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Corporate Communications: An International Journal

Constructing corporate commitment amongst remote employees: A disposition and


predisposition approach
Glenda Jacobs

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Glenda Jacobs, (2008),"Constructing corporate commitment amongst remote employees", Corporate
Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 13 Iss 1 pp. 42 - 55
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Glenda Jacobs, (2006),"Communication for commitment in remote technical workforces", Journal of
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Valerie J. Morganson, Debra A. Major, Kurt L. Oborn, Jennifer M. Verive, Michelle P. Heelan,
(2010),"Comparing telework locations and traditional work arrangements: Differences in work-life balance
support, job satisfaction, and inclusion", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 25 Iss 6 pp. 578-595 http://
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Constructing corporate
commitment amongst remote
employees

42

A disposition and predisposition approach

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Glenda Jacobs
Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand and
University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
Abstract
Purpose This paper aims to propose a framework for examining and understanding corporate
commitment amongst teleworking employees that deconstructs and expands upon approaches to date.
It seeks to propose a perspective from which apparent tensions highlighted in existing studies can be
understood and explored, and to suggest new relationships and combinations of conditions that
impact on the communication practices and assumptions of both managers and employees.
Design/methodology/approach The approach to data collection and analysis is qualitative and
interpretive, with primary data obtained by means of semi-structured interviews subsequently
analysed using both open and focussed coding. This method was selected because the dimensions and
implications of communication practices in this particular context were largely unknown.
Findings This study illustrates the significance of distinguishing between the needs that underpin
employees choosing to continue the relationship and their readiness to act in the organisations
interests. It also demonstrates that categorising the nature of the organisational relationship by
identifying employees mental relationship models may be, if not more useful than identifying types of
commitment, at least additionally useful in understanding how organisational commitment in remote
workforces is constructed and perpetuated.
Originality/value This study and the framework it proposes for understanding commitment adds
to existing research into remote workforce commitment in that it suggests new ways in which to
conceptualise and examine what studies to date have identified as its constituent elements and
antecedents. In particular, it facilitates debate and discussion regarding the ways the range of
influences on behaviours identified as committed interrelate, as well as regarding the way
employees disposition may alter the perceived meaning of such behaviours.
Keywords Job satisfaction, Remote workers
Paper type Research paper

Corporate Communications: An
International Journal
Vol. 13 No. 1, 2008
pp. 42-55
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1356-3289
DOI 10.1108/13563280810848184

Introduction
Commitment noticeably underpins contemporary management goals of organisational
learning, quality management and employee empowerment and motivation (Linstead
et al., 2004, Weick, 1995; Tourish and Hargie, 2004). Consequently, a significant amount
of research attention has focussed on exploring and understanding what commitment
means, as well as what fosters or undermines it. In doing so, studies and theoretical
analyses to date have proposed a range of approaches to and ways of discussing the
notion of organisational commitment.
The study of commitment in relation to teleworking
Teleworking[1] studies recognise both the perceived importance of securing the
commitment of remote workforces, as well as the particular challenges that doing

