Home-Office in Technology-Start-ups during the Covid-19-Pandemic. How do Employees Experience and Navigate the Impacts of Working from Home?

Master's Thesis, 2021

91 Pages, Grade: Distinction



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. LiteratureReview

2.1 Working from Home in the Context of a Global Pandemic
2.1.1 Work-Life Balance or Work-Life Conflict?
2.1.2 Virtual Interaction and Teamwork
2.2 Applying a Social Identity Approach
2.3 Research Objective

3. Methodology
3.1 Research Design
3.2 Research Context
3.3 Data Collection
3.4 Method of Analysis
3.5 Reflections

4. Findings
4.1 Impacts ofHomeworking
4.1.1 Experiencing Work-life Balance in Technology-Start-ups
4.1.2 Being a Start-up Employee
4.1.3 The Importance of Social Interactions for Learning and Development
4.1.4 The Benefits ofTeamwork for Start-up Employees
4.2 Navigation Strategies
4.3 Bringing it Together

5. Discussion and ConcludingRemarks
5.1 Theoretical Implications
5. 2 Practical Implications
5.3 Limitations and Future Research


Appendix A. Participants Matrix and Interview Details
Appendix B. Recruitment Post
Appendix C. Participant Information Sheet and Consent Form
Appendix D. Initial Interview Topic Guide
Appendix E. Extended Interview Topic Guide
Appendix F. Example Interview Transcript
Appendix G. Thematic Analysis Codebook
Appendix H. Working from Home - A Paradoxical Experience


Lucia, you are the most inspiring professor I have ever had. The kindness you convey when you teach has given me the emotional support I needed. Thank you for always taking time for all my questions and concerns and supporting me to believe in myself.

Bea, my Supergirly, I am grateful that you always believed in my writing skills and that we went through this together, every step! Especially thank you for being with me in the study room even after you handed in your diss! Without you, I definitely would have had a hard time finishing my Master's. Soulmate.

Jo, I can't put into words how grateful I am that you proofread every single sentence I wrote and gave me your so valuable input and helped me get the most out of my drafts. I am so proud to have such a smart friend. Thank you for your emotional support and for believing in me! You are an Angel.

I would like to thank my family for always making me smile. While I let grades throw me off track, you are so proud that I study at all - as the first from the family. Thanks toMami, Papi, Omi Silvia, Oma, Opa, Opa Toni.

Silvia Omi, a special thanks to you. Every day we call - you learned how to use WhatsAppjust so you can hear me every day, which made every day a better one. Thank you for being so proud of me!

Mami, thank you for always showing me what really matters in life: to be happy. Thank you for always having an open ear for my whining and for being so patient and understanding. Thank you for always having my back.

Daddy, thank you for supporting me in every way and giving me the opportunity to go to such a great university. Thank you for always being so proud of me no ifs, ands or buts and for supporting any of my decisions.

Overall, I would like to thank all the wonderfulpeople I have interacted with over the past year! I can be an insanely grateful human being for having had the opportunity to enjoy the LSEjoumey and grow with amazing people around me. A special thanks to Elaine, Gigi, Jia, Kim, Lamees, Su En.


The sudden shift to homeworking by companies worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sparks intense research in organisational psychology on employee consequences. While literature focuses on firms with sufficient resources to initiate navigational strategies, firms with limited resources are often neglected. Combined with the likelihood that pre-existing homeworking trends will accelerate, it is valuable to examine the perceptions of employees in technology-start-ups which have limited resources to succeed, and whose success is driven by members’ expertise through close and frequent interactions. Therefore, this study’s purpose is to understand how technology-start-up employees in the start-up hubs London and Berlin perceive the impacts of homeworking and what strategies they apply to navigate emerged challenges associated with losing co-location with colleagues.

A social identity perspective is adopted to explore how employees perceive the dynamic homeworking experience, highlighting the interrelation between effects on individual and collective instances. A total of 18 qualitative interviews were conducted and analysed using thematic analysis. The results show that the experience of harmonising work and private life under one roof can be a critical balancing act and impacts the usual experience of working in a start-up, characterised by close social interactions and organisational identification. Consequently, impacts on social processes essential for the survival of start-ups were found to follow the loss of co-location.

