Stronger together: How team communication mitigates technological challenges in telework


In the wake of digitalization and the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid work is on the rise, with employees often having to deal with technical challenges. Communication with team colleagues can provide various forms of support during these times.

Article by Adriana Sofia Palloks (✉

The study conducted at the University of Vienna focused on the increase in teleworking and the challenges faced by employees as a result. Special interest was given to the role of team communication in coping with stress when dealing with technical communication tools and programs as well as the perceived occupational strains. 400 Austrian and German employees answered a digital questionnaire on telework and team communication between August and September 2021. The data were collected by a polling company and analyzed by a research team from the University. The study offers an insight into teleworking, particularly regarding the influence of team communication on stress in connection with technical challenges and perceived work strains.

The lockdowns during the COVID 19 pandemic forced many employees to work from home unexpectedly. However, they were often not adequately prepared to use the digital communication and collaboration tools needed for this purpose. The lack of experience and the necessity to learn new features can lead employees to perceive communication tools and programs as complex, causing them additional stress. Studies in this area show that informational as well as emotional support from fellow coworkers can help reduce this stress and increase satisfaction among the workforce.

The present study by researchers at the University of Vienna is based on this premise. In the late summer of 2021, 400 Austrian and German employees who teleworked for at least half of their working hours and were employed in organizations with at least 250 employees completed a digital questionnaire. The data were collected by an international polling company and statistically analyzed by the research team of the University. The focus of the survey was on the interaction between teleworking and team communication to determine the extent to which supportive team communication can reduce stress caused by technological challenges and perceived work strains.

Work resources mitigate work strains

The researchers distinguish between job demands and job resources in their theoretical review of the subject. Demands are aspects of the job that require constant physical and/or psychological effort and can lead to work and occupational strains. In turn, job resources constitute opportunities to successfully achieve job goals, mitigate said job demands, and benefit the work motivation of the workforce. Supportive team communication is considered a job resource in this context, while complex technological tools are classified as job demands. To reduce stress among the workforce in telework, organizations provide the following support: (1) technical support, (2) provision of internal information on new programs, and (3) skills that are shared among employees. In addition to informational communication, emotional support (e.g., listening to coworkers' concerns, venting, consoling, and providing encouragement, etc.) among colleagues or from management can also reduce perceived stress.

Emotional support shows greater impact than providing information

As study author Ingrid Wahl explains in detail: "If people working virtually are supported by their colleagues, this can reduce the perceived stress caused by new technologies. Emotional support, for example through listening, comforting, or encouraging, had a stronger effect than support through the provision of information". It also showed that experience with teleworking can help. The more hours employees teleworked, the less stress they felt due to complex technologies. This was exemplified by people who spent about 80% of their work time teleworking compared to those who spent more time working in the office. The more complex the communication tools and programs were perceived, the greater the work/occupational strain appeared among respondents.

Recommendations for internal communication practitioners

The researchers conclude their study with specific recommendations for practitioners working in internal corporate communications by suggesting new/creative ways to foster networking among teleworkers and the on-site workforce. They should be encouraged to meet online regardless of the work agenda to foster mutual support between them. Nevertheless, they additionally advise early, and regular meetings to be held on-site, which can have a beneficial effect on perceived team affiliation and supportiveness between colleagues. Finally, the researchers recommend organizations to develop and provide systematic telework onboarding processes for their team members.

Publication details

Wahl, I., Wolfgruber, D., & Einwiller, S. (2023). Mitigating teleworkers' perceived technological complexity and work strains through supportive team communication. Corporate Communications: An International Journal. Advance online publication. doi:10.1108/CCIJ-05-2023-0061

Ingrid Wahl is an University Assistant (postdoctoral researcher) in the Department of Communication of the University of Vienna since 2022.


Daniel Wolfgruber is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the HEC Montréal, Canada.


Sabine Einwiller is Professor of Public Relations Research and Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna.