Unpacking Virtual Work's Dual Effects on Employee Well-Being: An Integrative Review and Future Research Agenda

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Journal of Management




Virtual work arrangements, whereby dispersed employees interact with each other using technology-mediated communication, can both positively and negatively impact their psychological well-being. Yet, research on these dual effects in different virtual work research domains (e.g., telecommuting, virtual teams, and computer-mediated work) is not well integrated, which limits insights into how their findings overlap and inform each other. Using a work design theoretical lens to synthesize findings from 115 empirical articles, we develop an integrative framework that advances understanding of how virtual work both helps and harms employee well-being. The framework explicates different pathways linking subdimensions of technology dependence and dispersion—two core dimensions underlying different types of virtual work—to well-being through employees’ perceived work characteristics. We identify four technology dependence and three dispersion subdimensions that differ in their degree of positive versus negative impact on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being outcomes as well as in the work characteristics that explain these effects. These findings suggest that employees’ well-being experiences in virtual work depend on the subdimensions involved and that the same subdimension can influence well-being both positively and negatively. Across the subdimensions, a dominant set of work characteristics in four categories (task, knowledge, social, and work context) explain virtual work’s dual effects on well-being, moderated by contingencies at different levels (individual, team, organization, and external context). These multilevel contingencies point to potential interventions for enhancing the benefits and mitigating the downsides of virtual work for employee well-being. Based on these insights, we develop a future research agenda and discuss practical implications.


computer-mediated work, telecommuting, virtual teams, well-being, work design