Despite technology-start-ups agile character facilitating virtual working, this study finds that full-time homeworking may not be a suitable long-term workplace model. Hence, this research highlights a paradoxical dynamic characterising the experience of homeworking start-up employees in light of social identity processes and thus forms the basis for a new agenda for research on start-ups in the context ofhomeworking.

1. Introduction

To contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 80% of employees worldwide were instructed to no longer work at their usual work site starting in April 2020 (ILO, 2020). Being a systemic shock, the pandemic is likely to continuously change the way people work. Even technology companies like Facebook, which previously opposed letting employees spend time off-site, have introduced long-term homeworking opportunities (BBCNews, 2021).

Previous research presents the impacts of homeworking as a double-edged sword. Ranging from positive to negative effects on employees’ work-related identification, work-life balance, and relationships with colleagues, the type and extent of the impacts depends on individual­specific factors and the company’s nature (e.g., Mann & Holdsworth, 2003; Tietze & Musson, 2010). While companies like Facebook draw on years of experience and streamlined HR programmes to support employees, technology start-ups lack such resources and experience (Kepka, 2020). Thus, they may struggle to survive the transition to homeworking. Literature, however, has notyet paid attention to these companies’ homeworking experiences.

It is significant to study the effects of homeworking in the context of technology-start-ups for three reasons. Firstly, technology-start-ups are an important source of innovation and new dynamism in the European marketplace. Secondly, due to the time pressure involved in successfully bringing technologies to market with limited financial resources, technology-start­ups must grow quickly with employees accumulating their expertise (Giardino et al., 2014; Paternoster et al., 2014). However, homeworking was found to inhibit growth and close interaction of employees which is necessary to address the unpredictability of technology development. Thus, the chances of survival, which are 10% given normal working conditions, can drop even further when technology-start-ups adopt homeworking workplace models (Allen et al., 2016; McAlpine, 2017). Thirdly, work-life balance is a major factor for employee retention in start-ups (Salgado et al., 2020). Therefore, it is crucial to examine previous research’s contradictory findings on work-life balance impacts in this context.

Since qualified employees are the lifeblood of successful start-ups, this study explores how employees in technology-start-ups in the most successful European start-up hubs in London and Berlin perceive the impacts of homeworking. Acknowledging the limited time start-ups have to establish themselves in the market, this research further focuses on how start-up employees navigate the emerged challenges. Against this background, this study adopts a social identity perspective to provide a theoretical framework that highlights the interrelationships between how employees perceive effects of homeworking on themselves and their relationship with colleagues. Hence, a qualitative research approach is applied, conducting 18 interviews, and employing thematic analysis to unpack employees’ dynamic homeworking experiences.

This study provides three key theoretical contributions. Firstly, understanding the start-up context provides valuable insights for organisational psychology literature to address inconsistencies between pre-and COVID-19 literature. Secondly, the paradoxical experience of homeworking in start-ups, characterised by their suitability due to their agile structures facilitating technology-mediated collaboration while simultaneously sacrificing social interactions, one of their critical success factors, complement literature debating optimal future workplace models. Thirdly, this study expands COVID-19 research on how the effects of homeworking on members’ interactions further affect social processes like innovation, vital in the start-up context.

Reviewing past research on the impacts of homeworking, this study develops the theoretical framework in chapter 2. Following the methodological details in chapter 3, chapter 4 presents the findings discussed in chapter 5 with reference to literature, including practical implications and limitations to pave the way for further research in organisational psychology.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Working from Home in the Context of a Global Pandemic

The flexible approach to homeworking is equally flexible in its terminology. For consistency, this study uses homeworking and working from home (WFH) synonymously, defined as home­based telework, that is “work carried out [...] where, remote from central offices or production facilities, the worker has no personal contact with co-workers there, but is able to communicate with them using technology” (Di Martino & Wirth, 1990, p. 530). WFH has become an attractive phenomenon with internet-based platforms like Zoom enabling collaboration in a purely virtual setting (Chiru, 2017), thus allowing companies to reduce overhead costs while offering employees greater individual flexibility regarding their work-life balance (Bell, 2012; Turetken et al., 2010). Although WFH is adopted for its benefits, challenges occur due to the absence of a shared environment and the mediation of communication by technology (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). Hence, effects on communication quantity and quality can impact relationships between colleagues, affecting teamwork and employees’ awareness of organisational values (Degbey & Einola, 2020; Madsen, 2003).

