Errichiello, L. and Pianese, T. (2016), "Organizational Control in the Context of Remote Work Arrangements: A Conceptual Framework", Performance Measurement and Management Control: Contemporary Issues (Studies in Managerial and Financial Accounting, Vol. 31), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 273-305. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-351220160000031009Download as .RIS
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Over the last decades both researchers and practitioners have showed increasing attention towards innovative working models performed outside spatial and temporal organizational boundaries and enabled by information and communication technologies (ICT). A variety of terms, like remote work, telecommuting, telework, virtual work and remote work arrangements have been used, often interchangeably or with slight differences in meaning, to indicate ways of working in places that are different from traditional office spaces.
Organizational and management scholars have widely addressed these innovative working models, taking into account a variety of issues and focusing on specific aspects of non-traditional office-based work. As it emerged from existing literature reviews (e.g. Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Baruch, 2001; Belanger & Collins, 1998; Siha & Monroe, 2006), conceptual and empirical researches have looked at many facets of this complex phenomenon, including factors motivating the adoption of remote work; characteristics and attitudes of ideal teleworkers; outcomes and main challenges for employees, organizations and society.
From a managerial perspective, key challenges related to the adoption of remote work arrangements arise from some relevant changes, notably the shift from direct supervision to distance management, from face-to-face to technology-mediated communication, from co-located teams to virtual forms of collaboration (Kurland & Bailey, 1999). Accordingly, it becomes crucial for the effective implementation of remote working models that supervisors are able to effectively manage distant employees, for example leveraging justice and control, encouraging communication, sustaining collaboration and knowledge transfer among colleagues not physically close (e.g. Fritz & Manheim, 1998; Kurland & Bailey, 1999; Lautsch & Kossek, 2011).
This chapter specifically addresses the issue of organizational control in the context of remote work arrangements. A number of scholars have underlined that supervision and control are a primary concern for managers and that they constitute a serious barrier for the adoption and diffusion of remote work arrangements (e.g. Bélanger, Watson-Manheim, & Swan, 2013; Felstead, Jewson, & Walters, 2003; Kurland & Egan, 1999; Topi, 2004). In this respect, the main challenges derive from the altered structure of ‘presence’ and ‘visibility’ of teleworkers (Felstead et al., 2003) that affects both horizontal relationships between teleworkers and office-based colleagues as well as vertical relationships between these two groups and their supervisors. Organizational and management scholars have addressed a number of themes related to organization control in the context of remote work arrangements, such as changes in existing control systems after their adoption (Felstead et al., 2003); the effects on remote workers’ behaviours due to the reduced visibility inside the organization (e.g. Kurland & Egan, 1999); the attitude of office-based employees towards remote workers (Fogarty, Scott, & Williams, 2011). However, existing research on this topic is still scant and fragmented. Indeed, notwithstanding the benefit of existing frameworks and models for a comprehensive understanding of remote work arrangements (e.g. Bélanger et al., 2013) and the relationships between drivers, adoption and/or outcomes, we still lack a referential framework that positions and helps to understand the role of organizational control in the context of remote work arrangements. After all, the only two frameworks retrieved in the literature (Brice, Nelson, & Gunby, 2011; Hoogeveen, 2004) are limited in scope for many reasons: their static nature, their focus on a single control mechanism, their limited account of remote workers’ perspectives and neglect of office-based employees’ perspectives. 1
In order to fill this relevant gap in the organizational and management literature on remote work arrangements the authors develop a conceptual framework that, focusing on the implementation process and addressing the issue of organizational control through robust theoretical grounds, enables to understand the role of organizational control in the context of remote work arrangements. More specifically, the goal of the chapter is to frame organizational control so that we can easily put the basis for answering some key questions: How does the adoption of remote work arrangements influence organizational control? How do control practices affect the outcomes of distance work implementation? How do control processes moderate or mediate the relationship between remote work implementation and its outcomes?
To develop our framework we draw on two distinct research streams, namely literature on remote work arrangements and organizational control. Specifically, through relying on the first we identify the antecedents and outcomes of remote work adoption: antecedents refer to factors pushing individuals and the organizations to embrace remote work (drivers of adoption) along with the characteristics of the chosen remote working model (e.g. location, frequency, etc.); outcomes of remote work implementation are considered at individual, group and organizational level. As for the second research stream, organizational literature has provided the basis for conceptualizing organizational control during remote work implementation as structures and practices. The framework, represented in a simplified form in Fig. 1, can be used as a reference guide to interpret in an integrated way existing research on organizational control in the context of remote work arrangements, supporting researchers in identifying inconsistencies in empirical findings, relevant gaps and opportunities for future research.
We contribute to literature on remote work arrangements in several ways. First of all, most of existing studies on this issue do not provide an adequate understanding of the effects of remote work adoption. This happens mainly because they do not rely on existing theory for guiding the research process and explaining relationships between antecedents of remote work arrangements and its implementation outcomes (Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Bélanger et al., 2013; McCloskey & Igbaria, 1998; Shin, El Sawy, Sheng, & Higa, 2000); secondly, by addressing simultaneously many issues (e.g. managerial challenges) related to remote work, available research results in lack of focus and a superficial understanding of the phenomenon (Shin et al., 2000). On the contrary, in elaborating our framework we chose to integrate relevant concepts and theories with the aim of addressing a specific managerial issue related to remote work arrangements, notably organizational control.
