Skip to main content

Building telework capability in the new business era for SMEs, using spherical fuzzy AHP methodology for prioritizing the actions


Working types are one of the main issues affected by the turbulences in today’s business life and should be handled carefully. Telework is developing in the shadow of information and communication technologies and has become a necessary capability for companies to adapt to today’s business conditions. This study determined the importance of the factors in the telework structure with the analytic hierarchy process method. This multi-criteria decision-making method uses fuzzy numbers, which is rare in the telework literature. The results of this study in the context of SMEs show that the factors related to the work attributes significantly impact the telework capability structure. Adoption of telework by senior management as a business strategy is the factor with the highest impact, with some factors related to the culture being other factors with high impact. The fact that technological infrastructure factors did not show the expected effect was a surprising result.


There has been a severe increase in environmental disasters, crises, and epidemics worldwide in recent years. One of the adverse effects of these situations, which increase in number and expand their sphere of influence, is that they cause business interruptions. The most recent example of this is the COVID-19 pandemic declared in 2020. The pandemic has caused severe chaos in many countries, causing a complete cessation of activities in many business sectors. In such cases, companies have turned to flexible work arrangements in which the place and time of work are diversified to maintain their existence and ensure business continuity [57]. Flexible work arrangements give companies flexibility regarding the time and place of work. In this way, in all kinds of adverse situations, the work can be done anywhere or at any hour, depending on the conditions. This flexibility promises to contribute to business continuity.

Flexible work arrangements have a long history in business life and have various types in practice. These types include flexible shift work, flexible schedules, compressed work weeks, job sharing, work sharing, and telework [10]. Each of these types offers a variety of temporal and spatial flexibility. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns caused flexible working types in which flexible time and space applications are combined. Work carried out remotely through information communication technologies has become popular as management practices in this period. Telework, a flexible work arrangements application type in which these qualities can be combined, has come to the forefront compared to other application types [8].

Telework came to the fore as an effective tool for ensuring business continuity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning telework models is recommended by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as a powerful tool for SMEs in its guide to pandemic preparedness and business continuity in 2009 [31]. According to World Bank data, SMEs account for approximately 90% of businesses and over 50% of employment worldwide [65]. In case of any business interruption, SMEs caused weaken the country’s economy. In addition, SMEs can easily be vulnerable to external shocks, crises, and uncertainties due to defects such as lack of funds, weak ability to withstand market risks, and relatively backward technical equipment [1, 69]. In the 2020 ILO report, it has been revealed that the group of companies that are most negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the business world is SMEs, and it is recommended that states take measures to help SMEs to adapt to the new economic order after COVID-19 [33]. In the sectoral context, the service sector is under pressure to include telework in business processes due to factors such as the uninterrupted provision of services obligation and the changes in customer expectations, as well as its advantage in teleworking and its propensity to handle things through digital technologies.

Despite the waning impact of the pandemic, telework remains an essential practice in today’s business world. Telework, the most prominent type among flexible working arrangements [8], increases company resilience and business continuity [20, 46]. According to a study on this subject, the types of telework companies adopt, include in their business processes, and implement regularly provide high resilience [67]. In addition, in the literature, telework offers an increase in corporate performance [4], is the best solution for companies in times of shock and crisis [25, 28], allows communication with customers in times of crisis [47], a business strategy that contributes to resilience [60] and helps to provide economic resilience [6].

In addition, Pandya et al., in their projections for the next ten years in 2022, have depicted a new business world where 40% more of the current business will be driven by automation, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality [53]. The authors point to acquiring new capabilities as the key to success in this new business world. In this new world of work, it can be predicted that classical work applications will be replaced by flexible applications such as telework. In this direction, the implementation of telework and its integration into business processes represent a dynamic capability for companies.

According to the dynamic capabilities theory, dynamic capabilities are “the firm’s ability to integrate, build and reconfigure internal and external competences to address rapidly changing environments” [61]. Companies should be able to work remotely as a solid argument to ensure business continuity in all adverse conditions. The literature on telework contains the results that telework is affected by some internal and external factors in parallel with the dynamic capabilities theory. Stoian et al. [60] proposed a “telework systematic model” which includes internal and external factors affecting telework by considering telework’s inputs, outputs, results, and effects. Gohoungodji et al. [26] revealed the trend change in the literature over the years with the systematic and critical review research on telework and categorized the factors affecting telework into five groups based on the literature. Yorulmaz [66], on the other hand, revealed the structure of telework as a talent consisting of three dimensions and ten sub-dimensions, including internal and external factors, from the company’s perspective.

