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Remote Working, Management Control Changes And Employee Responses During The COVID-19 Crisis

Gianluca F Delfino, Berend van der Kolk

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PurposeThe authors examine the impact of the sudden shift to remote working, triggered by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, on management control (MC) practices in professional service firms (PSFs). In addition, employee responses to these changes are explored.Design/methodology/approachThe authors carried out a field study of MC changes in PSFs in Italy, the first country in Europe that was severely impacted by COVID-19. Interviews with PSF employees form the primary data source. Pattern matching was used to identify similarities and differences and investigate how employees respond to the MC changes.FindingsAs a response to the shift to remote working, managers at PSFs made various MC-related changes. For instance, they increased the number of online meetings and made use of technologies to monitor employees from a distance. Employees reacted to this by engaging in “voluntary visibilizing practices”, i.e. by trying to make sure they got noted by their superiors, for instance by doing overtime. In addition, collected evidence suggests increased stress levels among employees, changes to employee autonomy, changed perceptions of hierarchies and a weakened sense of relatedness with others in the organization.Originality/valueThis is one of the first studies to examine the impact of the sudden shift to remote working on MC. In addition, this paper contributes by exploring employee responses to the MC-related changes. The findings add to the growing literature on MC and motivation, and the notion of voluntary visibilizing practices is mobilized to warn against over-commitment and self-exploitation.