Moreover, the majority of empirical research on the issue – both quantiative and qualtiative – adopts a static analytical perspective, reflected in the variance-based approach. This deals with co-variation among dependent and independent variables; in fact, quantitative studies are mainly based on the collection of cross-sectional data, while most case studies (that are also still scanty) only present descriptive accounts of the phenomenon (Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Bélanger et al., 2013). Our framework integrates this variance-based with a less adopted process approach that dynamically addresses questions about how and why things emerge, develop, grow or terminate over time and focuses on evolving phenomena in organizations (Langley, 2009; Langley, Smallman, Tsoukas, & Van de Ven, 2013). The framework assumes that ‘sequence to be critical’ and that outcomes can also be explained ‘in terms of diachronic patterns – who does, what, when and what happens next – rather than in terms of the synchronic presence of higher or lower levels of specific attributes’ (Langley & Tsoukas, 2010, p. 6). In this respect, it is worth highlighting that the explanatory and theory-building potential of ‘process studies’ has been recently recognized among scholars interested in organizational control issues who encourage the adoption of this approach (Cardinal, Sitkin, & Long, 2004, 2010; Sitkin, Cardinal, & Bijlsma-Frankema, 2010).
Finally, rather than considering in an isolated manner actors involved in the implementation process of remote work, our framework, inspired by Gidden’s Structuration Theory (1991), considers organizational control not as an entity but as a process of mutual constitution between structures of control established by managers and their enactment by remote workers and office-based employees during the implementation stage.
The chapter is structured as follows. Firstly, we review existing frameworks on remote work arrangements to identify drivers and outcomes of remote work adoption. Then, we draw on organizational literature addressing organizational control issues in order to identify concepts and theories useful to deconstruct it in its constituent elements and position it in our framework. The conceptual framework is presented in the subsequent paragraph followed by a conclusive section in which we also illustrate how it could be applied as a reference guide for existing and future research on the topic.
Understanding Remote Work Arrangements Adoption and Implementation: The Contribution of Existing Frameworks
In this section we provide a review of existing frameworks on remote work arrangements. 2 This process is aimed at identify all dimensions to be included in our conceptual framework. In more detail, two groups of frameworks were identified. A first group includes frameworks that do not consider the implementation stage of remote work programmes that largely remain black-boxed and focus on the identification of drivers, that is factors pushing to innovate existing work arrangements, and/or outcomes, that is resulting effects produced on employees, organizations and communities. Frameworks of the second group, although include drivers and/or outcomes, are more concentrated on managerial practices adopted during the implementation stage of remote work programs, since they are assumed to be paramount to the success of telework programmes. Both groups are described below.
Frameworks Exclusively Focused on Drivers of Adoption and Outcomes of Implementation of Remote Work
The identification of factors pushing to innovate traditional working models in favour of remote ICT-enabled arrangements have been the focus of significant research (see Table 1). Scholars have addressed the issue from three main analytical perspectives, namely (1) the employee’s perspective, looking at factors that explain the propensity to ask and/or decision to work remotely; (2) the manager’s perspective, identifying factors pushing him to allow his subordinates to work at a distance; (3) the organization’s perspective, reflecting the management board’s attitude towards and/or decisions for adopting remote work programs.
|Drivers of Remote Work Adoption||Perspective of Analysis||Outcomes of Remote Work Implementation|
|Mokhtarian and Salomon (1993)||
|Peters and den Dulk (2003)||
|Pérez Pérez et al. (2005)||
|Neirotti et al. (2013)||
|Daniels et al. (2001)||
|Peters et al. (2004)||
|Gajendran and Harrison (2007)||ORGANIZATION||Individual outcomes|
|Martin and MacDonnell (2012)||ORGANIZATION||Organizational outcomes|
|Illegems and Verbeke (2004)||ORGANIZATION||
Source: Our elaboration.
As for the employee’s perspective, the model proposed by Mokhtarian and Salomon (1993) explained how the decision-making process that guides an employee in choosing to work remotely is influenced by: his attitude and personality; external information acquired about telework (e.g. from popular media); the comparison between factors preventing (e.g. fear of isolation) or supporting (e.g. independence needs) his choice to telework.
Peters and den Dulk (2003) focused on the manager perspective; specifically they investigated whether the country context (e.g. national culture and regulations), organizational factors (e.g. leadership style), individual factors (e.g. employee’s tenure) and telework characteristics (e.g. intensity) influence the manager’s willingness to delegate and trust employees, thereby allowing them to work remotely.
Adopting an organizational perspective, the work of Pérez Pérez, Sánchez, de Luis Carnicer, and Vela Jiménez (2005) empirically showed how the adoption of telework is influenced by existing firms’ resources and precisely: human resources (e.g. existing HR practices, number of knowledge workers), organizational resources (e.g. number of business units) and technological resources (e.g. types and intensity of IT use). Distinguishing between internal and external resources, Neirotti, Paolucci, and Raguseo (2013) link the adoption of remote work to firms’ context, in terms of technological factors (i.e. existing information systems, use of e-learning tools), organizational factors (i.e. geographical scope, human and capital intensity) and environmental factors (i.e. munificence, dynamism). Finally, even if related to the general diffusion of remote work, we decide to include in our review also Daniels, Lamond, and Standen (2001)’s contribution; indeed, although focused on the diffusion process (rather than adoption and implementation) their framework helps to better understand the role of external environmental pressures, articulating them in: norms and regulations (coercive pressures), desire to imitate competitors’ HR practices (imitative pressures) and sharing of values (normative pressures) in affecting the organizational decision to adopt telework.
Finally, Peters, Tijdens, and Wetzels (2004) combined the three mentioned perspectives of analysis; in fact they investigated which characteristics, whose nature could be organizational (e.g. number of location, size), job-related (e.g. level of ICT skills, working hours), household-related (e.g. number of children, partner) and individual (e.g. gender, attitude), influence: (a) the employee’s decision to telework, (b) the manager’s decision to give employees the opportunity to telework, (c) the effective introduction of telework in the organization.
Other scholars focused on the identification of remote work outcomes (Table 1). If we exclude effects produced on the community 3 , outcomes are usually distinguished in literature at two different levels: individual and organizational. They are associated to the effects produced by remote work adoption respectively on employees (mainly remote workers) and the organization.
As for individual outcomes produced on remote workers, Gajendran and Harrison (2007) considered the direct relationship between flexible work arrangements 4 and a group of outcomes at individual levels, namely employee’s autonomy perceptions, work-family conflict, quality of relationship with supervisor and co-workers, job satisfaction, performance, turnover intention, role stress and perceived career prospects. At the organizational level, Martin and MacDonnell (2012)’s model considered the effect of the adoption of remote work arrangements on productivity, commitment, performance and capacity to retain talents. Finally, Illegems and Verbeke (2004) elaborated a framework aiming at assessing the impact of telework adoption on the ability to attract, motivate and retain highly competent and skilled employees. Therefore they distinguish five areas of impacts: strategic development (e.g. recruit talent) and operational functioning (e.g. absenteeism) of human resources, organizational efficiency (e.g. productivity) and external linkage (e.g. customer service) and externalities (e.g. childcare).
Frameworks Including the Implementation Process for Linking Drivers and/or Outcomes
The second group of frameworks makes explicit the ‘process’ dimension, pointing to the importance of the implementation stage of remote work arrangements. The key assumption for these framework, in fact, is that the success or failure of these innovative working models would depend on the ability to identify adequate practices and actions to manage the complexity of working at a distance, addressing issues such as supervision and control, knowledge transfer, relationship and communication management. Relevant frameworks including in this second group are discussed below (see Table 2).
|Drivers of Remote Work Adoption||Remote Work Implementation||Outcomes of Remote Work Implementation|
|Belanger and Collins (1998)||
Level of fit among four dimensions:
|Baruch (2001)||Individual level (e.g. personal characteristics)
|Siha and Monroe (2006)||
||Employee outcomes (e.g. job satisfaction, work-life balance)Organizational outcomes (e.g. productivity, cost reduction)|
|Campbell and McDonald (2007)||Industry work practices (e.g. rivalry within industry)Organizational factors (e.g. availability of skilled staff)Employee preferences (e.g. experience)||
||Employee outcomes (e.g. job satisfaction, commute time) Organizational outcomes (e.g. productivity, flexibility)|
|Fritz and Manheim (1998)||
Critical managerial areas
|Lamond et al.(2003)||
Human Resource Management:
|Bélanger et al. (2013)||
Interactions between personnel, technical and organizational subsystems at:
Source: Our elaboration.
Belanger and Collins (1998) were the first to look at the implementation stage of remote work arrangements. In their framework the authors link telework outcomes to the degree of fit existing among four dimensions: organization (e.g. objectives, corporate culture), individuals (e.g. goals, skills), work (e.g. task interdependence, communication needs) and technology (e.g. office setup, IT equipment). Baruch (2001) explicitly pointed out the inadequate attention paid in the literature to the implementation process and proposed a ‘system approach’ to study telework, that considers, next to antecedents and preconditions for adopting remote work (drivers), the processes involved in the management of work at a distance. Nevertheless, managerial processes are not made explicit in this framework.
An effort to disclosure such processes was realized by Siha and Monroe (2006) who underlined the importance of some managerial practices for effective remote work implementation: manager’s support (e.g. in selecting appropriate employees, adapting managerial practices); employee’s support (e.g. ability to self-discipline and self-motivate); availability of adequate ICT tools. Still with regard to the implementation stage, Campbell and McDonald (2007) emphasized the crucial role of managers in re-designing processes and managing crucial issues such as employees’ alienation and loss of creativity; moreover they stressed the key role of appropriate governance mechanisms and technological tools for the effectiveness of remote working. In a previous work, Fritz and Manheim (1998) identified the following managerial areas as crucial during the implementation stage: people management; relationship management; knowledge process and management; work management, execution and process management. Focusing on the area of people management, Lamond, Daniels, and Standen (2003) showed how process dimensions, namely human resource management (e.g. selection and training of teleworkers, managerial style, investment in ICT, individual characteristics) are relevant to consider since they mediate the relationship between remote work adoption and implementation and individual outcomes for remote workers.
The last framework here considered was proposed by Bélanger et al. (2013) who suggested to adopt a multilevel and dynamic approach in studying the implementation of remote work arrangements. According to the authors, considering telework as a multilevel phenomenon implies taking into account interactions and mutual relations among individuals, groups and the organization.
It is worth highlighting that next to the relevance of the implementation of remote work arrangements, some authors have also explicitly highlighted the key role of the ‘time’ dimension: Campbell and McDonald (2007), in particular, pointed to the scarce attention given in previous studies on temporal changes for assessing success in remote work programs. In addition, Bélanger et al. (2013) emphasized that the time dimension should be seriously taken into account to understand remote work. In this respect, they highlighted how the introduction of this variable, for example in longitudinal studies, enables to reconstruct changes over time in managerial practices and actions resulting from the adoption of remote work.
Deconstructing Organizational Control: The Contribution of the Literature
Literature on organizational control provided relevant concepts to include in our framework, specifically with regard to the implementation stage pillar (see Fig. 1). According to a broad perspective, organizational control represents the system to obtain the alignment of employees’ capabilities, activities and performances to organizational aspirations and objectives (Snell, 1992; Tannenbaum, 1968). In this chapter we specifically refer not only to managerial control, that is activities exerted by managers to influence employees’ actions and decisions so that they result consistent with organizational goals (Flamholtz, Das, & Ysui, 1985), but also to actions carried out by employees that may facilitate or impede the alignment of individual and organizational objectives (e.g. Rosenthal, 2004).