Although the studies in the literature on telework reveal the structure of telework as a capability, which consists of and is affected by some internal and external factors, the importance degree of these factors continues to exist as a subject open to discovery. Gohoungodji et al. [26] pointed out the gap in this area by emphasizing the need for future quantitative studies to confirm the effects of factors affecting telework on telework, which they revealed as a result of their research. As one of the originalities of our study, it is aimed to contribute to this gap in the literature. In our study, the importance degree of the factors in the telework structure revealed by Yorulmaz [66] will be determined using the AHP method, which can measure various factors of a complex decision-making process hierarchically and facilitates combining them into a whole [54]. As a result of the study, which focused on SMEs operating in the service sector, it is also aimed to support companies in terms of which factors should be given priority and weight in having the telework capability, which has become almost a necessity for SMEs to ensure business continuity.

This study consists of 6 parts. The next part is the literature summary, part 3 is the methodology, part 4 is the application and results, part 5 is the discussion, and the last part is the conclusions. In the second part of the study, information about the concept of telework and its sub-fractions will be given. In addition, literature studies on this subject will be summarized. The third part will give information about AHP and spherical fuzzy numbers to be used in the study. In the fourth part of the study, the results of the analysis made in the application will be shared. In the last section, the results will be discussed with the literature.

This study presents several novel contributions. Firstly, an original set of criteria has been developed through a comprehensive review of the literature and a qualitative study. This set includes both main and sub-criteria that are relevant to the determination of a telework strategy. The second original contribution of this study is its methodology. Multi-criteria decision-making methods that incorporate the concept of teleworking are relatively uncommon in the literature. Moreover, the utilization of fuzzy numbers is another original aspect of this study. Fuzzy numbers offer an advantageous approach to analyzing decision problems under uncertainty. These original contributions significantly enhance the value of this study. Creating a new set of criteria and applying a unique multi-criteria decision-making methodology offers valuable insights for practitioners and academics alike. Additionally, the use of fuzzy numbers demonstrates the study’s ability to address real-world problems that are inherently uncertain.


Telework is using information and communication technologies outside the workplace [15]. Telework can be implemented by integrating technology into work and using it as a tool. One pillar of telework is digitalization, which means converting analog information to digital information using tools such as web-based applications that facilitate remote access and collaboration, cloud computing, and work calendar applications [34]. Another pillar is digital transformation, which means the use of new digital technologies (embedded systems, data analytics, social media, mobile applications, artificial intelligence, etc.) for business development (creating new business models, customer experience, etc.) form [18].

Official labor market data show that telework is a growing trend in business, increasing since the 2000s [16]. Today, due to the development of information and communication technologies, telework is expected to increase its presence in the business world, while the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this process, even carried it even further, and made telework a necessity [8]. Each company implements telework in various ways that will suit itself and its business model. A wide range of application types is encountered, from working entirely from home to working remotely in exceptional cases [67].

Telework is incomplete when considered only in the technology, digitalization, and digital transformation triangle. Apart from technology and machines, it contains the human factor as a part of work, and in connection with this, it also has soft elements. In addition, studies have shown that the suitability of the work to be carried out with telework is one factor that affects the implementation of telework [12, 27]. Gohoungodji et al. [26] the factors affecting telework in the study include; media richness, experience, communication, work-family facilitation, supervisor support, top management support, and trust. Yorulmaz [66], as a result of his research, revealed the structure of teleworking as a capability consisting of technological infrastructure, culture, and work attributes dimensions. According to the research results, the critical telework factors are hardware and software depend on technological infrastructure; working order, adoption, trust, and habits, depending on culture; efficiency perception, implementation history, job suitability, and business strategy, depending on work attributes.

Telework critical factors

Technological infrastructure

Technological infrastructure components are considered critical factors in telework applications. Technological infrastructure is vital in providing work organization in telework applications regarding employees’ access to data and synchronized communication. Telework applications are realized thanks to the support of technology and the existence of technological infrastructure [26]. Software and hardware components come to the fore in the technological infrastructure required in telework applications. These components include the software suitable for the nature and requirements of the job that will allow remote working and the physical hardware that will enable remote working by using this software [66].

