virtual workplace

October 12, 2021 •

3 min reading

Organizational Behavior: Thriving in a virtual workplace

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Within the context of the hospitality industry, organizational behavior studies look at what makes people productive and satisfied at work. Although this remains relevant today, the OB curriculum should start to reflect new topics addressing specific challenges of the “new hospitality reality” post the impacts of Covid-19. 

Shifts in Organizational Behavior studies

Organizational behavior analyzes what people do in the workplace, and human beings - with their strengths and weaknesses, their aspirations and  fears, their commonalities and specificities – as well as the factors that determine their behavior, will not change fundamentally in the very short term. Therefore, the domain of organizational behavior teaching is probably less affected by exogenous shocks of the COVID-19 type than other disciplines like corporate strategy or service operations management.

While the core topics of the discipline, i.e., what makes people productive and satisfied at work, will remain relevant for the hospitality industry, their coverage may have to be reduced to make room for new topics addressing specific challenges of the “new hospitality reality”. The shift in emphasis in the curriculum will have to reflect two key challenges that are present in the current hospitality business environment:

  1. Increased environmental, organizational and individual uncertainty.

  2. Challenges to the productivity and well-being of hospitality employees due to a “virtualization” of the workplace that may well extend after the crisis abates.

De-emphasizing workplace theories reliant on physical proximity

A solid understanding of human behavior in the workplace will always be relevant for hospitality managers – pandemic or no pandemic. However, some topics that focus on traditional workplace interactions could definitely be streamlined because of the changes in human interaction in the workplace that are likely to result from COVID-19. Specifically, with more work being carried out in virtual environments and greater distances between leaders and followers, theories of work designs that focus strongly on the physical aspects of the work environment (Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006) as well as traditional leadership style approaches (Yukl, 2013) may be covered in less detail. Also, at  group level, established frameworks on teamwork, which assume that team members are physically co-located, can be treated in less depth.

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Emphasizing virtual team dynamics

Against a backdrop rife with uncertainty, hospitality organizational behavior classes must focus more on frameworks that help students or managers reduce uncertainty at the individual or team level. This could include a stronger emphasis on frameworks for decision-making under uncertainty (Russo & Schoemaker, 1990), including how to avoid decision-making errors. As working in virtual environments also increases uncertainty and may lead to misunderstanding and misalignment among team members, the dynamics of virtual teams (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000) will deserve much broader coverage. This includes an in-depth exploration of how virtual teams evolve over time and how trust in virtual teams can be created and maintained. It also addresses the issue of how virtual teams can increase their productivity and, last but not least, how leadership behaviors need to be adapted to the challenges of a virtual team environment.


Incorporating new approaches for maintaining work-family balance and productivity

Another set of very specific organizational behavior challenges emerges for employees and leaders whose work has been shifted to a virtual environment. From an employee viewpoint, the topic of work-family and family-work balance will definitely take on much more importance, especially for those employees who now experience “work and family” in the same physical environment. On the one hand, organizational behavior needs to cover specific techniques that help employees remain productive in a home office environment. On the other hand, a discussion of tools for mitigating the stress that emerges from the inevitable disruptions by children and partners also working from home will be high on the list.

From a leadership viewpoint, a key point that would need to be emphasized is the importance of delivering timely and effective feedback as an essential element of motivation. In virtual work environments, feedback from guests might be disrupted and performance feedback from peers and leaders is often severely curtailed. This may lead to a vicious circle of catastrophic thinking and demotivation of employees (Riegel, 2020). Organizational behavior needs to highlight what hospitality firms and leaders in hospitality businesses can do to maintain effective feedback cycles.



  • Maznevski, M. & Chudoba, K. (2000). Bridging space over time: Global virtual team dynamics and effectiveness. Organization Science, 11(5), 473-492.
  • Morgeson, F. P., & Humphrey, S. E. (2006). The Work Design Questionnaire (WDQ): Developing and validating a comprehensive measure for assessing job design and the nature of work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(6), 1321–1339.
  • Riegel, D. G. (2020). Stay motivated when feedback is scarce. June 02, 2020.
  • Russo, J. E. & Schoemaker, P. J. H. (1990). Decision traps: The ten barriers to decision-making and how to overcome them. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Yukl, G. A. (2013) Leadership in organizations. 8th Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.


This article was first published on Hospitality Net.

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Full Professor of Organizational Behavior at EHL