In this section we first examine direct control mechanisms, both considered in isolation and combined in systems of control; then we discuss indirect control mechanisms, both as managerial levers along with employees’ actions of control and re-actions to managerial control.
From Mechanisms to Control Systems
Several attempts have been put in place in the literature to classify organizational control. The most recurrent distinction is made between formal control, that is based on the definition of objectives, rules, standard procedures, and informal control, conceived as flexible and reactive to contingent requirements. Organizational control is also classified as direct and indirect referring, respectively, to situations in which it is possible to directly monitor employees’ behaviour and to situations where control occurs indirectly relying on some levers, such as organizational culture (Hutzschenreuter, 2009). Combining these dimensions, Alvesson and Karreman (2004) identified two macro-categories, namely technocratic control and socio-ideological control that are not mutually exclusive but that can coexist. Specifically, the former is intended as directly acting on individual behaviour through the identification of processes to be performed and/or objectives to be achieved and is strongly connected to convictions and personal motivations of employees; the latter supposes to indirectly act on individual behaviour through the collective sharing of values and principles.
Another classification of control can be based on the role of supervisors and subordinates in exercising control. In the first case, control mechanisms fall exclusively within the field of action of supervisors (top-down approach): the relevant distinction is made between behaviour control, output control and input control (e.g. Eisenhardt, 1985; Ouchi, 1979; Snell, 1992). In the last case, control is also enacted by subordinates (bottom-up approach): we specifically refer to clan control, peer control, self-control and professionalism.
Behaviour control assumes that employees are monitored through the definition of standard procedures for the task execution whose respect is systematically verified by supervisors often through the direct observation of employees’ behaviours. Output control assumes that managers define and assign objectives (e.g. sales volume) to employees who autonomously identify means to achieve those goals and supervisors limit their action to periodically verifying the achievement of established goals. Input control assumes that managers define competences, skills and abilities necessary to correctly perform a task and used them as criteria for appropriately recruit new employees.
Clan control (or social control) is based on sharing principles, values and norms within a teamwork or organization, whose members have interdependent objectives that push them to reciprocally align their objectives (Chua, Lim, Soh, & Sia, 2012; Ouchi, 1979). It is important to highlight that the practice of sharing is the result of an individual choice and not of an external imposition (Kärreman & Alvesson, 2004). Moreover, both employees and supervisors contribute to social control, as the former modify their set of values (at horizontal level), whereas the latter establish structural, cognitive, relational links among members and guide, also through rituals and ceremonies, the sharing of principles, norms and values (Chua et al., 2012).
Peer control refers to control exclusively exerted by employees and directed on their colleagues (e.g. Louchry, 2010). Peer control can be formal (e.g. explicit written rules) or informal (e.g. employees react even when they are not requested); it can be management-designed, meaning that the managers arrange structures and tools to exercise this control (e.g. require to evaluate colleagues’ performance); or worker-designed, meaning that employees monitor colleagues voluntarily or following a mandate received by the organization (e.g. invite to share information about personal performance).
Self-control assumes that employees self-regulate with respect to the achievement of assigned goals. This mechanism, largely adopted for autonomous tasks (mainly creative or intellectual), implies the self-assignment of objectives, self-monitoring, self-awarding and/or self-sanctioning.
Finally, similar to clan control, professionalism assumes that control is exerted through the respect of a code of conduct shared by people belonging to the same professional category (e.g. sales forces) but to different organizations, since that employees attach high importance to preserving their own image among colleagues (Abernethy & Stoelwinder, 1995; Orlikowski, 1991; Ouchi, 1979).
In Merchant and Van der Stede (2007) behaviour, output and clan control are re-labelled as actions, results, and personnel/cultural control. According to these authors, action control aims at monitoring employees’ behaviours, for example setting behavioural constraints; conditions for results control are managers’ ability to effectively measure desired results and employees’ ability to affect the achievement of those results; personnel and cultural control are soft mechanisms encouraging self and peer monitoring.
A number of models on organizational control (Abernethy & Brownell; 1997; Eisenhardt, 1985; Kirsch, 1996; Ouchi, 1979; Snell, 1992) had been elaborated that linked the choice of a specific control mechanism to the task characteristics. Ouchi (1979) related the choice among behaviour, output or clan control to supervisor’s knowledge about the transformation process and to output measurability. Eisenhardt (1985) suggested to choose among behaviour, output or social control on the basis of task programmability, output uncertainty and availability of information systems providing data about employee’s performances. Referring to the context of business strategy, Snell (1992) recommended that the choice between behaviour or output control should be based on the complexity of the strategic change (i.e. managers’ capability to manage such changes) and to managers’ ability to define reliable performance indicators. Recruiting people with specific skills and characteristics (input control) is instead the most appropriate solution when managers have no sufficient knowledge to manage changes in organizational process nor are able to define performance standards. Focusing on complex tasks, Kirsch (1996) suggested that the choice between behaviour, output or clan control mechanisms should be related to the ability to observe employee’s behaviour, to output measurability, to supervisor’s knowledge and experience about that complex task; otherwise, the only viable solution is self-control. Finally, Abernethy and Brownell (1997) related the choice among accounting (output), behaviour or personnel (inspired to clan) control to the level of routine, specifically referred to the existence (or not) of well-established techniques to perform that task and the degree of variety in the tasks encountered.