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so presents. For example, studies show that a strong bond with their organisation is
considered essential to securing such employees motivation, productivity and
reliability (Mirchandani, 1999; Connaughton and Daly, 2004; Hertel, 2004). A sense of
belonging is also perceived to be the foundation for (and generator of) trust on which
knowledge sharing, collaboration and indirect forms of control are vitally dependent
(Lipnack and Stamps, 1997; Nilles, 1998; Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1998). Ironically,
however, while analysis of remote working circumstances reveal the likelihood of an
enhanced need for fostering employees commitment to their organisation, it is these
very working circumstances that potentially raise the barriers to achieving it
(Depickere, 1999; Hoeffling, 2001; Pinsonneault and Boisvert, 2001; Staples, 2001;
Wiesenfield, 1998; Postmes et al., 2001). It is argued that without exposure to physically
and spatially shared structures and systems that reinforce and maintain organisational
identification, teleworkers may come to view themselves as independent contractors,
operating autonomously and without consideration for or motivation to pursue the
goals and values of organisation that employs them (Wiesenfield, 1998).
Examples of suggested strategies for fostering commitment in teleworkers include
the provision of regular opportunities for face-to-face meeting and information sharing,
work opportunities requiring team interdependence and collaboration; recognition and
reward systems that emphasise collaboration; information and communication
technologies facilitating group work and organised virtual meeting; as well as list
serves, discussion boards, chat rooms and similar online informal social
communication arenas (Applegate, 1999; Mirchandani, 1999; Staples, 2001; Jackson,
1999). What all these strategies have in common is an emphasis on employees
identifying themselves as part of a group despite their physical separation from each
other. Postmes et al. (2001) add to this condition the requirement that identification
with and loyalty to the organisation (as opposed to a work team) is dependent
on vertical communication with management. In all cases, there is a reliance on
computer-mediated (supplemented by opportunities for face-to-face) communication to
provide the necessary opportunities for co-incidental as well as deliberate knowledge
and value sharing. None of this is particularly problematic when teleworkers work
from home.
This paper, by way of contrast, deals with a particular, neglected group that of
field-based mobile service technicians and engineers field service engineers (FSEs).
These are employees whose work conditions, needs and responsibilities demand
re-examination of strategies suggested to date for engaging the commitment of
teleworking employees and indeed also the strategies used by researchers and
practitioners for examining and explaining commitment in corporate environments.
Aim of this paper
Studies to date raise a number of unresolved issues and questions relating not only to
the nature of commitment but also to the way it can be meaningfully studied and
explained. This paper focuses on two such perspectives as particularly relevant to the
study of remote working, and in doing so it proposes an alternative framework for
examining and understanding corporate commitment amongst remote workforces that
deconstructs and expands upon approaches to date. Within this framework, apparent
tensions highlighted in existing studies may be understood and explored, and new

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44

relationships and combinations of conditions are revealed that impact on the


communication practices and assumptions of both managers and employees.
The behavioural/attitudinal perspective
A number of organisational studies approach commitment from a behavioural
perspective. That is, commitment is defined and examined as a process conditioned by
obligation to past choices and behaviour patterns, and reinforced by present action
(Linstead et al., 2004; Mowday et al., 1982; Scholl, 1981). On the other hand,
commitment is also approached from an attitudinal perspective, according to which
researchers define it as a state of mind: a way in which individuals think about the
organisation and their role in it (Mowday et al., 1982; Brown, 1996).
Clearly, these approaches can be viewed as related. For example, the way attitudinal
commitment is enacted and communicated could create behavioural patterns to which
individuals or groups might arguably also subsequently feel bound (Brown, 1996).
However, it is equally evident that particular behavioural patterns cannot in
themselves be regarded as evidence of particular attitudes. For example, while
employees work habits may illustrate and reinforce particular attitudes toward the
organisation, they may just as easily also be illustrating and reinforcing something
else, e.g. mindless habit (Cheney and Tompkins, 1987) or other commitments (e.g. to a
professional community). This would be particularly relevant in the study of remote
workforces, who are potentially exposed to a more overtly present range of
extra-organisational relational and situational distracters than their on-site colleagues.
The commitment typologies perspective
In addition to studies that illustrate and examine the attitudinal/behavioural
distinction, there is a substantial body of literature that defines different types of
organisational commitment. These types are identified as, respectively, inspired and
sustained by: emotional attachment to and identification with organisational values
(most frequently referred to as affective commitment); by habit or perceived cost of
alternatives (most frequently referred to as continuance or calculative commitment); by
a sense of obligation (most frequently referred to as normative commitment) or by an
expectation of mutual exchange (most frequently referred to as psychological contract
commitment) (Meyer and Allen, 1997; Herriot et al., 1997; Linstead et al., 2004; Morrison
and Robinson, 1997; Abrahamson, 2002). Of these, the values-based form appears most
discussed and its antecedents most frequently investigated in teleworking studies,
arguably because it is the form of commitment which organisations are most likely to
want in their employees (Meyer and Allen, 1997), and also possibly because it is
associated with facilitating concertive control (Barker, 1993; Scholl, 2003; Adami, 1999)
which would be of particular interest to managers of remote workforces.
Cheney and Tompkins (1987) illustrate both of these perspectives in their theoretical
analysis of identification and commitment, in which they define identification as a state
of mind and the behaviour that expresses that state of mind, as opposed to
commitment, which they define as a modality: a form in which organisational
identification is manifested, but also a form in which other structures can be actioned
as well (e.g. professional identification, or historical routine). Their analysis illustrates
and reinforces not only the proposition that behaviour identified as illustrating
commitment may not be the expression of identification only, but also the assumption

