiment” of the COVID-19 pandemic has globally challenged ways of working and life in general, and the number of tele- and remote workers has increased swiftly. In their vision, Nilles et al. (1976) considered that increasing knowledge work and smart technologies would drive and enable telework. Telework and remote work can be advantageous for both employers and employees for a number of reasons (Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017; Messenger, 2019). For instance, these ways of working may reduce the costs of commuting and transportation and urban congestion (e.g., the construction of new highways). They can also be beneficial for environmental reasons—for example, concerning climate change and encouraging society and political decision-makers to favor shifting to new ways of working, which may even potentially spark economic growth in remote regions. Companies—both large and small—are looking for new businesses by utilizing digital tools and platforms and using a dispersed workforce, reducing office space and associated costs, and attracting and retaining qualified workers.

On the individual level, two primary motives have been suggested (Allen et al., 2015) to underlie the desire to telework: Productivity and personal life. Productivity motives relate to expectations of increased efficiency, effectiveness and work performance. Personal-life motives involve the desire to accommodate nonwork needs such as balancing work, family, and leisure. In addition, shorter workdays due to the reduction in time spent commuting and increasing autonomy from management surveillance and the resulting possibility to schedule one’s own work inspire and attract people to tele- and remote work. For an employee, teleworking could increase autonomy and self-determination (Deci & Ryan, 2012), provide more dynamic and enriched work contents, and lead to a more flexible integration of work and private life, while for the organization there are benefits such as savings in premises and greater flexibility, as well as more effectiveness, productivity, and innovativeness (e.g., Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Baruck, 2000).

Technologies have been the determinant feature and enabler of telework since Nilles et al. (1976), separating it from other types of remote work. The swift conversion of information into a digital format; the digitalization of tools, products, and services; value-adding processes; working environments; and the adoption of digital business models have gradually changed the nature of work and ways of working in micro-, small-, medium-sized, and large companies both in local regions such as cities and globally on virtual online platforms (Schaffers et al., 2020). On the microlevel, smart technologies—such as wearables using sensors to measure the quality of sleep and health—intrude into the life of individuals or a small group of individuals in a particular social context. On the mesolevel, which falls between the micro- and macrolevels (such as a community, organization, or city), technology takes the form of smart transport systems, service applications, social media, and various applications of the Internet of Things (IoT). At the macrolevel, technology (such as global labor platforms) potentially influences the outcomes of interactions (such as economic transactions or other resource transfer interactions) over a large population. The market, working conditions, and working processes stimulate the work-demand side—that is, what needs to be done and how. Demographic and social changes influence the work-supply side—that is, the kinds of workers who are available and their preferences, competences, and behavior. These changes force and enable organizations to develop new business strategies including increased shares of teleworking and remote work in business and work. The direct consequence of all this is to be found in the growth of distributed work processes, network organizations, the physical mobility of workers, and intensive mediated interaction.

Impacts of Tele-, Remote, and Online Digital Working

Overall Impacts

The findings on the impacts of tele- and remote working are somewhat controversial (e.g., Becker & Sims, 2000, Bosch-Sijtsema et al., 2010; Eurofound, 2020b; Felstead et al., 2005; Harrison et al., 2004; Hill et al., 2003, Hislop & Axtell, 2009; Vartiainen & Hyrkkänen, 2010), showing that while companies and employees recognize the benefits of remote working, there are also drawbacks, which are very often experienced on an individual level as an increase in the workload. It has been claimed (Felstead & Henseke, 2015) that while remote working is associated with higher organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and job-related well-being, these benefits come at the cost of work intensification and a greater inability to switch off. Therefore, the impact of changing working contexts—indicating variable job demands in physical, virtual, and social spaces—is critical both to the effectiveness of remote work and to the well-being of teleworkers. For example, increasing telework and remote work during the pandemic in 2020–2021 challenged strongly the traditional open office concept and turned the focus on the home (and other places) as a workplace. A few comparative research findings regarding the effects of telework and remote or digital online work are available globally (Eurofound, 2020b; International Labor Organization, 2021). They focus on working time, the work-life balance, well-being, occupational health, performance, effectiveness, and societal impacts. For example, a comparison of data from Japan, the EU, the United States, Argentina, and India (Messenger, 2019) shows longer hours of work combined with much greater discretion for workers regarding the scheduling of their working time. In Europe (Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017), non-teleworkers work an average of 42.6 hours per week, while teleworkers work somewhat longer: An average of 44.5 hours per week. They are also more likely to work in the evenings and on weekends than workers who always work in the office. However, there are large variations both within and between countries because of varying operational definitions.