The technological infrastructure that allows remote working includes elements such as fifth-generation mobile network technology, implementation of cyber security measures, interoperability, and integrated systems [50]. To implement telework, tools such as computers, tablets, and phones represent hardware elements [32]. At the same time, tools such as planning software and project management software [60], web-based applications, and cloud computing [34] are also software elements. The effects of technological elements on telework applications are also emphasized in various research. Turkeş et al. [63], while stressing the importance of information security management and digitalization in telework, according to Iwaniuk et al. [35], deficiencies in digitalizing jobs using technological elements constitute one of the biggest obstacles to telework implementation.

The fact that the technological infrastructure is accessible in the company’s context is critical. Although companies strengthen their technological infrastructure, they may experience weakness in telework applications due to the deficiencies in technical and technological infrastructure providers and the stakeholders they contact in the business environment. In the studies on this subject, it has been concluded that the lack of technical and digital infrastructure in companies operating in developed countries is relatively more in the background than the others [51]. In addition, according to another result achieved, the unsuitability of the internet infrastructure in low-income countries negatively affects telework [23].


Creating a culture appropriate for the companies to have telework capability is seen as a critical factor. In the culture structure proper to telework, the company management and telework should be adopted by employees [9]. To ensure that, companies should determine humane policies that convince employees of issues open to abuse, such as the overemployment of employees [26]. The working order should be well described to shape the culture, a soft element of telework. The top management should clearly define the working order in a way that is understandable and applicable to employees [66].

Classical working habits of employees may be an obstacle in creating a suitable cultural structure for telework. Companies should make efforts to change these habits through telework. The research results conducted on this subject show that young employees who have previously experienced telework or live in the age of information and communication have been quickly adapting to telework and that elderly employees have difficulty adapting due to habits [3].

Another part of the cultural structure suitable for teleworking is building trust. Research on this subject reveals the necessity of managers’ trust in employees within the cultural structure [22, 48]. Although specific controls can be made with technological means to prevent the employee from shirking from work, it is possible that these can be manipulated with the help of technology [66]. At this point, trust comes to the fore as a critical element for the continuity of telework. This trust can be demonstrated by managers supporting employees [5, 64], and establishing such a culture will help remove barriers to telework [19].

Most research considers culture as a critical factor for telework. Criscuolo et al. [7] and Ollo-Lopez et al. [50], the results obtained in their studies support this. Some studies on this subject emphasize the advantage of small firms in creating culture. Small firms have advantages in performance management, collaborative working environment, and designing the work by teleworking due to their tiny structure [60]. In addition, Hofstede’s studies on social culture [29, 30] show that companies in cultures with high individualism value trust their employees more. This indicates that these companies have an advantage in creating a culture of trust suitable for telework.

Work attributes

In telework applications, soft elements related to human and technological infrastructure and some features related to business and company are critical factors. The suitability of the work to be done with telework and the fact that telework was applied in the company before can be counted among these features. In addition, the fact that telework is seen as a business strategy by the senior management and the efficiency in the execution of the work with telework can be counted among the factors affecting the telework application.

Only some professions are suitable to be carried out by telework. Sectors suitable for telework are mostly technological companies, banking services, and insurance companies, especially those operating in the service sector and where “white-collar” workers are concentrated [2]. Research on this subject shows that some professions and jobs are suitable to be carried out entirely by telework, and this compliance rate increases as the developed levels of countries increase [12, 52]. The predominance of the service sector in developed countries and the fact that occupations mainly based on communication and information at the desk are effective on these rates.

Studies have yielded results supporting efficiency to be a critical factor in the implementation of telework [45]. Measuring the efficiency of the work done or the perceived efficiency factor is decisive for the company to continue the telework application [66]. Some research conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic reveals that companies see telework as a loss of productivity. Managers see telework only as a provisional application to ensure business continuity in times of crisis and think that it causes inefficiency due to loss of connection, cooperation, and face-to-face communication in regular times [28]. It has also emerged that managers are concerned about monitoring the performance of employees when telework is applied [56]. Research after the COVID-19 pandemic shows that these views have changed. As a result of a large-scale survey covering 25 countries, managers have a positive evaluation of telework for company performance and want to significantly increase the rate of regular telework implementation and integration into business processes compared to pre-pandemic [7].

Implementing telework is also related to seeing the application as a business strategy to ensure business continuity and stay caught up in the competition. Research results reveal that telework applications emerged as a business strategy to ensure business continuity [13, 44] and to develop [26], especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yorulmaz et al. [67] and Stoian et al. [60] suggest that telework should be developed as a business strategy to ensure resilience and business continuity. Implementing telework as a business strategy in the company will facilitate adapting the whole system to telework and ensure business continuity during adverse events such as crises and disasters. Research on this subject shows that the previous telework applications provide an advantage in rapid transition and adaptation to telework in times of crisis [28].