Rather than focusing on a single mechanisms, later studies pointed out that supervisors often do not rely on a single mechanism, but rather adopt a balanced and integrated mix of formal and informal control mechanisms. They refer to this combination with the term control system (Jaworski, Stathakopoulos, & Krishnan, 1993; Simons, 1995) and more recently with the term control configuration (Sitkin et al., 2010). Jaworski et al. (1993), in particular, distinguishing between primary control (e.g. the prevailing type) and secondary control (e.g. the less important type), identified four typologies of control systems, that is bureaucratic systems,(when formal control prevails); clan systems, (informal control prevails); high control systems, (formal and informal control are primary); low control systems, (both formal and informal control are secondary). They also empirically showed that business unit characteristics (e.g. size) and task complexity (e.g. interdependence) influence the adoption of a specific typology of control system. Simons (1995) was more interested in identifying levers allowing control system both to enable the implementation of strategies deliberately set by top management and, at the same time, to stimulate the autonomous and spontaneous search of new opportunities and assumption of strategic initiatives by employees. The author also highlighted that managers act on traditional diagnostic control system but also on other three levers, that is sharing values among employees (belief systems), limiting their opportunity-seeking behaviours (boundary system), favouring their learning and emergence of new ideas and strategies (interactive control system). More recently Sitkin et al. (2010) proposed to adopt the concept of configuration to provide a holistic view of organizational control. Therefore, taking into account the source (market, hierarchy, clan), the target (behaviour, output, input) and the level of formality, they identified four ideal configurations, that is market configuration, in which market is intended as source of control, as it provides prices for evaluating individual performances through output control; bureaucratic configuration, where internal hierarchy is meant as source of control therefore all formal mechanisms are used to monitor employees; clan configuration, where informal control is used to monitor employees; finally both formal and informal control are used in the so-called integrative configuration.
Extant empirical research has supported the higher effectiveness of combining more control mechanisms, of formal and informal nature, compared to the use of a single one (e.g. Kirsch, 1996; Kreutzer, Walter, & Cardinal, 2014; Orlikowski, 1991). For example, as for the balancing of formal and informal control, Louchry (2010) showed that the first, although often essential, presents the risk of creating a climate of distrust towards the organization. This negative effect can be mitigated through informal control which favours employees well-being, trust in management and even legitimates formal control.
Within studies on organizational control, a fresh perspective – relevant for our framework – has been recently provided by some authors (Cardinal et al., 2004; Sitkin et al., 2010) who have pointed to the value of a process perspective for advancing existing knowledge on the issue (Langley, 2009; Langley et al., 2013). Indeed, as underlined by these scholars, empirical research on organizational control has been largely influenced by a variance-based static perspective that is at the basis of co-variation studies. Variance-based studies are predominantly quantitative and rely on cross-sectional data to explain relationship between dependent and independent variables. Applied for studying organizational control, variance theories have explained, for example, the relationships between control mechanisms used at a given time and a specific performance outcome, such as job satisfaction (Christ, Emett, Summers, & Wood, 2012; McColl-Kennedy & Anderson, 2002). Notwithstanding the value of variance-based studies, the authors pointed to the need of process research for understanding the temporal dynamic of organizational control. Indeed, addressing questions about ‘how’ and ‘why’ things emerge, develop, grow or terminate over time (Langley & Tsoukas, 2010) process theories on organizational control can shed light, for example, on how the control configuration change over time to adapt to organizational evolution (Sitkin et al., 2010).
Organizational Control as a Manager’s Resource and an Employees’ Resource
In the literature discussed above, organizational control is mainly regarded as the set of mechanisms that are direct in nature, regardless their use is made by managers (e.g. behavioural, output, input), employees (e.g. peer control, self-control) or by both categories of actors (e.g. clan control). Accordingly, organizational control can be conceived both as a managerial resource and an employee’s resource (e.g. Rosenthal, 2004).
As for the first, we draw on organizational literature to identify managerial levers that can act as indirect mechanisms of control by ensuring the alignment of individual and organizational goals and potentially being equally effective as direct mechanisms (Costa & Bijlsma-Frankema, 2007; Duane & Finnegan, 2003). The managerial levers taken into account are: identity, organizational identification, commitment, trust, empowerment, culture, supervisory power and leadership style.
In this regard, Alvesson and Willmott (2002) explained that identity can act as control mechanism when supervisors deliberately intervene on the identity regulation process in order to obtain the coincidence of personal and work identities. Specifically, personal identity is the self-perceived by the person with respect to the society (‘who am I?’) whereas work identity refers to the individual perceptions with respect to the organization; finally, the identity regulation concerns the process through which those identities converge, as a result of autonomous actions of employee, or of managerial or environmental pressures.
Organizational identification (OI) refers to employees’ perceptions to be part of an organization (‘to which organization I belong to?’) (Ashforth, Harrison, & Corley, 2008; Kärreman & Alvesson, 2004) that, under some conditions, acts as a control mechanism and may even substitute direct supervision (He & Brown, 2013). Again, not only employees autonomously negotiate their own identity and membership to the organization (sense-making), but also managers play an active role, since they push individuals to call themselves into question (sense-breaking) and support them in finding answers (sense-giving) (Ashforth et al., 2008).