that identification is the most interesting and valuable context within which to
examine and understand commitment. Indeed, since the conditions for affective
individual-organisation commitment are dependent on communication, a significant
amount of organisational communication research and theoretical insight has focussed
on the essentially communicative nature of the identification process (Cheney and
Tompkins, 1987; Larson and Pepper, 2003; Scott and Stephens, 2005).

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Issues and questions raised by existing approaches
Firstly, the importance of organisational commitment is variously described by both
scholars and practitioners in terms of employees willingness to remain with the
organisation and be relied upon to promote and act in its interests (Postmes et al., 2001;
Meyer and Allen, 1997; Mowday, 1998; Cheney and Tompkins, 1987). Sometimes the
focus is on one (Cheney and Tompkins, 1987; Scott and Corman, 1998; Barker and
Camarata, 1998; Staples, 2001) or sometimes both (Mowday et al., 1979; Scholl, 1981)
but frequently discussion occurs without a perceived need to distinguish between the
two and/or to explain why one rather than the other is being discussed in the context of
that study (Postmes et al., 2001; Staples, 2001; McCloskey, 2001).
The significance and relevance of this distinction can be illustrated in terms of the
difference between talking about employees being committed to the organisation (i.e.
commitment describing relating to the organisation in such a way that promoting and
pursuing its interests makes sense) and being committed to any relationship with in
other words, remaining with the organisation (i.e. commitment describes a
willingness to pursue a relationship; it says nothing about the type or intent of the
relationship).
Both situations could be simultaneously be true, of course: an individual could be
committed to the relationship (i.e. to maintaining and pursuing the relationship as a
useful means to some end) as well as being committed to the organisation (i.e. to
pursuing the interests of the organisation itself). Since, field service engineers who
have the choice to work as independent contractors or as organisational members
explicitly make both decisions, exploring how and whether these interrelate could be
instructive in understanding how any such congruence could be assumed or achieved
and even whether congruence is necessary.
Secondly, given the prevailing research focus on affective commitment and
organisational identification, the role of communication in negotiating alternative
types of commitment or indeed, alternative constructions of commitment per se
has tended to be downplayed. This is particularly significant in contexts where
employees opportunities for face-to-face (formal and informal) communication with
both management and peers are eliminated or significantly reduced, and where
physical distance requires a degree of independence from the organisation. In such
contexts, the pertinence of identification, and indeed of the other commonly-recognised
forms of commitment, might require revision and even reconceptualisation.
Lastly, it also appears that little attention has been paid to the influence on
organisational commitment of the way members perceive and rationalise it, and the
significance they attach to both the behaviours and attitudes that constitute and
construct it.
This study of how commitment is understood and negotiated by FSEs and their
managers is useful in addressing these issues, since their remote work environment

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draws particular attention to and permits focussed examination of the function and
significance of organisational ties and of the interactions that develop and sustain
them, given that these have to be deliberately and explicitly pursued in the light of the
extra effort they require.