The applications of telework as a capability for companies and the critical telework factors that form the basis of this research are presented in Fig. 1 based on the work of Yorulmaz [66].

Fig. 1
figure 1

Source: This illustration was created based on the study of Yorulmaz [66]

Telework critical factors.


Spherical fuzzy sets (SF sets)

The numbers in the spherical fuzzy set consist of 3 components. They are membership value, non-membership, and hesitancy values, respectively. A spherical fuzzy set is defined as follows [37].

$${\text{SF}} = \{ \left( {\mu ,v,p} \right)\left| {0 \le \mu^{2} + v^{2} + p^{2} \le 1\} } \right.$$

here µ, v, and p are the membership, non-membership, and hesitancy degrees of the spherical fuzzy number, respectively.

Analytic hierarchy process (AHP)

The analytic hierarchy process (AHP) is a mathematical method in decision-making analysis. It is a frequently used method for dealing with complex decision-making issues involving several criteria [59]. This structure expresses the relationships between sub-factors under each level with the factors above it. The decision-maker is in charge of defining the level of importance of each criterion or goal and then evaluating each alternative’s suitability for each criterion [55].

AHP generates a preference rating and chooses the best option based on these evaluations. In various fields, such as business, engineering, health, and environmental management. AHP is widely employed [21, 24]. AHP’s methodical and impartial approach can also aid in minimizing uncertainty and bias during the decision-making process [24].

The algorithmic steps of the AHP method are as follows [14, 24, 62]:

  • Step 1 Factor and sub-factor are created for the goal.

  • Step 2 Each related factor is compared pairwise. Saaty’s 1–9 comparison scale [55] is used. A decision matrix (D) is created from the responses.

    $$D = \left[ {\begin{array}{*{20}c} 1 & \cdots & {d_{1n} } \\ \vdots & \ddots & \vdots \\ {1/d_{1n} } & \cdots & 1 \\ \end{array} } \right]$$
  • Step 3 The decision matrix is translated into fuzzy linguistic expressions. Linguistic variables are given in Table 7.

  • Step 4 The average of the experts is taken by Eq. (2).

    $${\text{SFWGM}}_{W} \left( {\tilde{D}_{1} ,\tilde{D}_{2} , \ldots \tilde{D}_{n} } \right) = \left\{ {\begin{array}{*{20}l} {\mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{n} \mu_{{D_{i} }}^{\frac{1}{n}} ,} \hfill \\ {\left[ {1 - \mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{n} \left( {1 - v_{{D_{i} }}^{2} } \right)^{\frac{1}{n}} } \right]^{\frac{1}{2}} ,} \hfill \\ {\left[ {\mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{n} \left( {1 - v_{{D_{i} }}^{2} } \right)^{\frac{1}{n}} - \mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{n} \left( {1 - v_{{D_{i} }}^{2} - p_{{D_{i} }}^{2} } \right)^{\frac{1}{n}} } \right]^{\frac{1}{2}} } \hfill \\ \end{array} } \right\}$$
  • Step 5 The matrix obtained by the mean is taken into account. With Eq. (3), this matrix is averaged on a row basis.

    $${\text{SFWAM}}_{W} \left( {\tilde{D}_{1} ,\tilde{D}_{2} , \ldots \tilde{D}_{k} } \right) = \left\{ {\begin{array}{*{20}l} {\left[ {1 - \mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{k} \left( {1 - \mu_{{D_{i} }}^{2} } \right)^{\frac{1}{k}} } \right]^{\frac{1}{2}} ,} \hfill \\ {\mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{k} v_{{D_{i} }}^{\frac{1}{k}} ,} \hfill \\ {\left[ {\mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{k} \left( {1 - \mu_{{D_{i} }}^{2} } \right)^{\frac{1}{k}} - \mathop \prod \limits_{i = 1}^{k} \left( {1 - \mu_{{D_{i} }}^{2} - p_{{D_{i} }}^{2} } \right)^{\frac{1}{k}} } \right]^{\frac{1}{2}} } \hfill \\ \end{array} } \right\}$$
  • Step 6 The mean rows obtained are the weights of the criteria. These weights are clarified with the help of Eqs. (45).

    $$S\left( {\tilde{w}_{j}^{s} } \right) = \sqrt {\left| {100*\left[ {\left( {3\mu_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} - \frac{{p_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} }}{2}} \right)^{2} - \left( {\frac{{v_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} }}{2} - p_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} } \right)^{2} } \right]} \right|}$$
    $$S\left( {\tilde{w}_{j}^{s} } \right) = \sqrt {\left| {100*\left[ {\left( {3\mu_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} - \frac{{\nu_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} }}{2}} \right)^{2} - \left( {\frac{{\eta_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} }}{2} - \nu_{{\overline{A}_{s} }} } \right)^{2} } \right]} \right|}$$
  • Step 7 As in the classical AHP, the consistency ratio is checked. The value must be less than 0.1.