Social and Psychological Impacts

Telework traditionally takes place in a different physical place than usual. Over the years, many advantages and benefits, as well as challenges, shortcomings, and risks to employees, organizations, and society, have been listed (e.g., Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Baruck, 2000; Mann & Holdsworth, 2003; Shamir & Salomon, 1985). An evidence-based review (Eurofound, 2020b) suggests that workers with telework and remote work arrangements report greater autonomy, a better work-life balance, higher productivity, and reduced commuting times. However, instead of achieving only a positive work-life balance, working remotely can lead to the “autonomy paradox” (Mazmanian et al., 2013); that is, autonomy turns from being an asset into a liability resulting in workaholic behavior, higher stress levels, and lower job satisfaction. The work-life balance at home may be disturbed, and interpersonal relations in the workplace loosen, resulting in isolation. The societal and economic divide may increase because of impoverished job contents, for example, in the market for global gig-work. All in all, the demand characteristics of telework and remote and digital online work are influenced not only by the complexity of one organization, its resources, and tasks (Carayon & Zijlstra, 1999) but also by the numerous changing work environments from which the work is potentially executed (Axtell et al., 2008; Hyrkkänen & Vartiainen, 2005, 2007; Vartiainen & Hyrkkänen, 2010). For example, Gajendran and Harrison (2007) in their meta-analysis proposed a model to study individual outcomes of teleworking such as job satisfaction, performance, turnover intentions, role stress, and career prospects. In the model, the telework intensity would be mediated through perceived autonomy, work-family conflict, and the relationship quality with coworkers and supervisors. Next, some empirically based social and psychological outcomes are reported based on the locations that telework and remote workers use. Then, some organizational outcomes are shown.

Home-Based Telework and Remote Work

The most common workplace for teleworkers is home. It is evident that working conditions in peoples’ homes vary a lot. As Harrison et al. (2004) noted, blurring the boundaries between work and private life leads to the temporary use of primary working spaces for private purposes and vice versa. The homes of remote workers are often not ideal places to work as they often do not have an appropriate workspace, and as a consequence, work may be conducted, for example, at the kitchen table, which generally must be cleared to make room for paperwork and often presents ergonomic challenges as well (Halford, 2005; Hislop & Axtell, 2009).

Autonomy. The basic dilemma in the discussion of telework at home has been whether it reinforces the individual’s autonomy and self-control over work and other, non-work-related issues (e.g., those relating to the family), which have been seen as factors interfering with and constraining working at home. Already Olson and Primps (1984) found that, depending on the extent to which the organization views the employee as an irreplaceable resource, working at home can either result in increased autonomy and freedom or reduce autonomy through more formal control procedures, the loss of promotion opportunities, and a change in compensation or work status. Indeed, European studies (Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017) show that tele- and remote workers enjoy a significant degree of more working time autonomy than do their office-based counterparts. In a meta-analysis by Gajendran and Harrison (2007), perceived autonomy was the most influential and extensive conveyor of telecommuting’s effects. It fully mediated positive impacts on job satisfaction and partially mediated the impact of supervisors or objective ratings of performance, turnover intent, and role stress.

Work-Nonwork Balance. The family is often considered a counterbalance to work. This is challenged by home-based telework and remote work as work concretely intrudes into the field of recreation. The relationship between telework and remote work and work-life balance can be either positive or negative depending upon certain factors. In a meta-analysis by Gajendran and Harrison (2007), high-intensity telecommuting (more than two and a half days a week) reduced work-family conflicts. Some overviews (Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017; Messenger, 2019) show positive effects on the work-life balance overall, mainly because of the reduction in commuting time and the autonomy workers have in organizing their working time. However, highly mobile teleworkers seem to have more work-family conflicts when compared to employees doing regular home-based telework or occasional mobile work (Eurofound, 2020b). Women in the EU who telework typically report more positive work-life balance results than do men, and this result appears to be because they work fewer hours than male teleworkers. Teleworkers with small children at home perceive difficulties in doing their jobs at home. In addition, virtual meetings from home at night and during weekends and long working days have led to breakdowns in the work-life balance at home and problems with family members as stress factors.