Commitment assumes that the ‘self’ and the ‘organization’ remain two separate entities; here the question is ‘how happy and satisfied am I to belong to my organization?’ (Ashforth et al., 2008), which reflects on the desire to continue to be part of the organization and on individual engagement in pursuing organizational goals. Usually it is distinguished among affective commitment, that is emotional attachment to the organization; continuance commitment, that is employees’ perceptions about costs in case they leave the organization; normative commitment, that is cultural factors pushing employees not to leave the organization (Meyer & Allen, 1991). Grant, Dutton, and Rosso (2008) demonstrated that managers can partially influence continuance and normative commitment to the extent that they can effectively act on the process by which employee develops an emotional bond with the organization, for example implementing actions through which show to take care of employees. This is particularly interesting since, although all affect turnover intentions, affective commitment results to be the most important as it impacts also on attendance, performance, organizational citizenship, well-being (Meyer, Stanley, Herscovitch, & Topolnytsky, 2002).
Trust is intended as a psychological state referring to positive expectations that supervisors have towards employees, about their abilities, skills, integrity; it acts as a control mechanism since trusting employees assume that they will correctly perform the assigned task (Costa & Bijlsma-Frankema, 2007). However, although a minimum level of trust seems to be essential to control effectiveness, there are two different perspectives in analysing the relationship between trust and control. In fact the ‘substitutive’ perspective assumes that trust and control are inversely related, so that a lack of trust pushes managers to adopt formal control, the opposite occurs when there is confidence between supervisors and employees. The ‘complementary’ perspective assumes they are mutually reinforcing and contributing to positive cooperation between supervisors and employees.
Empowerment implies the involvement of employees in goal setting so that they feel more responsible and motivated to pursue those objectives; in fact employees’ perceptions about the ability to control and/or influence the physical, social, economic environment, favours the alignment between individual and the organization (Conger & Kanungo, 1988; Schulz, Israel, Zimmerman, & Checkoway, 1995). Nevertheless, relationships between empowerment and control is not so straightforward since, when control and empowering actions are not balanced, there is the risk that excessive involvement of employees provokes control failure or an inadequate control inhibits the empowerment of employees (Duane & Finnegan, 2003).
Organizational culture refers to a system of shared values and norms, resulting from a dynamic process of adaptation to the external environment and subsequent internalization; therefore, so that culture can act as a control mechanism, it is necessary that managers have the ability to influence employees’ values and norms prompting them towards the pursue of organizational goals (Grugulis, Dundon, & Wilkinson, 2000; Pfister, 2009). However it is not univocally defined if managers are actually able to change organizational culture (managed change) or it rather derive from a natural process (natural change); nor it is univocally defined if change of values comes from the employees’ willingness to change (genuine), or by a passive submission to the organization (compliance) (Ogbonna & Harris, 1998).
Finally, supervisory power and leadership style are considered to be able to influence the dynamics of organizational control and facilitate the alignment between individual and organizational goals. In this respect, Yukl and Falbe (1991) evidenced the importance to consider the sources of supervisory power, that may derive from internal hierarchies (position power) or from supervisor’s characteristics in terms of, for example, previous experiences, persuasive skills (personal power). As for leadership style, the relevant distinction can be made between transformational style, where the leader is a motivator that encourages employees to face problems and supports them through relationship oriented communications; transactional style, where the leader is interested in reinforcing his role, therefore communications with subordinates are limited to provide task-related information (Bass, 1991; Elkins & Keller, 2003; Pfeffer & Salancik, 1975).
On the other hand, assuming organizational control as an employee’s resource implies that employees do not passively accept control; rather they are active actors, not only because they could control themselves and their colleagues, but also because they can take actions causing changes in existing control structures (Boxall, Ang, & Bartram, 2011; Ferneley & Sobreperez, 2006; Rosenthal, 2004). Actions oriented at influencing control structures and considered in our analysis include: resistance to management domination, that happens when employees put in place actions in order to escape the control (e.g. managers ask to fill out documents but employees do not). This situation clearly compromises the effectiveness of monitoring actions taken by managers; attempts made by remote workers to impress supervisors through continuous communication regarding the performed activities and/or attempts to ingratiate managers with favours and compliments. This may affect both the degree (e.g. strict or weak) and the mechanisms (e.g. formal or informal) that manager will adopt to control that employee, and the assessment of her performance relevant for career promotions; actively collaborating with colleagues, since the propensity to collaborate and share with colleagues is crucial for the effectiveness of all mechanisms assuming employees’ participation, including clan control, peer control and organizational culture.
Linking Antecedents of Remote Work Adoption and Implementation Outcomes to Organizational Control Dynamics: The Conceptual Framework
On the basis of literature on remote work and organizational control, a conceptual framework has been developed that deconstructs the complexity of organizational control in its constituting elements and links them to both to the antecedents of remote work adoption (drivers and the model of remote work) and to remote work implementation outcomes (Fig. 2). In more detail, the framework opens up the implementation stage of remote work arrangements focusing on the dynamics of organizational control and helps to understand its role when the organization decides to adopt a given remote working model for one or more organizational units, individuals and/or tasks.
As for remote work antecedents, they include both drivers of remote work adoption and the specific characteristics of the adopted remote work arrangement. Coherently to reviewed literature, drivers are grouped in three categories: environmental factors (e.g. governmental regulations, industry characteristics such as variability, innovation level, HR practices adopted by competitors), organizational factors (e.g. number and decentralization of corporate locations, managerial culture, job characteristics, technological equipment), employees’ characteristics (e.g. self-sufficiency, reliability, 5 familiarity with ICT tools, ability to entertain relationships with colleagues and customers) and preferences (i.e. willingness to telework conditioned positively, e.g. by children presence, or negatively, e.g. by fear of isolation). With regard to the characteristics of the remote work model adopted, we refer to Daniels et al. (2001) who considered as relevant: locations (i.e. home-based, telecentres); frequency (i.e. number of days of telework), formalization level, ICT equipment, knowledge and intra and extra-organization communications necessary to effectively perform the assigned task.