While employees chose remote working models out of preference before COVID-19, the pandemic abruptly imposed homeworking. Regardless of preferences, all employees not considered as essential workers (e.g. healthcare) were obliged to mandatory work from home (MWFH) (Kniffin et al., 2021; Rigotti et al., 2020). In light of the pandemic context, pre- COVID-19 literature might suffer from a selection bias, limiting the findings’ validity to people with homeworking preference and capacity (Kaduk et al., 2019). Moreover, pre-COVID-19 literature emphasises different outcomes when comparing infrequent with extensive homeworking arrangements as full-time homeworking eliminates the social interaction in the typical working environment (Bailey & Kurland, 2002). Hence, the contextual influence of the pandemic on employees’ homeworking experience can enrich our understanding of the phenomenon, as previous studies have rarely considered a context in which WFH was involuntarily pursued full-time (Wang et al., 2020).

Indeed, Wang et al. (2020) show that although work-home fusion is considered a homeworking motivator, the inference between work and home is the most commonly cited challenge during the pandemic. In light of these complementarities of pre-and COVID-19 literature, the following examines homeworking impacts on employees’ work-life balance. Subsequently, this study addresses effects on interaction and teamwork as full-time MWFH eliminates co­location for entire workforces, revealing unintended effects at the collective level. Considering the impact of WFH at both individual and collective spheres, this study adopts a social identity perspective, arguing that these spheres are interrelated and thus must be considered in their social context to examine the phenomenon of WFH.

2.1.1 Work-Life Balance or Work-Life Conflict?

The concept of work-life balance describes “the individual perception that work and nonwork activities are compatible and promote growth in accordance with an individual’s current life priorities” (Kalliath & Brough, 2008, p. 326). Hence, individual socio-economic conditions influence the perceptions of impacts on one’s work-life balance (Aguilera et al., 2016), explaining why both the pre-and Covid-19 literature is fragmented regarding the impact of homeworking.

One homeworking motivator is the possibility of autonomous time management allowing employees’ to harmonise work roles with non-work responsibilities (Hilbrecht et al., 2008). Pre-COVID-19 literature elaborates the benefits of removing office hours constraints and commuting for individuals who can thus incorporate private commitments into their daily routine (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). Contrarily, COVID-19 literature portrays the absence of commuting as a burden by eliminating the transitional space between work and non-work identities that allowed the psychological separation between the two spheres (Kniffin et al., 2021). WFH can thus cause work-life conflicts, describing the extent to which work spills over into private life and causes role conflicts for employees discouraging disengagement from work during leisure time (Clark, 2000). Pre-COVID-19 literature portrays WFH as a phenomenon characterised by a learning curve, implying that a greater extent of homeworking encourages employees to juggle their personal and professional roles better, creating clearer boundaries mitigating work-life tensions (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). However, COVID-19 research on full-time homeworking has not found that routines can minimise the emerging work-life conflicts (Palumbo, 2020).

The constant conflict between work and personal commitments can weaken psychological and social ties that bind employees to the organisation and its members due to their work-related identification (Wiesenfeld et al., 1999). Therefore, the inhibiting effects of work-life conflicts on employees’ work-related identification can impact interpersonal relationships and interaction with colleagues. Consequently, the perceived effects on work-life balance can have direct and indirect cross-level effects on social exchange processes among organisational members (Beauregard & Henry, 2009). Hence, the following outlines previous literature’ findings on the impacts ofhomeworking on interaction and teamwork.

2.1.2 Virtual Interaction and Teamwork

The shift to homeworking physically segregates collocated team members, thus transforming them into virtual teams. A team can be defined as “the basic organizational unit many modem firms are composed of—and, the virtual ones are those conducting teamwork over distance using a combination of telecommunications and information technologies to accomplish an organizational task” (Degbey & Einola, 2020, p. 1301). Previous literature agrees that social interactions and interpersonal relationships are essential for team cohesion (Whillans et al., 2021). Cohesiveness indicates how strongly team members feel connected to the team and therefore correlates positively with members’ information and knowledge exchange, indispensable for effective teamwork (Goodman et al., 1987). However, as electronic communication is perceived as less warm and diminishes social presence by eliminating social and non-verbal cues, social interactions and thus interpersonal relationships do not develop as effectively as in offices where face-to-face communication takes place (Berry, 2006; Olson & Olson, 2000).