Social Relations. The geographical distance from colleagues, coworkers, and managers has been seen as a challenge (Felstead et al., 2005). Social isolation has been identified as a key challenge in early studies on teleworkers (Feldman & Gainey, 1997). Telework has been found to be socially isolating, and it could potentially harm chances of promotion. Moreover, the physical absence from the workplace and subsequent reduced social participation with coworkers can result in social stigmatization. According to Halford (2005), the main challenges regarding the organizational relationship are the pressures to prove one’s availability to others and the fact that the home working environment undermines office sociability. Reduced social interaction with coworkers results in the loss of opportunities to learn from others. In the meta-analysis by Gajendran and Harrison (2007), high-intensity telecommuting (more than two and a half days a week) harmed relationships with coworkers. Managers also telework, and this may have an influence on subordinate experiences and outcomes. Based on a large data set, Golden and Fromen (2011) found that employees with teleworking managers responded less positively than employees of traditional managers when they considered work experiences such as feedback and workload and outcomes such as job satisfaction and turnover intentions.

Working at home seems to generate some uncertainty and unpredictability concerning employees and their managers. Because of reduced staff interaction, there is a lack of social contact and isolation from the flow of information, support, and help from management and colleagues. A deterioration of the relationship with supervisors may harm promotion prospects. Problems linked to the need for team and managerial support and training, as well as the more nebulous reliance on visual methods of problem-solving, are also described by remote workers who use their home as a workspace. But managers are more concerned with issues of trust and time with respect to mobile workers who work from home. The unpredictability of some of the work causes a particular concern. For example, how would a manager know whether a worker had really encountered a problem that took longer to resolve than expected, or whether the worker was slacking off? O’Neill et al. (2014) found that cyberslacking (i.e., using the Internet for non-work-related purposes) when working at home is positively related to procrastination and negatively related to honesty, agreeableness, and conscientiousness as personality characteristics. Managers also expressed protective concern for their staff as they worried that workers may be struggling on a work-related issue or struggling with working from home. They were concerned that when working from home, workers may not always receive important information in a timely manner.

Well-Being and Job Satisfaction. The main sources of well-being and job satisfaction at home are the opportunities to concentrate and to exert control over one’s own jobs and time (i.e., autonomy). Home-based teleworkers can have uninterrupted time at home to read, plan, schedule, coordinate, prepare, research, and be creative. However, Bailey and Kurland (2002) found little clear evidence of increased general job satisfaction among teleworkers in their review, whereas they did show satisfaction with the freedom and flexibility of working at home. On the other hand, home-based teleworkers in a 16,000-employee study (Bloom et al., 2015) reported improved work satisfaction and a halved attrition rate.

In all, it seems that several variables moderate and mediate well-being and job satisfaction (Allen et al., 2015), such as the amount of telework, interdependence of jobs, work-family conflicts, and coworker relationships. Much seems to depend on the family status of an employee (i.e., whether there are small children or not) (Eurofound, 2020b). Other factors may also play a role. For example, cross-cultural studies (Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017; Messenger, 2019) show contradictory effects of telework on occupational health and well-being. Only 5.4% of Japanese teleworkers considered a feeling of isolation/alienation to be a disadvantage, whereas in Brazil, the majority of the workers in a company stated that being isolated from their colleagues was the key disadvantage of teleworking (63%).

For home-based teleworkers, the reduced commuting between home and the main workplace reduced stress because of traffic congestion. Owing to remote work with digital technologies, ergonomic issues (e.g., eyestrain and neck pain) are important (Eurofound, 2020b). In a study (Mann & Holdsworth, 2003) comparing home-based teleworkers and office workers, teleworkers reported negative emotions such as loneliness, irritation, worry, and guilt more often than office workers. Teleworkers overall were also found to experience more mental health problems than office workers.

As the explanation to the controversial findings on well-being, Messenger (2019, p. 305) proposes “autonomy,” stating: “Those employees who are engaged in telework are happier, healthier and experience less stress if they are given a substantial degree of autonomy regarding where, when and how they work.”

Mobile Telework and Remote Work

Mobile multilocational tele- and remote workers outside home use “other places,” “third places,” and “moving places” as workplaces and possibly return back to home or to a main workplace. The general reasons for moving are production-related (e.g., doing an assignment) or consumption-related (e.g., shopping and holidays) (Hardill & Green, 2003). When moving for work, one important purpose is to meet other people face to face (Breuer & Van Mel, 2003; Brown & O’Hara, 2003; Mark & Su, 2010; Perry et al., 2001). Meeting customers has been one of the reasons for companies to introduce mobile teleworking. The most common hindrances show that problems concerning incompatible and limited working spaces, ICT connections, and access are found in all identified locations, while interruptions are related to most of the identified locations, except the home, and that being an outsider with respect to the work community is common to all places except third places.