46

Method
This paper is based on a two-year investigation into the commitment practices and
perceptions of field service engineers and their managers. The purpose of this
investigation was to understand, how the relationship between remote field service
engineers and their employing organisation is mutually constructed and negotiated.
Primary data was obtained by means of semi-structured interviews with
16 engineers and eight managers from two UK-based corporates. This method was
selected because the dimensions and implications of communication practices in this
particular context were largely unknown (Yin, 1994).
Field-based service engineers were used in this study because their work situation
illustrates and in many cases exacerbates the challenges associated with remote
working. Field service engineers communication options are limited not only by
distance and reduced frequency, but also by wide variations in work schedules, job
locations and client environments. For example, face-to-face meetings are logistically
problematic because the engineers work shifts, are called out unpredictably to
geographically far-flung venues, and have customer demands to meet in inelastic
timeframes. Furthermore, being on the road and/or working in conditions that limit
access even to e-mail, FSEs and their team managers are unable to tap into
commonly-used digital communication channels. Even where these technologies are
accessible, finding the time to use them while working constitutes a challenge.
Importantly, too, their tasks are not group tasks and despite administratively
belonging to a team they seldom if ever need to work together. In fact, FSEs are
valued by their companies for being self-reliant and independent problem-solvers.
Unlike sales personnel, however, who enjoy considerable independence and flexibility
as long as they meet their targets, FSEs have no choice as to when or where they work;
supervision and surveillance (frequently digital) is tight; and their reporting routines
are as or more stringent and time-consuming as those found in office-based
contexts.
The participant companies provided the researcher with lists of their engineering
teams and managers, and the researcher selected names blind from those lists.
Selected individuals were provided with information and consent documentation a
month in advance of the interviews, to allow them to decide whether to participate. The
managers then arranged for those individuals to be available for interviews. Interviews
were conducted at the regional head office (Company A) and at a leisure centre
(Company B). These were the venues used by the respective companies for team
meetings.
Interview data was supplemented by site visits, and direct observation. The site
visits were intended to acquaint the researcher, firstly, with the organisations physical
presence and the values that may be inferred by FSEs in their experience of it.
Secondly, the work accompaniment (minimum two days per organisation) was
intended to provide insight into participants daily work context and in that way allow

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for a more insightful understanding and interpretation of stories, examples and


preferences expressed by interviewees during the interviews.
Data analysis initially involved open coding, followed by focussed coding
concentrating on key emergent themes associated with communication systems and
commitment. Analysis included attention to participants modes of expression as
illustrative of attitudes and interpretive responses of which they may not express
direct awareness (McPhee and Tompkins, 1985; Taylor et al., 2001).
Issues raised by research findings
Findings of this study elaborate on and enhance in a number of ways our
understanding of how commitment is defined, interpreted and facilitated, as well as
how and under what conditions it might vary.
Bivalent definitions of commitment
The first significant finding emerging from this study related to the way participants
defined commitment. Participants in their stories and examples identified commitment
to the organisation as involving acting in the organisations interests (for example, in
their choices regarding expenses, or by enhancing their performance by making a
special effort). A further defining element in their descriptions appears to be that
commitment involves a predisposition to such behaviour as a consistent pattern (rather
than as one-off ad hoc decisions).
However, for these engineers, remaining with the organisation was not identified as
an expression of commitment to it. Remaining with the organisation was described as a
function of work preferences, immediate personal relationships, ambition and
convenience. The manner in which they were prepared to conduct the relationship (e.g.
making a special effort; making choices in the organisations interest) was portrayed as
a separate issue from willingness to remain with it. Actions accounted for as
maintaining the relationship, in other words, did not appear to necessarily imply
commitment to the organisation on the contrary, in fact, engineers who illustrated
open hostility to the organisation nevertheless still described themselves as diligently
complying with their contractual obligations, accounting for doing so in terms that had
much to do with the way the connection served their personal needs, and nothing
whatsoever to do with advantaging or considering the organisations interests.
Being able to consider these choices separately allows consideration of a further
distinction. On the one hand, the expectations on which FSEs base their decision to
remain with the organisation (for example, expectations of belonging, mutual
exchange, and/or security) may well change in response to experience[2]. For example,
some engineers claimed to have replaced a need to belong with appreciation of material
benefits. However, their expectations relating to how the relationship should
appropriately be conducted do not seem to be altered by experience rather, the
expectations appeared to persist, and marked differences between them and perceived
reality were explicitly described by FSEs as justifying feeling of hostility, cynicism and
apathy. This is further discussed in the following section.
Distinguishing between the two accepted interpretations of organisational
commitment therefore emerges as particularly significant in remote work
environments, in which evidence of the one does not appear necessarily to constitute
evidence of the other. In the context of this study, therefore, since that is the way the

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participants understood the term, commitment to the organisation is defined as


participants predisposed willingness to promote and act in the interests of the
organisation, as distinct from their willingness to act in the interests of preserving any
relationship at all.

