Productive and connected while working from home: what client-facing remote workers can learn from telenurses about 'belonging through technology'

06 April 2021

Client-facing work is challenging at the best of times, but the sudden shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional difficulties. Concerns about how employee productivity and wellbeing are negatively impacted by the unfamiliar remote work context abound. We draw on a study of skilled remote workers that was conducted before the pandemic to theorise how client-facing work can be conducted effectively. In particular we examine how client-facing employees can foster a sense of belonging when they are not co-located. We use an abductive research approach, combining empirical material from interviews with tele-nurses with theoretical material from Goffman’s categories of “communication out of character”. We thereby theorise what we call “belonging through technology”, as the outcome of four types of team communication that contribute to the performance of effective client-facing work in a remote context. We distinguish and conceptualise functions of such team communication as coping, learning, plotting, and positioning, which together create belonging. We argue that “belonging” relates to both wellbeing and productivity, because belonging to one’s team (wellbeing) and belonging to one’s work role (productivity) are inherently connected in the performance of client-facing work. We offer insights to help practitioners in such remote work contexts.