Another building block of our framework is constituted by the outcomes of remote work implementation. Based on the literature, outcomes are considered at: individual level (e.g. productivity, job satisfaction, turnover intentions, work-family balance, social and professional isolation); at group level (e.g. team performance, coordination and communication among members, information and knowledge sharing); at organizational level (e.g. productivity, performance, customer satisfaction, flexibility due to changes in cost structure, ability to attract and retain talents).
Looking at the implementation process of remote work arrangements, the framework is developed on the assumption that organizational control is not a static entity but a process of mutual constitution between structures of control and actions enacted by both managers and employees (Giddens, 1991) that develops over time. Accordingly to this perspective, the disruptive event (e.g. the introduction of remote work in the organization replacing traditional office-based working) ‘triggers’ the enactment process that over time leads from an initial structure of control (control structure at time t x − 1) to a different one (control structure at time t 1). At the same time, conceiving organizational control as a process the framework shows how a variance-based perspective focused on studying relationships between variables can benefit from the integration with a process perspective that emphasizes time, sequence and mechanisms related to organizational control and are displayed along the implementation process (e.g. Langley, 2009).
On the basis of reviewed organizational literature on the issue, we include four main areas that are relevant for understanding the dynamics of organizational control: (1) control systems, that is the mix of direct formal and informal mechanisms (behaviour, output, input, clan, self, peer, professionalism) used by managers to monitor and supervise both remote and office-based employees; (2) managerial levers, acting as indirect control mechanisms to achieve the convergence between individual and organizational goals: identity, identification, commitment, trust, empowerment and organizational culture, power position and leadership style. Also for them, relevant changes can exist between specific control actions directed to teleworkers and office-based colleagues; (3) employees’ actions of control: both remote and on-site employees contribute to the enactment of social control not only through self-control, clan control, peer control, professionalism, but also putting in place actions through which they influence existing control structures (e.g. resistance through dissimulation; behaviours to impress managers; collaboration with colleagues); (4) control technologies. This last area, in particular, can be considered transversally to all the others and is introduced to explicitly include the role of technology in shaping the dynamics of organizational control in remote work contexts. Indeed, as suggested by some studies (Klein & Myers, 1999; Orlikowski, 1991), technology can be used as a tool for enabling employees’ monitoring (e.g. use of email, telephone or log-in log-off systems). However, in our framework, technology of control is not considered as a given entity for supervisors and employees. We are interested at looking at the specific use of technology for control purposes by managers, remote workers and office-based colleagues (technologies in practice) and how it modifies over time existing control structures fostering the shift from a control structure (at time t x − 1) to a different one (at time t 1) (Orlikowski, 1991, 2000).
Organizational control is a key managerial issue in the context of remote work arrangements. The altered structure of ‘presence’ and ‘visibility’ of teleworkers (Felstead et al., 2003) introduced by the adoption and implementation of innovative remote working models enabled by ICT puts into question the effectiveness of traditional organizational control mechanisms based on direct supervision. Arguably, through altering both horizontal and vertical relationships, the introduction of remote work arrangements in organizations constitutes a disruptive event that triggers a dynamics of change in existing control structures.
Drawing on literature on both remote work and organizational control, we developed a conceptual framework which deconstructs organizational control in a number of constituting elements and links the dynamics of change in organizational control during the implementation of remote work arrangements with antecedents (i.e. drivers of adoption and the characteristics of the specific model of remote work adopted) and outcomes produced by its implementation at individual, group and organizational level.
In studying organizational phenomena, that is organizational control, the framework integrates the predominant variance-based perspective, statically focused on entities, with a process-based ontology. Indeed, although still scanty adopted in both literature on remote work and organizational control, an analytical perspective focused on processes of change over time has been recently invoked in both research strands. Accordingly, the framework constitutes a valuable reference for future research aimed at understanding the role played by organizational control in the context of remote work arrangements. Indeed, addressing the issue through robust theoretical grounds, the framework enables to address questions like: how does the adoption of remote work arrangements influence organizational control? How do control practices affect the outcomes of distance work implementation? How do control processes moderate or mediate the relationship between remote work implementation and its outcomes?
At the same time, the framework can be used as a reference guide to position existing research on remote work arrangements and organizational control and help to identify relationships among variables and/or mechanisms underlying changes in control structures. The framework also supports a future meta-analysis of researches on this issue so that, through the comparison of multiple empirical studies investigating the same phenomenon (i.e. organizational control in the context of remote work arrangements), it is possible to obtain an overview of implications deriving from the adoption of remote work for one or more constituting elements of organizational control. Finally, it would assist researchers in identifying inconsistencies among results, research gaps and future directions of research.
In order to practically show a potential use of the framework, five articles were selected from the literature on the issue and the relationships/dimensions among relevant variables/constructs were investigated. Of the selected papers, two adopted a variance-based approach whereas the others are qualitative in nature. The main findings of the analysis are reported in Table 3.