48

Recognition of committed behaviours


A primary challenge raised by the research data in relation to examining and
explaining the participants commitment to the organisation lay in the difficulty
associated with defining what constituted evidence of it. When asked for examples or
illustrations of commitment to the organisation, the participants consistently identified
behaviours such as dedication to doing the job well, perseverance beyond the call of
duty in ensuring tasks were completed, compliance with organisational policies, and
readiness to be available in emergencies at the expense of their personal lives.
However, it was also evident that these behaviours could also be accounted for in terms
of the engineers personal sense of professionalism, their self-image as dogged
problem-solvers, collegial norms, and even allegiance to the customer rather than to the
organisation. This meant that enacting these behaviours would not necessarily either
demonstrate or indeed reinforce in the engineers any sense of their being bonded to, or
ready to pursue the interests of, the organisation.
In this respect, it is significant that in the course of their remote work the engineers
are exposed to a range of relationships with interests that complement or compete with
those of the organisation. These include customers, suppliers and their own peer
community. Any one of these associations could account for behaviours that benefit
the organisation (Figure 1); equally, occasions are described (for example, in ordering
new or used parts) where the FSEs feel required to choose between relationships in
terms of whose interests they most wish to promote. In such cases, the organisation
would want to be certain that the interests the FSEs prioritise through their choices
and behaviour are its own.
Types of commitment
A further challenging finding was that the engineers stories and examples did not
suggest any immediate way of differentiating types of organisational commitment
behaviour. For example, participants generally agreed about what commitment to the
organisation could entail and how it might be demonstrated, whether they described
themselves as identifying strongly with the organisation, or whether they described
themselves as regarding the organisation as little more than a pragmatic convenience.
There also appeared to be no evidence that they considered underlying relationship
rationale (for example, affective, calculative, normative, or contractual) as important to
their understanding and interpretation of commitment. While FSEs drew on different
rationales to justify maintaining a relationship with the organisation, these rationales
did not appear directly related to whether or not the engineers considered themselves
predisposed to prioritising the organisations interests, or indeed to what they believed
prioritising the organisations interests might involve. Rather, the FSEs described
themselves as being disposed (or not) to pursue the organisations interests based on
how they perceived the organisation to be treating them within that relationship.
Where classification does appear useful, therefore, is in explaining variations in what

Relationship
conduct model

Historical pattern of
behaviour

Peer relationships

Customer relationships

Professional standards

Self-image

Expectations of the
organisation in terms
of the model

Met or not met in


interactions with
organisation

Disinclination
Apathy

Dissociation, alienation

e.g.
Doing overtime
Cost choices benefiting orgn
Going the extra mile
Sharing knowledge
Pro-active participation

Expectations of
themselves in terms of
the model

Predisposition to
behaviour

Organisational commitment

Behaviour promoting
the organisations
interests

Disposition toward
organisation:
Engaged, benign
OR
Frustrated, cynical, hostile

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Figure 1.
Influences on the
construction of
organisational
commitment