Relational impoverishment resulting from homeworking can reduce the cohesiveness of virtual teams, which potentially inhibits organisational identification of homeworking employees (Ammons & Markham, 2004). Consequently, the loss of co-location may reduce distractions and interruptions and thus positively stimulates employees productivity (Golden & Veiga, 2008; Khalifa & Davison, 2000). However, simultaneously it represents a barrier to effective teamwork, which usually involves strong work-interdependence of members requiring frequent information exchange and interactions for successful performance (Golden & Gajendran, 2019; Lea & Spears, 1991). Therefore, pre-COVID-19 research emphasises the importance of occasional face-to-face meetings, as personal bonds increasingly diminish with extensive homeworking, which is supported by literature focusing on MWFH during COVID- 19 (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007; Wang et al., 2020).

Pre-and COVID-19 literature thus emphasises homeworking impacts on both the individual employee and their sense of belonging, as well as on their relationship and interactions with colleagues. To understand the interrelated nature of these consequences, they should be evaluated in their social context. Thus, it must be acknowledged that WFH affects social­psychological dynamics that underlie social identification processes (Thatcher & Zhu, 2006), addressed in the following.

2.2 Applying a Social Identity Approach

Bringing together the two previous sections, the effects ofhomeworking on employees’ work­life balance and teamwork show that shifting to MWFH changes employees’ working environment and interpersonal interactions. Consequently, unintended consequences on both individual and social levels emerge. To account for these consequences, this study adopts a social identity perspective, referring to identities as dynamic, multidimensional, and fluid constructs used by individuals to define themselves and their role in response to changes in the social and physical environment (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Tajfel et al., 1979; Turner et al., 1987).

The social identity approach argues that people’s self-concepts are rooted in categorisations at different levels of abstraction, each influencing the person’s behaviour (Thatcher & Zhu, 2006). Hence, group processes develop as people categorise themselves as members of social groups (social identities) rather than individuals, which bridges the individual sphere with the social one (Haslam et al., 2000). Considering the organisational context of this study, the organisation represents a social group that individuals categorise themselves as members in terms of employees. This can hence be referred to as organisational identification, a phenomenon bonding organisational and employees interests, in that employees’ adopt group representative behaviour, which thus facilitates deliberate cooperation (Mael & Ashforth, 1992; Ramarajan & Reid, 2013).

The visibility of a specific identity in a determined context stimulates motivated behaviour that benefits the respective social group (Ellemers et al., 2004). As the contextual source for the self-categorisation process underlying employees’ organisational identification is usually embodied by the workplace, WFH can weaken mechanisms stimulating organisational identification (Brocklehurst, 2001; Tietze & Musson, 2010). Moreover, since interactions among homeworking employees are virtual, the communication climate, meaning how information is shared within the company, is impaired (Scott & Timmerman, 1999). This affects the way roles and corporate values are communicated, which according to previous research, significantly impacts the process of self-categorisation (Gleibs & Alvarado, 2019; Turner et al., 1994). Therefore, a negative effect of virtual communication on organisational identification is mediated by the effects on the communication climate.

As WFH was shown to impact employees’ work-life balance perceptions by eliminating commuting, the transitional space that played a crucial role in physically separating employees’ work and non-work identities is missing (Kniffin et al., 2021). Consequently, employees can experience inconsistencies between private and professional identities at home, which may be associated with conflicting commitments and objectives (Ashforth et al., 2008). The difficulties in reconciling the differing objectives and values of work and non-work identities thus explain the before outlined adverse work-life balance perceptions.

The presented effects of WFH on social processes, such as teamwork, can similarly be understood by applying the social identity approach. Hence, the social nature of the identity concept explains a mediation of the adverse effects of homeworking on employees’ identification on their work behaviour which results in lower efforts for the team due to decreased cooperation and motivation (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). Importantly, though, the impact of homeworking on organisational identification is not always detrimental, as the impacts depend on individual factors such as economic or family status (Tietze & Musson, 2010). Conversely, if organisational identification can be maintained, motivation and cooperation between homeworking team members can be increased despite losing the typical work environment (Bartel etal.,2012).