Using the AHP method with other fuzzy number sets is preferred [11, 58, 65]. The most important advantage of this is that fuzzy numbers can better represent uncertainty in linguistic variables [39, 43, 68]. In this study, spherical fuzzy numbers are used. It is emphasized that these numbers analyze uncertainty better with the components of membership (m), non-membership (v), and hesitancy (p) [40].

Application and results

The objective of this investigation is to identify the primary and subordinate factors that exert the greatest influence on the telework strategy. To achieve this, the hierarchical arrangement depicted in Fig. 1 was assessed utilizing the spherical fuzzy AHP (SF-AHP) methodology. The decision matrix for main factors derived from the evaluations of domain experts, based on a nine-point scale, is presented in Table 1.

Table 1 Decision matrix for main factors

Table 1 presents the average values of the global fuzzy numbers of three experts' evaluations. The AHP procedure was performed on the decision matrix, and the corresponding weights were computed. Additionally, Table 2 provides a summary of the relevant consistency ratio values.

Table 2 Weights and consistency analysis results for main criteria

As the CR value obtained is less than 0.1, it can be inferred that the decision matrix is consistent. Accordingly, it has been observed that the work attributes criterion holds the highest importance weight of 0.418 and, therefore, can be considered the most influential criterion in the telework strategy. Conversely, the technological infrastructure criterion has the lowest significance weight of 0.265 among the other criteria.

Similarly, the most important criteria were tried to be determined among the sub-criteria. To achieve this aim, the sub-criteria falling under the culture criterion and others were examined utilizing the SF-AHP method based on expert judgments. The resulting importance weights and consistency analyses were computed and presented in Table 3.

Table 3 Weights and consistency analysis results for culture criteria’s sub-criteria

As the CR value obtained is less than 0.1, it can be inferred that the decision matrix is consistent. Accordingly, it has been observed that the adoption criterion holds the highest importance weight of 0.31 and, therefore, can be considered the most influential criterion in the habits. Conversely, the habits criterion has the lowest significance weight of 0.18 among the other criteria.

Upon examination of Table 4, it can be observed that there are two sub-criteria under the technological infrastructure criterion. According to expert opinions, the software has been identified as the most significant technological criterion, while the hardware criterion is perceived as less critical, with a weight of 0.44 (Table 5).

Table 4 Weights and consistency analysis results for technological infrastructure criteria’s sub-criteria
Table 5 Weights and consistency analysis results for work attributes criteria’s sub-criteria

Finally, the sub-dimensions of the work attributes criterion were analyzed. The consistency ratio of the analysis obtained was calculated as less than 0.1. According to the analysis results, the business strategy criterion has the highest importance weight of 0.258, while the criterion with the lowest importance weight is the efficiency perception criterion.

Table 6 presents the fuzzy local weights of the main and sub-criteria. The global weights were then calculated by multiplying the weight of the main criterion with the local weight of each sub-criterion. These weights were subsequently converted to normal weights using the defuzzification process. Based on these normal weights, the business strategy criterion was identified as the most significant sub-criterion.

Table 6 Global weights for all criteria

In addition, the results were compared with the results of the traditional AHP method. The results are given in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Comparative analysis results

According to Fig. 2, it can be seen that the results are similar for both methods.


Our research findings revealed that the most critical factors affecting the telework application are the factors related to the work attributes. While seeing telework as a business strategy stands out among these factors, efficiency perception, job’s suitability, and implementation history factors have a similar and balanced weight to the business strategy factor. In the culture dimension, working order and adoption factors differ significantly from other factors in the same dimension. In addition, one of the research’s surprising findings is that the technological infrastructure has the lowest importance at both the dimension and the sub-dimension level.