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50

they recognise and interpret as evidence of an appropriately-enacted working


relationship.
In this regard, when describing and evaluating their own practices and those of
management, the FSEs illustrate a range of different ways of understanding and
evaluating the way they are treated within their relationship with the organisation
mental paradigms or models of what appropriate conduct of a working relationship
involves. For example, some engineers evaluated the relationship in terms of it being
conducted as partnership amongst equals; others viewed it as requiring their
integration as members of a community; still others believed it appropriate that their
relationship with the organisation be conducted as nothing more than a
dispassionately functional arrangement.
Relationship paradigms
These mental relationship models that suggest how the organisational relationship
should be enacted can be ascribed to a combination of personal and situational factors,
including individuals self-image, their past experiences, and their immediate needs.
They also do not appear exclusive of each other during interviews the participants at
times drew on more than one model, depending on the experiences under discussion. In
this way, depending on the participants mental model(s) active at any one time,
evidence of the organisation taking the relationship seriously could involve being
treated collegially as members of a professional partnership, and/or being included and
allowed to participate as members of the organisational community, and/or being
practically looked after and efficiently resourced.
It also appears that the participants expectations implicit in these models are not
altered when they are not met; instead, as identified above in the section on bivalence,
the expectations associated with engineers mental relationship models appear to
persist and are even strengthened when frustrated. For example, the engineers who
most emphatically stressed the importance of a sense of community and belonging
were ones who claimed the organisation did not allow it.
Finally, the FSEs accounts illustrate that their disposition toward the organisation
(caring/engaged or uncaring/hostile) in response to their relationship model
expectations being met/not met is closely related both to their predisposition to
engaging in behaviours that promote the interests of the organisation, and to the
significance they attribute to those behaviours. For example, an engineer whose
expectations of the relationship as a reciprocal partnership are frustrated by
organisational policies and practices, while identifying readiness to do emergency
overtime as showing commitment, nevertheless describes himself as reluctant to do so
when asked. Actually doing that overtime in that context (for example because coerced,
or in the interests of colleagues, customers or self-esteem) is described as reinforcing
dissociation from and/or hostility toward the organisation and its interests, as well as
potentially strengthening competing relationships, for example, to the customer or to
colleagues. These influences and conditions are shown in Figure 1.
Organisational policies and practices as conditions
As mentioned above, the engineers relationship models appear to persist even in the
face of organisational norms that in practice dishonour them. It is also apparent that
organisational policies and practices, in meeting or frustrating engineers expectations

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of the way an appropriate relationship is enacted, affect their attitude toward the
organisation (hostile, cynical, apathetic, considerate and engaged) and their
willingness to pledge (Cheney and Tompkins, 1987, p. 7) themselves to pursuit of
its interests both within the organisation and when representing it in their interactions
with customers.
However, although management practices that contradict the engineers
relationship models do not appear to alter them, practices consistent with those
paradigms do appear to influence and develop them. Indeed, participants descriptions
of and justifications for their responses to organisational systems and practices not
only support the notion that a predisposition to behaviours that promote the interests
of the organisation is a function of satisfied relationship models, but they also
address (and to some degree answer) the question of how engineers relationship
models develop.
For example, from the FSEs descriptions of their experiences in one of the
participating companies in particular, it seems likely that by proactively seeking to
understand FSEs relationship models and collaboratively inventing and trialling ways
of accommodating the associated expectations, the organisation can through their
policies and practices effectively influence what is construed as evidence of
relationship models being enacted.
Achieving this emerges as dependent on well-developed communication and
feedback systems that, this study suggests, go beyond the computer-mediated
communication modes on which employers of remote workers tend to rely most
heavily. Valuable as it is, computer-mediated communication is also easy to ignore and
can also encourage or entrench predispositions toward isolation and self-reliance
(Brown and Duguid, 2000; Morgan and Symon, 2002; OKane et al., 2004; Jacobs, 2006).
The findings of this study suggest that identifying and enhancing FSEs relationship
models is associated with (at least additional, if not exclusive) use of communication
systems that enable and require continuous oral/audio and face-to-face modes of
interaction that are immediate, participative and combine social and task functions (see
Jacobs, 2006 for a full discussion of examples).
Policies and practices observed in this study to not only satisfy, but also to enhance
and even embellish engineers perceptions of what enactment of relationship models
might involve, include practices that:
.
Proactively model and reward learning, be it in the form of risk-taking,
collaboration and inter-organisational networking, mentoring or
initiative-taking.
.
Establish self-evaluation, change and improvement as norms enacted at all levels
of the organisation (e.g. routinely trialling and eliciting feedback on new systems
for improving work relations and the work environment).
.
Engage and elicit contribution from the FSEs in wider organisational knowledge
sharing and problem-solving activity (vertical as well as horizontal) despite their
being remote (e.g. strategy workshops; rostering task groups, with the cost in
immediate task completion defined as an investment).
.
Demonstrate organisational readiness to invest the required management time
and effort demanded in a remote work environment by these modes of
interaction (e.g. regular field visits, mobile training units).