|Remote work model||Variable/dimension||Mediator||Variable/dimension|
|Kurland and Egan (1999)||N.A.||Telework||
||Telework impacts on remote workers’ justice perceptions. Teleworkers perceived greater equity when they are controlled through standard procedures, and communicate frequently and informally with their supervisors.|
|Kurland and Cooper (2002)||N.A.||
||Supervisors used a mix of mechanisms which, except for clan, are the same for office-based employees and teleworkers. Teleworkers considered that output control reduces the risks of career penalties. However supervisors and a part of teleworkers believed that it is necessary to combine that form with clan control: in fact work at a distance reduces in the long term career opportunities because of the fewer opportunities to informally learn, develop skills and interpersonal relationships.|
|Felstead et al. (2003)||Home-based||Telework||
||Supervisors adopted a mix of managerial practices (including trust and culture) to overcome non presence and non-visibility of teleworkers. However this mix often produces inconsistent results because of the lack of a strategic vision and the inadequate comprehension of social structures.|
|Fogarty et al. (2011)||Home-based, formal and informal programmes||Telework||Office-based employees’ attitude regarding:||Office-based workers believed necessary to adopt specific formal mechanisms to control remote workers. They believed to be important to formally specify days of teleworking, even if this risks to generate inflexibility for teleworkers. Finally it emerges a paradox in equity perceptions, as formal telework programmes guarantee distributive and procedural equity whereas informal programmes guarantee interactional justice.|
|Madlock (2012)||Home-based, full-time||Leadership style:
||Leader communication competence||Teleworkers’:
||Unlike traditional work context, teleworkers prefer supervisors send them messages intended to communicate how to perform the task assigned, rather than to build and/or maintain interpersonal relationships.|
Source: Our elaboration.
In more details, Kurland and Egan (1999) aimed at explaining if control mechanisms and the formalization of communication with supervisors mediate the relationships between telework adoption and perceptions of organizational justice of remote workers. Kurland and Cooper (2002), instead, aimed at comprehending the relationship between control mechanisms and feelings of professional isolation, that is teleworkers’ fear of being penalized in terms of career progression compared to office-based colleagues. Felstead et al. (2003) tried to comprehend how the adoption of a work arrangement assuming employees are not visible and not present, results in changes in monitoring practices. Fogarty et al. (2011) focused on office-based colleagues and tried to understand their attitude towards remote colleagues and, specifically, what they believe to be mechanisms to be used to monitor teleworkers, the adequate level of flexibility, and their perceptions of organizational justice. Finally Madlock (2012) tried to explain the relationship between leadership style and teleworkers’ commitment, job satisfaction and communication satisfaction.
The integrated analysis of results of these papers enabled to develop some preliminary but interesting reflections, respectively, about complementary results, inconsistent findings, future research opportunities. In this regard, Kurland and Egan (1999) evidenced that frequent and informal communications with supervisors ensure that teleworkers perceive to be treated equally compared to their office-based colleagues. However these authors do not indicate which is the content of such communications, that is instead provided in Madlock (2012)’s study. This work can be considered of complementary value for exiting research since it showed that, in contrast with office-based colleagues, teleworkers are more satisfied and committed when supervisors give priority to send them messages through which they obtain information to correctly perform the tasks (task-oriented leadership), rather than messages aiming at building, maintaining and reinforcing relationships (relationship–oriented leadership).
Furthermore, looking at the selected papers, some inconsistent findings emerged regarding control mechanisms, since behaviour control was found to positively affect perception of organizational justice of teleworkers in Kurland and Egan (1999), whereas output control and clan control seemed to be more effective in order to reduce fear of professional isolation of teleworkers in Kurland and Cooper (2002).
Future research on the topic should seriously take into account the nature of the task for explaining different outcomes resulting from remote work implementation. Indeed, this factor seems to significantly influence the organizational control structure, so we expect that the dynamics of change would be affected by differences in task characteristics. Moreover, the framework emphasized how future research should address the issue of organizational control in remote work environments through the integration of different perspectives, namely those of supervisors, remote workers and office-based colleagues. Actually, these three categories of agents are simultaneously involved in enacting organizational control structures and thus all contribute to its dynamics of change over time.
When looking at relevant research on the issue and in order to choose frameworks to be included in the review we made no distinction between remote work arrangements and the other terms cited in the test, notably telework.
Outcomes at this level are not included in our discussion.
In the literature, flexible work arrangements constitute a broader category of innovative working models that also includes remote work arrangements. In this sub-category, however, the use of ICT is essential for enabling working at a distance.
Self-sufficiency refers to the individual ability to autonomously work, solve problems and concentrate, whereas reliability refers to the individual ability to self-motivate and self-discipline (Wicks, 2002).
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- Performance Measurement and Management Control: Contemporary Issues
- Studies in Managerial and Financial Accounting
- Performance Measurement and Management Control: Contemporary Issues
- Copyright Page
- List of Contributors
- Part I: Critical Management Challenges of Performance Measurement and Management Control
- Breakthrough Innovation: The Critical Role of Management Control Systems
- The Complex World of Control: Integration of Ethics and Uses of Control
- Part II: Performance Measurement and Management Control: Linkages to Society
- Integrated Reporting and Sustainability Reporting: An Exploratory Study of High Performance Companies
- Exploring the Effects of Corporate Governance on Voluntary Disclosure: An Explanatory Study on the Adoption of Integrated Report
- Part III: Performance Measurement and Management Control: Improving Performance
- What Matters with PMS? Critical Check Points in the Success of PMS
- The Effectiveness of Strategic Performance Measurement System in Creating and Steering Tension
- Management Accounting Change in a Manufacturing Company (1946–1975)
- Part IV: Performance Measurement and Management Control: New Directions
- Budgeting for Transactional Control: The Case of a Russian Oil Company Subsidiary
- Performance Management in Central and Eastern European Countries: A Literature Review
- Organizational Control in the Context of Remote Work Arrangements: A Conceptual Framework
- Part V: Performance Measurement and Management Control in Governmental and Nonprofit Organizations
- Commonalities and Differences in Public and Private Sector Performance Management Practices: A Literature Review
- Performance Assessment in the Public Sector – The Issue of Interpretation Asymmetries and Some Behavioral Responses