Changing Physical Premises. The main challenge in mobile work is the necessity to repeatedly adapt to changing environments. Mobility and changing contexts are important factors, but common hindrances can be found in all locations and spaces, although some hindrances are unique to certain types of places. What is possible in one space may not be possible in another. After finding an appropriate space, often in an open office, the work environment must be structured to be conducive for work (Bosch-Sijtsema et al., 2010; Brown O’Hara, 2003; Hislop & Axtell, 2009). Challenges associated with new sites include finding appropriate places from which to perform relevant tasks (Bosch-Sijtsema et al., 2010). Additionally, locating the local people who can facilitate the successful completion of the necessary tasks (Mark & Su, 2010) is another challenge. Finding an appropriate space that can accommodate the various work activities, such as creative tasks, can be difficult. This is especially typical in third places. Forlano (2008) notes that in popular cafés, it is often difficult to find an available workplace or table and doing so may require queuing and table-hopping.

Disruptions, Interruptions. Continually changing environments can be noisy and cause disturbances to those who need to concentrate or need a private place for other reasons. The number of meetings, phone calls, and informal interactions means that the periods of undisturbed time are limited (Bosch-Sijtsema et al., 2010; Hislop & Axtell, 2009; Vartiainen & Hyrkkänen, 2010). The places to work outside the home and the main workplace are quite often public places; therefore, it is significant to note differences between the activities that should be done in private versus those that can be done in public places. Because public places such as trains were not originally designed as work sites, they tend to be noisy and filled with commotion (Breuer & Van Mel, 2003; Forlano, 2008; Lyons et al., 2008). Specific, mainly physical, hindrances are associated with moving places emerging both from internal and external demands. In some cases, mobile workers may feel that their work-related phone calls are disruptive to others (Perry & Brodie, 2006).

Technological Affordances. The role of technology is critical as the enabler of telework. The corona pandemic led to a rapid increase especially in the use of collaboration technologies needed in meetings. Allen et al. (2015) showed the positive impact of mobile ICT among self-employed home workers. Its use allowed them to leave home without compromising their work availability. This also helped reduce people’s feelings of social isolation, although at the same time it created a sense of continuous availability. The connectivity paradox helps explain these findings. Leonardi et al. (2010, p. 99) suggest that connectivity should be viewed as a paradox, as the technologies “‘that provide the connectivity for teleworkers to successfully conduct work also create the opportunity for perpetual connectivity that raises perceived obstacles to work.’” The paradox suggests that teleworkers’ connectivity to others through communication media facilitates remote work by affording greater social presence, while also negating the benefits of telework by enabling stressful interruptions. Still, the reality is that the technological infrastructure and devices that are needed to enable work are often lacking or insufficient. The main challenges of virtual spaces are limited connections and a lack of Internet access despite the technological improvements in recent years. In addition, behavioral norms limit the possibilities to work. In order to work, it is necessary to take along numerous devices to communicate and collaborate, and missing power sockets are a common nuisance. There may also be restrictions associated with mobile phone usage in some places, such as train carriages or some public locations (Brown & O’Hara, 2003). For example, during short journeys, it may not be practical to set up certain technologies simply due to the time required to do so (Axtell et al., 2008). The exception to these environments are private cars that offer the needed privacy, thus allowing mobile workers to use their mobile phones quite freely while driving (Laurier, 2004), although the usage is risky because driving and, for example, reading emails simultaneously divides attention into two objects (i.e., dual-task) decreasing driving safely.

Social Relations. From the social perspective, Koroma et al. (2014; Axtell & Hislop, 2008) characterize mobile and multilocational workers as “lonely riders” as they are strangers when visiting their clients or partners, and even when at their main workplace. Mobile workers are alone while traveling and visiting their contacts, thus resulting in a lack of support, challenges in terms of synchronizing with colleagues (perhaps due to different time zones), and sometimes a feeling of being marginalized. The multitude of individuals encountered, the cultural differences, and sometimes dissatisfied or noncommunicative clients can result in pressure and difficulties to complete a work assignment (Vartiainen & Hyrkkänen, 2010). Although the social environment is often rather hectic and there are many other people around, there is a risk of a lack of identification as belonging to a certain group, and the frequent absence of other group members reduces informal interactions, even when a mobile worker is in the main office (Bosch-Sijtsema et al., 2010).