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Model and reinforce discourse norms that establish mutual support and service
as the essence of honouring organisational relationships (e.g. doing the right
thing by customers or colleagues as the ultimate justification for any action;
deliver as the verb for what managers do when interacting with the engineers).
Incorporate, service, and in so doing, legitimise, alternate and potentially
competing relationships (customers, suppliers, family) becoming a kind of one
stop relationship in which behaviours accommodating the interests of other
relationships also reinforce the organisational relationship. For example,
opportunities for networking with and building personal relationships with
suppliers and customers into the FSEs digital knowledge bases and shortcuts;
incorporation of family demands (taking the kids to the swimming pool) and
personal activities (going to the gym, playing golf) into rosters.

In summary, therefore, it appears that organisational communication practices and


systems can activate and enhance engineers relationship models (and in so doing
establish a foundation for organisational commitment) when they reinforce continuous
organisational learning, proactive supportiveness and personalisation, as well as
relationship integration and interdependence.
Implications
This study and the framework it proposes for understanding commitment adds to
existing research into remote workforce commitment in that it suggests new ways in
which to conceptualise and examine what studies to date have identified as its
constituent elements and antecedents. In particular, it facilitates debate and discussion
regarding the ways the range of influences on behaviours identified as committed
interrelate, as well as regarding the way employees disposition (in Wiesenfields (1998,
online) terms, how positively they feel toward the organisation) may alter the
perceived meaning of such behaviours.
This study further suggests and illustrates the significance of distinguishing
between:
.
the needs that underpin employees choosing to continue the relationship (for
example, belonging, mutual support, security), which they may well
subsequently rationalise to be consistent with what they experience; and
.
the mental models of how the relationship should be enacted (for example as a
team, a partnership, or a purely functional arrangement), which underpin
employees readiness to act in the organisations interests and which appear to
persist despite what they experience.
Furthermore, this paper proposes that categorising the nature of the organisational
relationship by identifying employees mental relationship models may be, if not more
useful than identifying types of commitment, at least additionally useful in
understanding how organisational commitment in remote workforces is constructed
and perpetuated. The advantage of the proposed approach is that it both supports
studies to date that identify types of relationship-building management practices that
foster commitment in remote work contexts, and is also able to explain variations in
the success of these practices. In doing so, it is aligned with scholarly opinion that

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questions a simple consequential relationship between commitment and performance


(Benkhoff, 1997).
In addition, these observations qualify the suggestion by Postmes et al. (2001) that
employees are more likely to judge the organisation in the light of its policies and
strategies than in terms of relationships. While agreeing that organisational policies
play an important part in securing commitment to it, this study illustrates more
specifically that it is through employees experience of organisational policies and
strategies that they recognise, identify and illustrate breaches of relationship
expectations. The relevance of the former does not appear to discount the relevance of
the latter.
Finally, the findings of this study support the relevance and validity of qualitative
approaches to commitment studies, in that they demonstrate the influence on
organisational commitment of the way members perceive and rationalise it, and the
significance of the subjective and context-dependent meaning they attach to both the
behaviours and attitudes that constitute and construct it.
Notes
1. The terms teleworking and remote working are used interchangeably, depending on
context: teleworking is used when the mode is most relevant, remote when the distance is
most relevant.
2. For a full review of the relevant scholarship in this regard, see Scholl (1981).
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About the author
Glenda Jacobs is a PhD candidate at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. She is an
Academic Dean at Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand and a Postgraduate
Supervisor for the School of Communication. Her research interests as reflected in recent
publications have focussed on the role of communication in the development and management of
organizational creativity, on the use of communication technology in organizational networking,
and on the relationship between knowledge management and commitment in dispersed working
contexts. Glenda Jacobs can be contacted at: gjacobs@unitec.ac.nz

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