1.1 Background of the Study
Remote work has become an increasingly important part of the modern workforce as businesses, employees, and managers adapt to the dynamic nature of work. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have taught organizations valuable lessons in being agile and adaptable. Employers have had to make swift adjustments to work premises to ensure the safety of their employees and the public.
They have also had to respond to changes in customer demands, navigate through uncertainties, such as sudden market developments and downturns, make necessary staff reductions, and enable widespread working from home (WFH) like never before. Out of all the changes required, the rise of remote work and virtual teams appears to be the most likely to endure permanently. Many have referred to this situation as a forced "experiment" in remote working (Gifford, 2022).
Although the concept of remote work is not a recent phenomenon, it has existed for a long time. Working from home has historical roots, dating back to the earliest known "working man" (Homo ergaster) around 1.9-1.4 million years ago, who primarily stayed close to home for hunting and providing sustenance. Thousands of years later, longhouses in England served as living and working spaces for farmers, with the central area of the longhouse designated as the workspace where tasks like cooking, spinning, weaving, and dressmaking took place.
Throughout the Middle Ages, tradespeople conducted much of their work from home. Even after the industrial revolution and the transformation of work environments, certain professions and activities continued to be conducted from home, such as funeral parlors and home-based teaching. However, it was not until 1980 that companies officially started offering flexible work options (Dishman, 2019) .
In the early 2000s, remote work gained acceptance as a viable work arrangement, with companies like IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Cisco leading the way (Kurland & Bailey, 2020). IBM, for instance, introduced "remote terminals" in employees' homes, allowing for greater flexibility. By 2009, 40% of IBM's employees were working remotely, leading to reduced office space requirements and increased annual profits for the company. The global financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 acted as catalysts for the widespread adoption of remote work, as organizations sought ways to reduce costs, maintain productivity, and ensure the well-being of their workforce (Brynjolfsson et al., 2020).
As social and technological environments evolve, so does the way people work. Today, workers in various organizations have more freedom and flexibility than ever before to work from locations other than the traditional office setting. The traditional office refers to a space where individuals primarily work on their computers but are physically present together. This particularly applies to roles such as banking, insurance, and administrative responsibilities within organizations. The goal is to achieve a working approach that is cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly.
Remote work is considered as a type of flexibility where individuals carry out their work at a location other than their main office (Jensen Perry et al., 2018). The nature of this work arrangement can vary in terms of flexibility, ranging from employees working remotely on a full-time basis to hybrid work models where employees divide their time between remote work and office work (Chong et al., 2023).
When individuals work remotely, they often exhibit a higher level of dedication and effectively manage longer working hours. Another crucial aspect is achieving a balance between work and personal life. Research indicates that individuals who engage in remote work experience fewer conflicts concerning work-life balance, despite the challenges of dealing with distractions or stressful situations at home while being "at work" (Jensen Perry et al., 2018). Regarding workforce productivity, Apgar (1998) found that 87% of IBM employees participating in a remote work program reported significant productivity growth. Several other studies, including those by Bailyn (1988), Hartman et al. (1992), and Be´langer (1999), have also shown similar increases in productivity among their respective workforces.
However, there is a study conducted by Phelps (1985) that reported a decrease in productivity, indicating a potential downside of remote work. Previous research on remote workers (Lascau et al., 2019) has also highlighted additional challenges associated with remote work. These challenges include difficulties in maintaining high levels of focus due to various physical and digital distractions and the need to juggle work responsibilities with caregiving duties.
Another challenge is the struggle to disconnect from work, as physical spaces and personal technologies often serve both work and non-work purposes (Stawarz et al., 2013). Cook (2020) demonstrated that novice remote workers often underestimate the importance of self-regulation strategies and fail to anticipate the difficulties of balancing work and non-work activities in non-traditional work environments.
With the rapid rise of remote work on a global scale, the question of how to effectively implement and transition to remote work is gaining significant attention. This situation presents an unprecedented challenge for both managers and workers, demanding substantial changes to the structure of the modern office and the concept of office work. Despite the increasing number of people engaged in remote work, the majority still only work from home a few days a week, while spending the remaining days in the office. Data from the United States Census bureau (2018) indicates that less than five percent of remote workers engage in full-time remote work. Additionally, Neeley (2020) points out that most companies were ill-prepared for this sudden shift in work dynamics.
The requirements for managing the crisis and implementing remote work can vary across different companies. Staples et al. (2006) identify four crucial factors that drive an organization's ability to function effectively in a virtual environment. Firstly, information technology (IT) plays a vital role in facilitating remote work by enabling employees to work from any location, allowing leaders to maintain control over the organization, and facilitating communication among team members.
The second key driver is effective communication between managers and employees. Additionally, experience and training in remote management/work, along with well-defined management practices, are essential drivers for successful remote work arrangements. This includes managers having a realistic view of what is feasible, ensuring that expectations for meetings and performance align with the realities of remote work.
Based on this foundation, the present study aims to assess strategies for managing a remote workplace, utilizing the Unicaf customer care unit as a case study.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The increasing adoption of remote work in organizations has presented new challenges for managing a remote workplace effectively. Despite the growing importance of remote work, there is limited research specifically addressing the strategies employed in the customer care industry. Within the context of the Unicaf customer care unit, there is a need to evaluate the strategies implemented for managing a remote workplace and their impact on productivity and employee satisfaction. By understanding and evaluating these strategies, it will be possible to identify areas for improvement and develop effective measures to enhance the remote work experience within the Unicaf customer care unit.
1.3 Aim of the Study
The aim of this study is to evaluate the strategies implemented for managing a remote workplace in the Unicaf customer care unit.
1.4 Objectives of the Study
The specific objectives of the research are:
- To identify the strategies currently in place for managing a remote workplace in the Unicaf customer care unit.
- To assess the effectiveness of these strategies in maintaining productivity and employee satisfaction.
1.5 Research Questions
The research questions that will guide the study are:
- What strategies are currently implemented in the Unicaf customer care unit for managing a remote workplace?
- How effective are these strategies in ensuring productivity and employee satisfaction?
1.6 Justification of the Study
The evaluation of strategies for managing a remote workplace, specifically in the customer care industry represented by the Unicaf customer care unit, is of utmost importance for several reasons. Firstly, remote work has become increasingly prevalent, driven by advancements in technology and the need for flexible work arrangements. However, the unique nature of customer care units, which require effective communication, collaboration, and customer service, presents distinct challenges in a remote work environment.
Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote work globally, making it even more crucial to understand and evaluate the strategies employed in managing a remote workplace. With many organizations transitioning to remote work on a large scale, it is essential to assess the effectiveness of strategies in maintaining productivity and employee satisfaction, as well as identifying any challenges or areas for improvement.
Thirdly, the Unicaf customer care unit serves as an important case study due to its specific context and requirements. Evaluating the strategies implemented in this unit will provide valuable insights and best practices that can be applied within the customer care industry, contributing to improved performance and customer satisfaction.
1.7 Scope of the Study
The study will focus on evaluating the strategies implemented for managing a remote workplace within the Unicaf customer care unit.