Original Research

Working in a post Covid-19 world: Towards a conceptual framework for distributed work

Michael S. Henry, Daniel B. le Roux, Douglas A. Parry
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 52, No 1 | a2155 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v52i1.2155 | © 2021 Michael S. Henry, Daniel B. le Roux, Douglas A. Parry | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 May 2020 | Published: 22 January 2021

About the author(s)

Michael S. Henry, Department of Information Science, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa; and Department of Communication, Faculty of Social Sciences, LCC International University, Klaipėda, Lithuania
Daniel B. le Roux, Department of Information Science, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Douglas A. Parry, Department of Information Science, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


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Abstract

Purpose: Against the backdrop of the increased prevalence of telework practices as a result of Covid-19, the purpose of the present article is to address the conceptual confusion, overlap and ambiguity characterising much of the published literature in this domain through the development of an integrated conceptual framework describing distributed work practices at various levels of organisations.

Design/methodology/approach: To develop the framework, a collection of definitions for distributed work concepts were systematically selected and reviewed. These concepts include telework, remote work, distributed work and virtual work, as well as telecommuting, virtual teams, virtual organisations and distributed organisations. The reviewed definitions were systematically analysed to elicit the key principles underlying each concept, and then integrated to produce the conceptual framework.

Findings: Our analysis suggests that virtuality and distributedness can be defined as distinct continua which, when combined, can be used to describe particular work settings. Additionally, we identify four factors which impact organisational policy in terms of virtuality and distributedness: interdependence of tasks, nature of work, technological environment and temporal distance.

Practical implications: The framework offers managers a foundation for establishing distributed work policies and determining policy implications. Additionally, researchers conducting empirical investigations of distributed work practices can utilise the framework to differentiate between and describe particular work settings.

Originality/value: The conceptual integration of virtuality, distributedness and organisational levels present a novel and important development. As organisations adapt to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the framework we propose serves as a useful artefact to support and inform their decision making.


Keywords

virtual work; remote work; distributed work; telecommute; virtual team; distributed organisation; virtuality; distributedness.

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