In short, adopting the social identity approach can improve our understanding of the impacts of WFH on individual and collective dimensions inherent to organisations as it extracts the interrelation of the consequences within their social context. At the individual level, it is found that an ongoing identity conflict negatively affects work-life balance perceptions and results in long-term rejections of homeworking from the employee’s perspective (Tietze & Musson, 2010). At the social level, organisation-related identification can be a key resource for cohesive teamwork and cooperation. Applying the social identity perspective can thus reveal that while employees’ social identification is impacted by WFH, it simultaneously represents a mediator ofhomeworking effects on employees’ work-life balance perceptions, sense of belonging, and social interactions with the collective.

2.3 Research Objective

In reviewing previous homeworking research, some constraints became evident.

Firstly, researchers raised concerns that insufficient attention has been paid to work-life balance impacts in terms of heterogeneity of industries, types of companies and workforces (Kelliher et al., 2019). Secondly, since homeworking eliminates the co-presence of colleagues (Mann et al., 2000), it is valuable to explore how this affects companies that rely on their employees cooperating closely with each other and who would therefore not have opted for full-time home working models if they had not been obliged to do so due to the pandemic. Thirdly, certain discrepancies, such as the consequences of losing the commute, became apparent in reviewing literature addressing the impacts of homeworking before and during the pandemic. Coupled with the fact that WFH will be a part of the future way of working, it is pertinent to study its impact to support organisations make informed decisions about the suitability ofhomeworking workplace models for their business.

To address these limitations, this study adopts a social identity perspective to shed light on the impacts of WFH from the perspective of start-up employees. As technology-start-ups constantly cooperate in teams to bring innovative solutions to the market, co-presence with team members is an inherent aspect of the technology-start-up context (Allen et al., 2016; Tripathi & Oivo, 2020). With only one in ten technology-start-ups surviving even under normal circumstances due to limited financial resources (Giardino et al., 2014), exploring the impact of the elimination of co-presence on technology start-ups is necessary. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, homeworking impacts on employees in start-ups have not been studied in the context of MWFH. Given the ongoing pandemic, this research subsequently examines how employees navigate the challenges associated with homeworking. The research questions inspiring this study are intentionally kept unbounded to allow for the exploration of the multiple and contradictory impacts ofhomeworking:

Whatimpacts ofworkingfrom home do employees in technology-start-upsperceive?

How do employees in technology-start-ups navigate the challenges associated with, working
from home?

3. Methodology

3.1 Research Design

This study adopted an exploratory approach by encouraging new associations between the range ofhomeworking effects, rather than confirming existing, preconceived constructs which can emerge from studying the plethora of homeworking research (Gioia et al., 2012). The importance of employee behaviour for the survival of start-ups naturally led to qualitative methods, as they explore how employees’ perceptions shape organisational success (Boodhoo & Purmessur, 2009). While hypothesis testing may not account for the significant nuances of the paradoxical, unquantifiable experience of WFH, qualitative research captures the richness of participants’ subjective perceptions. Moreover, it allows the researcher to address the contextual influence, which is crucial given the different homeworking impacts found in pre- and COVID-19 literature (Bachiochi & Weiner, 2002).

Given the multifaceted impacts of homeworking, semi-structured interviews were employed to ensure a topic-relevant focus across all participants. This simultaneously gave participants space to explain their perceptions to elicit unpredictable insights specific to the start-up context, which is coherent with the explorative approach of this study (Opdenakker, 2006). This thesis conducted in-depth interviews instead of a focus group to create an atmosphere where participants felt comfortable sharing their perhaps intimate perceptions of WFH, which may be inhibited when sharing personal information within a group, as often only feelings considered socially acceptable are disclosed. This can be a risk, especially with subjects like homeworking, where the more ‘typical’ effects are relatively familiar (Braun & Clarke, 2013, p. 80). To preserve participants’ voice, thematic analysis based on Gioia et al. (2012) was applied to derive the first-order codes directly from the data.

3.2 Research Context

This research conducted interviews in English and German between April and June, with participants fulfilling the following criteria:

First, given the possible adverse effects of homeworking on work-life balance perceptions outlined in chapter 2, this study chose the context of technology-start-ups. A technology-start­up can be defined as „a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under the conditions of extreme uncertainty“ (Wang et al., 2016, p. 170), which depends on close teamwork to create innovative technological solutions (Choi et al., 2020). For start-ups work­life balance benefits are critical for employee retention as they cannot compensate with financial benefits to the same extent as large companies (Salgado et al., 2020). This demands an understanding of how employees in technology-start-ups perceive the impacts of losing co­location.