According to Vartiainen and Hyrkkänen (2010), third places such as cafés represent a forum for informal meetings with colleagues or an environment for conducting activities and necessary business activities using laptops and other forms of technology. Often, this work is conducted after official office hours in hotel rooms or restaurants. Forlano (2008) noted that these places, especially cafés, are used as innovative spaces to enhance one’s productivity, to collaborate, and to participate in specific work communities and networks. Today, cafés have increasingly become more important and more common as places for both work and social activities. Public and private aspects mix in various manners; for example, on the one hand, cafés are places where people may engage in conversation, but, on the other hand, teleworkers may signal their unavailability by wearing headphones, and private spaces are sometimes found outside in the street. Furthermore, if more permanent social networks were built while working in cafés, informal short discussions could grow into long-term collaboration on work issues. Locally, mobile workers frequently use service stations and other agreed upon rendezvous points for both informal and formal meetings.

Moving places are rather special workplaces. Public transport throws large numbers of strangers together in enclosed spaces under mutual observation. Cars allow drivers more choice as to the type of social encounters. Felstead et al. (2005, p. 139) name different ways to use the private space of a car. First, it can be used to extend private time—that is, time beyond the scrutiny of others that is used to think, reflect, talk aloud, or express emotions. The second use is to promote varying levels of intimacy between friends and colleagues. The time used in the car can be used in committed social interaction, which otherwise would not be possible. The third use is to connect to the outside world via communication devices.

Privacy. Traveling also provides chances to be alone and to think and reflect. The opportunities to concentrate on reading, writing, using a mobile phone, and consulting documents also increase. Easy access contrarily may reduce the ability to separate work from personal life. Privacy and personal space are missing, and there may be interruptions. Furthermore, a lack of privacy is a limitation, and because confidential tasks can be overheard and/or overseen, they are less likely to be performed (Axtell et al., 2008; Forlano, 2008). Forlano (2008, p. 39) claims that nontraditional work settings are locations of “inconvenience, constraint and specificity” opposite to the anytime, anywhere philosophy and ideology. A train, for example, is a very public physical place. Sustained concentration in a noisy, public space, even under the best conditions, is difficult (Lyons et al., 2008). Consequently, there is a need to take breaks and alternate between business and relaxation (Axtell et al., 2008; Brown & O’Hara, 2003; Lyons et al., 2008). Accordingly, certain precautions are required to guard personal workspace as it is not easy to leave the seat or the specific location even for a short period (Axtell et al., 2008). Consequently, Brown and O’Hara (2003) as well as Forlano (2008) found that the lack of privacy and confidentiality in cafés limits the work activities that can be conducted there. The time spent traveling and waiting at airports is associated with delays and waiting times over which the mobile worker has little control (Breuer & Van Mel, 2003, Perry et al., 2001). Workers can only partially use the available time for their work activities as there is little control over the resources in the environment available to the mobile worker (Perry et al., 2001). In their study of Dutch business travelers, Breuer and Van Mel (2003) found that quiet work environments such as airline lounges may allow more privacy, but they are often too far from the terminal and access is therefore limited.

Tele- and Remote Workers at the Default Place of Work

When returning to the main workplace (e.g., the office), tasks conducted there often require team and managerial support, training on unfamiliar tasks, or joint problem-solving (Halford, 2005). Furthermore, mobile workers usually have an accumulation of work that requires timely attention (Vartiainen & Hyrkkänen, 2010; Venezia & Allee, 2007) as the result of their visits to other places. Golden (2007) suggests that telework also affects those who remain in the office. He found that the prevalence of teleworking was negatively associated with coworker satisfaction, and that this relationship was influenced by the amount of time coworkers teleworked, the extent of face-to-face interactions, and job autonomy. Moreover, a non-teleworker’s satisfaction with coworkers was also found to be negatively associated with turnover intentions.

Digital Online Teleworking

There are few studies on the impacts of digital online teleworking. However, there are reasons to expect that most of the impacts are similar to other forms of telework and remote work. An ILO survey of working conditions covering 3,500 gig-workers living in 75 countries around the world and working on five English-speaking microtask platforms (Berg et al., 2018) showed that workers appreciated the ability to set their own schedule and work from home and to supplement their income (International Labor Organization, 2021). Many worked atypical hours: 7 days per week, during the evening and night either in response to task availability, differences in time zones, or because of other commitments. Many women combined platform work with homework, for example, with their children. This may have negative implications on their work-life balance. In the ILO (2021) study, workers in location-based labor platforms mentioned that they had some degree of stress due to their work, which was often related to traffic congestion, insufficient pay, lack of orders or clients, long working hours, the risk of work-related injury, and pressure to drive quickly. One source of stress is that digital online teleworkers mostly lack occupational safety and health protection because of missing labor contracts.