Second, most research on technology-start-ups focuses on the start-up heaven, silicon valley, or lately, also on China (Li-Wen, 2020; Moore & Davis, 2004). However, little research focuses on technology-start-up ecosystems in Europe. Over the last 20 years, Berlin and London developed to the most successful European hubs and represent now internationally prestigious magnets for technology-start-ups (del-Palacio & Chapman, 2014; Kritikos, 2016). Hence, participants employed in these two cities were interviewed. However, it must be mentioned that a cross-cultural comparison was not the aim of this study.

Third, participants employed by early-stage start-ups, describing the stage from conceptualisation to entering the market, were selected to avoid business life cycle stage- related biases. This phase is known for its ‘upheaval’ character, through which the start-up acts and adapts quickly and optimally grows (Wang et al., 2016), a tough period given the economic threat posed by the pandemic.

Fourth, participants who transitioned to homeworking for at least three weeks were chosen to elicit the impacts perceived by employees who usually work with others in a co-located environment. Due to the exploratory nature of the research questions, no restriction was made regarding participants’ age, gender, or seniority level, which can influence different perceptions of WFH (Wiesenfeld et al., 2001). For this study’s purpose, perceived impacts were considered in light of employees’ roles, encompassing whether they had managerial responsibilities (e.g., founders, project managers).

Hence, a total of 18 participants (nine female, nine male) were recruited, employed by 18 different technology-start-ups (eleven in Berlin, seven in London), with six participants holding managerial responsibilities (see Appendix A for detailed information).

3.3 Data Collection

This thesis used convenience sampling by sharing a short post on LinkedIn, presenting the research purpose (Appendix B). After recruiting the first five participants, a snowball procedure obtained a larger sample. The researcher attempted to ensure that familiar persons are only initial contacts to participants, unknown to the researcher, to minimise the probability of receiving biased narratives from familiar people, which would impact the findings’ validity (Etikan et al., 2016). The sample size was determined by a saturation point at which no more new insights regarding the research questions emerged (Sandelowski, 1995).

Due to the ongoing pandemic and associated lockdowns, every part of the data collection was conducted virtually. Therefore, the researcher carefully considered the effectiveness of virtual interviews and ultimately performed the interviews through video calls via Zoom, an effective method for collecting qualitative research as it replicates a natural conversation by allowing mimics and gestures (Archibald et al., 2019). Before the interviews, participants received and signed a consent form explaining the research context, recording and confidentiality of all information shared with the researcher (Appendix C).

This thesis conducted semi-structured interviews to account for the study’s exploratory approach, applying a semi-structured topic guide (Appendix D), divided into five topic sections designed to contribute meaningfully to the study’s purpose (Brenner, 2006). A deliberate outline was fundamental given the multifaceted impacts that homeworking can have in an organisational context. Hence, for each element, the aim of the question was known to the researcher to ask targeted follow-up questions (Morse, 1990, p. 193). The unbounded nature of the questions unpacked reflections on surprising effects of homeworking on start-up specific success factors that were not part of the topic guide initially. Therefore, after the fifth interview, the researcher expanded the topic guide to lead subsequent participants to share their perceptions of the impacts on concepts emphasised in previous interviews (Appendix E).

The average duration of the interviews was 44 minutes, whereby the interview length varied according to participants’ answers. After conducting each interview, the researcher transcribed audios without correcting grammatical errors, anonymised names to ensure confidentiality, and finally uploaded them into the software package Nvivo, used to analyse the transcripts. Being a German native speaking person, the researcher translated German interviews into English. Finally, recordings were deleted to ensure confidentiality was not compromised.

3.4 Method of Analysis

To deeply explore and understand participants unique homeworking experiences, Gioia et al. (2012)’s thematic analysis was chosen. By combining inductive and deductive approaches, the thematic analysis allowed organising the coded data into three different levels in which the participants’ voice was maintained while simultaneously incorporating existing theories to answer the research questions (Brough, 2018). Compared to conducting analysis purely based on existing concepts, the combination with an inductive approach was chosen to discover key, non-expected aspects by examining underlying patterns in the data, unbiased by informed research (Braun & Clarke, 2006).