Commuting, Costs, and Performance Impacts

Commuting and environment. In Toffler’s visions of telework (1980), working remotely was expected to have an impact on environmental sustainability by reducing traffic congestion, energy consumption, air pollution, and the number of commutes. However, Bailey and Kurland (2002) could not find support for this in their review, claiming that commuting factors did not appear to be the primary motives for teleworking and in many cases were absent altogether. However, in a recent simulation study, Shabanpour et al. (2018) identified the potential for reducing daily vehicle miles and the number of hours traveled (as well as congestion and vehicular emissions) if there are sufficiently large numbers of workers with flexible working times. By referring to earlier studies, Moeckel (2017) emphasizes that the impacts of teleworking on transportation and land use are ambiguous. It has been found that telework may reduce the number of vehicle-kilometers traveled by eliminating commuting trips, though at the same time teleworkers may compensate for the commute-time savings with additional recreational travel and the number of person trips increased slightly on telework days. In addition, some emissions (in particular N2O and CH4 emissions) may increase because of added activity at home. Furthermore, workers who only need to visit the office 1 or 2 days a week may decide to move further away from their workplace to enjoy lower housing costs or a larger house, which may offset any travel savings from telecommuting.

Costs. From an employer’s point of view, working remotely reduces the need for office premises and transportation and the costs associated with them (Bailey & Kurland, 2002). In addition, companies can reduce their space costs as mobile employees just occasionally visit the main workplace. From a company’s viewpoint, “other workplaces” such as satellite and telework offices also usually reduce costs per square meter because of their location away from business centers. From an employee’s point of view, building a home office, additional square meters used, furniture, equipment, electricity, and additional media lines create costs. Investing in the communication and collaboration technologies that are needed is neither without its cost; the question is: “Who pays the bill?”

Individual and Organizational Performance. Several studies (e.g., Baruck, 2000; Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017; Messenger, 2019) indicate generally positive effects of teleworking on individual performance; that is, teleworkers typically perform better than their counterparts working only in the office. This increased productivity has been credited to a number of factors, including working for part of the time that would have been spent commuting, fewer interruptions, being able to work when being most productive, and even being able to work on days when workers would have had to call in sick (Messenger, 2019). However, Bailey and Kurland (2002) observed that mostly self-reported data have been used, and that the positive findings can be explained by increased working hours in telework. A meta-analysis by Gajendran and Harrison (2007) confirmed this conclusion by showing that flextime work schedules had a significant effect on objective measures of performance (productivity) but no effect on self-rated performance. A quasi-experimental study (Bloom et al., 2015) in a Chinese call center, on employees (N = 16,000) who were randomly assigned to work either from home or in the office for 9 months, showed that home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment). In another recent study (Golden & Gajendran, 2019), for teleworkers doing complex jobs involving low levels of interdependence and social support, the extent of telework was positively associated with job performance.

Company Benefits. In their meta-analysis, Martin and MacDonnell (2012) found a positive relationship between telework and organizational benefits such as increased productivity, retention, strengthened organizational commitment, and performance. A European study (Eurofound & International Labour Office, 2017) also underlines that for many companies, telework is a way of improving staff retention and recruiting high-skilled professionals. However, missing or weak ICT skills of personnel and technical difficulties may prevent a company from implementing and using telework and remote work. From the viewpoint of third-place owners, the possibility of third-place workspaces may attract new customers, as happens in cafés. The ability to work remotely may also attract and retain certain highly valued employees, thus broadening the workforce pool. However, management control over work performance is lost as the visibility of employees is lower. Employees may commit only weakly to the organization, and there are challenges to renew bases of compensation. Remote management is a challenge as indicators to measure performance may be missing as well as guidelines on how to act. On the other hand, employers’ responsibilities based on legislation (e.g., insurance liabilities) may increase. Additionally, protecting confidential information is a challenge. There is no direct control over employees, as tracking them may be unethical. In some cases, protecting company secrets represents a challenge.

Leading and Managing Remote Workforce

General Management Requirements

Uncertainty and the need for continual change have implications for management strategies. As the law of requisite variety according to Ashby (1958) says, the greater the variety in the environment of a system, the greater the variety that should be within the system to adapt properly to its environment. The changes in workplace strategy and the large-scale shift into the telework and alternative officing have a large effect on the organization, its human resource functions, the required technologies, and employee well-being and performance. Tele- and remote working challenge the social functions of a traditional organization such as socializing, commitment, knowledge sharing, and organizational learning. The challenge is to develop a model for which alternative work options are the norm. This requires a fundamental change of mindset.

The flexibility paradigm (e.g., Skorstad & Ramsdal, 2009) refers to the potential of individual autonomy and to an organization’s ability to respond to unexpected occurrences in the environment. Flexible organizing involves temporal flexibility; that is, workers can, or are expected to, begin and end their work according to the situation and the need. One essential question for work motivation is to what extent the choice of working place and time is autonomous. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “forced remote work” started to become the new normal as employees often were not allowed access their workplaces and were obliged to work remotely. In this sense, it reduced autonomy. Worker-oriented flexibility can help facilitate the coordination of work and other life and can help workers cope in their work. On the other hand, the border between working time and leisure has become obscured as work spills over into leisure and vice versa. Colleagues, superiors, and customers ever more easily contact workers also outside official working hours. The choice of working hours is also affected by international cooperation, which requires, for example, arranging online meetings that require some participants to be available unusually early in the morning or late in the evening. The COVID-19 epidemic created a natural experiment that highlighted the importance of the capability to adapt and overcome abrupt changes in work and its contexts. The studies on telework during the pandemic show that most teleworkers collaborated virtually with their colleagues, managers, and customers during their working days. Therefore, digital competencies are especially needed for remote virtual work. These and similar studies around the globe demonstrate that this “natural experiment” has brought forth unanswered questions on how to anticipate these kinds of situations, organize large numbers of new remote workers and their working conditions, and provide the needed social and virtual support.

Digital technology is the main enabler for tele- and remote work, allowing workers to access information and other people during remote work. Telework requires employees to be equipped with laptop computers and smart phones with wireless access to an information network. It requires them to work from home and at their clients’ offices, on the move, in hotels, and it requires that they sometimes come into the office to meet their colleagues and superiors. Electronic communication and collaboration can replace social contact to some degree but not fully. Different technologies for telework are developing. Virtual worlds, one type of virtualization technology, offer a potentially promising solution for the future (Aten, 2020). Virtual world technological affordances that can especially support virtual social collaboration with features such as multiuser voice and chat, persistence, avatars, and three-dimensional environments allow social actions that are associated with successful collaboration.

Baruck (2000; Baruch & Nicholson, 1997) suggested four factors, which need to be present to enable effective teleworking: (a) the telework interface, which needs first, a match between working and the family point of view, and second, the availability of the required physical facilities; (b) a job for which relevant technology is available and achievable without the necessity of a physical presence in the workplace; (c) personal qualities and circumstances, which play a significant role in determining the success of a person in teleworking—not every person can work effectively from home or, at least, not under all circumstances; and (d) a special culture in an organization is needed to enable teleworking to flourish, a culture of the kind in which relationships are built on trust.

What these factors have in common is that they require autonomy, adaptation, and resilience from individuals and flexibility from the organization. Meeting external pressures, new individual, team, and organizational capabilities and competencies are needed and old ones must be updated. One organizational way to adapt is to implement telework.

Practical Leadership Principles

Some general practical principles can be derived for improving human resources and design telework and remote work, even though teleworkers are generally able to autonomously determine and craft their own jobs. Human resource professionals, management, and teleworkers and remote workers themselves should notice the following demands as starting points for improvements:

Promote the awareness of telework and remote work-specific challenges and hindrances to develop practical improvements and solutions to working practices that could positively impact employee engagement and vigor.

Places outside the main workplace and home are regularly used for work despite the fact that they are busy and crowded. Thus, the ability to use the space for work purposes is restricted because of concerns about privacy, security, and space.

A continual change in the physical working environment results in a recurrent search for a suitable place to perform the tasks at hand.

Teleworkers and remote workers must repeatedly solve problems caused by limited working space.

Mobile multilocational workers remain outsiders in the workplace community when visiting their clients or partners and when at their primary workplace, which results in a lack of support, a challenge synchronizing work-related matters with colleagues (e.g., different time zones), and, perhaps, feelings of marginalization.

The changed context of work requires new communication competencies from leaders and self-leadership competencies from employees.

Smart mobile devices are not a complete virtual office. The main challenge related to the use of digital technologies is limited connections and access despite the technological improvements in recent years. Applicable ICT support is always needed.

These challenges are fairly easy to solve and, consequently, make the lives of teleworkers and remote workers less complicated, more satisfying, and more productive.

A Resilient Teleworkable Future

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, large differences in the telework and remote work intensity between countries were driven by factors such as the organization of work and practices and regulations in common use, as well as management culture. Sostero et al. (2020) estimated that 37% of dependent employment in the EU is currently teleworkable—which is very close to the number of teleworkers indicated in real-time surveys during the COVID-19 crisis. Because of differences in the employment structure, the fraction of teleworkable employment ranges between 33% and 44%. According to Sostera et al. (2020), even starker differences in teleworkability emerge between high- and low-paid workers and white- and blue-collar workers, as well as by gender. Their results suggest that the large expansion of telework since the COVID-19 outbreak has been strongly skewed toward high-paid white-collar employment. Yet, enforced closures of workplaces have likely resulted in many new teleworkers among low- and mid-level clerical and administrative workers who previously had limited access to this working arrangement. In all, it is expected that working from home (WFH) (and other off-office places) will increase. Barrero et al. (2021) suggest five reasons for WFH: Better-than-expected experiences, new investments in enabling physical and human capital, diminished stigma, lingering concerns about crowds and contagion risks, and technological innovations that support remote work.

Flexible tele- and remote working arrangements could enable resilience needed for the future. The recent developments in working life have raised discussion about resilience as the future key competence for individuals, teams, organizations, and society at large. An increasing amount of research concerning the changes produced by the corona epidemic has started to identify realistic scenarios and scalable practices anticipating similar external disruptions expected in the future. The key concept in this respect is “resilience.”

Giustiniano et al. (2018) define resilience as

connoting capacities to absorb external shocks and to learn from them, while simultaneously preparing for and responding to external jolts, whether as organizations, teams or individuals. Resilience is claimed to be necessary to protect actors and agencies from shocks, crises, scandals, and business fiascos that generate fear and create dissonance. Resilient people and organizations get knocked down and get up again, ready to learn from events and to be ready for future challenges: The ultimate connotation of resilience. (p. 3)

Resilient individuals are said to bounce back from stressful experiences quickly and efficiently, just as resilient metals bend but do not break (Fredrickson, 2001). Referring to the coping theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), Fredrickson (2001, p. 222) suggests that positive emotions may fuel psychological resilience. Those studying organizational behavior define resilience as the “positive psychological capacity to rebound, to ‘bounce back’ from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure, or even positive change, progress and increased responsibility” (Luthans, 2002, p. 702). The Finnish concept of “sisu” (Lahti, 2019) similarly refers to the enigmatic power that enables individuals to push through unbearable challenges.

The study of team and organizational resilience varies considerably depending on the context and disciplinary perspective. West et al. (2009, p. 253) suggest that team resilience serves to provide teams with the capacity to bounce back from failure, setbacks, conflicts, or any other threat a team may experience. Giustiniano et al. (2018) mention that resilience can appear in two differentiated ways complementing each other as an adaptive or a reactive response to external jolts and stressors. According to Duchek (2020, p. 215), organizational resilience can be conceptualized as a meta-capability, and inspired by process-based studies, and suggests three successive resilience stages: Anticipation, coping, and adaptation. Individual, team, and organizational resilience are interdependent from each other. Building resilience on the individual level can spread within organizational settings and beyond, and collective cultural resilience can make individuals more resilient.

In the future, the development and increase of telework and remote and digital online work will be closely integrated with the development of technologies, expanding 5G bandwidths, and ever-smarter mobile devices. Through the broadband mobile Internet and digital labor platforms, there is access to multiple communication functions including email, the Internet, instant messaging, text messaging, and company networks. It is evident that digitalization changes the working environment; impacts working processes, tasks, and job content; and affects structures and organizations, products, and services in many ways—resulting in the need for partly and completely new competencies, organizing, and ways of working. This development has resulted in various types of present and future jobs—some are hybrid; some are completely new. On the organizational level, there are examples of “all remote” dispersed companies. For example, Choudhury et al. (2020) describe a company without a physical office with 1,000 employees located in more than 60 countries. Their common feature is the multipurpose use of digital technologies, especially those technologies used for communication and collaboration and the search for new knowledge.

Further Reading

  • Allen, T. D., Golden, T. D., & Shockley, K. M. (2015). How effective is telecommuting? Assessing the status of our scientific findings. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16(2), 40–68.
  • Charalampous, M., Grant, C. A., Tramontano, C., & Michailidis, E. (2019). Systematically reviewing remote e-workers’ well-being at work: A multidimensional approach. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 28(1), 51–73.
  • Felstead, A., & Henseke, G. (2015). Assessing the growth of remote working and its consequences for effort, well-being and work-life balance. New Technology, Work and Employment, 32(2), 195–212.
  • Golden, T. D., & Fromen, A. (2011). Does it matter where your manager works? Comparing managerial work mode (traditional, telework, virtual) across subordinate work experiences and outcomes. Human Relations, 64(11), 1451–1475.
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