With every part of the coding process being a “cyclical act“ (Saldana, 2021, p. 8), coding began inductively based solely on participants’ responses to ensure the research’s rigour and the possibility of conceptual leaps. This procedure identified 154 first-order codes, which were reduced to 25 by merging similar codes. Subsequently, the resulting first-order codes were iteratively examined for differences and similarities and grouped into categories based on the participants’ accounts to form second-order codes (Gioia et al., 2012).

The analysis of the 2nd order codes thus entered a theoretical realm in which examined themes were evaluated for concepts contributing to the research objectives. Deductively, alongside topics consistent with existing literature, particular attention was paid to concepts leaping out due to their relevance in the start-up context (Gioia et al., 2012). The iterative elaboration of the second-order codes was continued until theoretical saturation was reached, ultimately revealing 11 second-order codes. Based on this process, the perceived homeworking impacts and respective adopted navigation strategies were juxtaposed to examine their dynamic relationships grounded in the data, and subsequently related to theory, addressing the concern that qualitative research tends not to reflect how data relates to theory (Gioia et al., 2012, p. 22).

3.5 Reflections

This study granted ethical approval as it did not involve unusual ethical concerns. Nevertheless, qualitative research can trigger negative emotions, due to participants’ personal experiences, especially during a pandemic. Therefore, the researcher communicated participants’ right to end the interview anytime, remained sensitive to any indications of discomfort during the interview and asked open-ended questions to allow participants to choose the extent of information disclosure.

The virtual nature of the interviews compromises informational sources such as body language, which hampers rapport establishment, an essential element for stimulating participants personal reflection and comfortableness to share their personal experiences (Jacob & Furgerson, 2012). Hence, the researcher preceded the interview by introducing her remote, part-time employment in a technology-start-up, to facilitate rapport building by her insider status. While this affiliation was positively associated with higher participant confidence, the position of the researcher and how this may have influenced data collection and analysis must be reflected. To avoid influencing the participants’ forthcoming narratives with her own experience and to minimise the risk of social desirability bias (Dwyer & Buckle, 2009), the researcher did not share her homeworking experiences until after the interview and remained neutral at all times. Likewise, the researcher stayed objective during the data analysis, thus not misinterpreting her own experience with the participants’.

Finally, the cross-cultural nature of this study must be emphasised. Translating participants’ experiences is a dilemma in that it is challenging not to lose the cultural meanings that a language carries with it. Simultaneously, this makes it an interpretative task for the researcher and thus creates the risk of changing the context through misinterpretation (Temple & Young, 2004). In particular, the German language contains many proverbs which, translated verbatim, would make no sense to someone whose mother tongue is not German (Dabaghi et al., 2010). Linguistic dilemmas were minimised by appropriately evaluating the context of the participant’s narratives, and in that, the bilingual author compared her translations with the translations produced by Deepl, an internationally renowned translation software.

4. Findings

The following section presents the key findings of this study. The interested reader can find further references in the codebook in Appendix G. After outlining the impacts of WFH perceived by technology-start-up employees, their strategies to navigate emerged challenges are elaborated. Subsequently, impacts and strategies are juxtaposed to extract the paradox characterising their homeworking experience.

4.1 Impacts ofHomeworking

This section reconstructs the experienced impacts of homeworking. Participants consistently raised effects of WFH on work-life balance first as they characterised it a quite apparent impact. These reflections prompted the consideration of the importance of social interactions in start­ups, guiding the conversation and thus the following structure on exploring what it means to be a start-up employee and the necessity of social interactions in this context. Interestingly, no reference is made to location-based differences between employees in London and Berlin, as no variations emerged in the interviewees’ experience.

4.1.1 Experiencing Work-life Balance in Technology-Start-ups

Participants identified the shift to MWFH as a trigger of transforming the relationship between the previously physically separated work and non-work parts of life. Interestingly, the transformation was not described unilaterally as positive or negative experience. However, employees with and without ownership responsibilities drew on both accounts.


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Home-Office in Technology-Start-ups during the Covid-19-Pandemic. How do Employees Experience and Navigate the Impacts of Working from Home?
London School of Economics
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home-office, technology-start-ups, covid-19-pandemic, employees, experience, navigate, impacts, working, home
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Anonymous, 2021, Home-Office in Technology-Start-ups during the Covid-19-Pandemic. How do Employees Experience and Navigate the Impacts of Working from Home?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1167805


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