Some studies in the literature on telework differ from our findings on technological infrastructure in terms of their results. In these studies, results were obtained on the importance of technology access and technological skills for telework [38], as well as the requirements and importance of providing technologies and tech support and hardware, and teleworkers access to the information they need and software [42]. The reason for the divergence in the findings can be shown as the developments in both software and hardware aspects of the technological infrastructure related to telework, especially since telework is one of the most important alternatives to ensure business continuity during the COVID-19 period and is sometimes required by governments. Thanks to these developments, companies can access technological infrastructure factors more easily, and this issue is far from being the main agenda for telework. Gohoungodji et al. [26] supported these results in a large-scale systematic and critical review study on telework and showed that although technological and digital tools are essential for successful telework applications, they lost their priority and popularity over time and left their place to new factors in post-2010 studies.

Gohoungodji et al. [26] listed some of these factors that significantly impact telework, such as trust, task planning, and top management support. These factors correspond to the culture dimension in our study. The necessity of establishing a suitable cultural structure for the success and continuation of telework applications Franken et al. [19] is also supported by the research results. As a result of our analysis, the sub-dimensions of working order and adoption regarding the culture dimension come to the fore. Our findings reveal the importance of preferences and willingness to sustain telework in their research emphasizing adoption by Cortes-Perez et al. [9]. Also, Okubo et al. [49] result that the working order and the clearly defined tasks obtained in the research positively affect telework efficiency and are in line with our research results. The trust sub-dimension depending on the culture dimension is an important component in the study of telework literature [17, 36]. Today, thanks to the advanced software developed in accordance with telework, it is relatively easy for managers to follow-up with employees. These developments may explain the divergence of the trust factor from the literature findings by not being in the top ranks in terms of the importance of the trust factor in our research findings.

The strongest support for the work attributes dimension and the business strategy sub-dimension, which stand out as the factors with the highest impact on telework in our findings, was given by research results of Yorulmaz et al. [67]. In the research they conducted in the service sector, the effects of telework types on resilience were investigated, and based on the results of the research; it was suggested that the company adopt regular telework models as a business strategy. The suitability of work for remote work is another finding with high weight in our research. It is also emphasized by previous literature that not every profession is suitable for teleworking [27, 41]. In addition, previous studies have obtained results in parallel with our findings that companies with a history of telework implementation both provide the advantage of rapid transition and adaptation to telework in unexpected adverse situations [28] and increase telework efficiency [49]. According to Mihalca et al. [45], the prominent productivity perception and job performance results regarding telework support our research.


The primary purposes of this study are to measure the importance of the factors affecting telework, which is considered a capability for companies, and to provide directions based on empirical evidence to companies on the way to having this capability. In the theoretical sense, the study is to contribute to the gap in the literature regarding the importance of the factors in the telework structure and indirectly to the dynamic capabilities theory. With this study, the telework structure as a capability is analyzed based on dimensions and sub-dimensions, and valuable insights are provided on the importance of the criteria in having telework capability from the perspective of top management. These insights will help companies turn to the right factors on the way to teleworking capability.

Our research analysis, which reached its goals, proved that the most critical factor influential in owning telework, considered a capability, in today’s conditions, is that telework is seen as a business strategy by companies. This result, which draws attention as a result of changing trends due to the developments in the business world and working styles, especially in the post-COVID-19 period, offers companies to stay caught up in competition, competitive advantage or durability, and business continuity.

The results show that other components are categorized within the dimension of work attributes, that the work done is suitable for telework, that the application has been carried out in the past, and the perception of efficiency has a high degree of importance in having this ability. While these results indicate that companies should attach significance to adaptations for business conduct with digital tools, it can be said that both perceived efficiency and productivity can be achieved thanks to these adaptations. Thanks to integrating telework applications into the company as a business strategy, the application history feature will be gained by default, and the entire business design will be adapted to telework in case of any negativity.

Evidence of the research for creating the right culture for telework capability points to the importance of working order and adoption. Correctly digitizing jobs will serve to ensure good working order. Top management’s attitude toward telework and employee support can also help drive adoption. Although the findings do not highlight, efforts to establish trust and change regular working habits as components of culture should not be neglected for teleworking ability. In addition, it should not be forgotten that the technological infrastructure factors, which have been proved by this research that they do not have their former importance in the telework structure, have a feature that does not appear in the present but makes the telework capability meaningless in the absence of it.

Finally, this study has some limitations. Considering the ten factors that affect telework is one of these limitations. In future studies, these criteria can be reanalyzed by increasing the number of criteria. Another limitation of the study was SMEs in the service sector. Analysis can be made on other business types with the same criteria. In addition, it is recommended to carry out more detailed studies based on the sector. SF-AHP method was used in the method of the study. Results can be compared by using different methods such as DEMATEL and ANP.

Availability of data and materials

All material and dataset are available on request.



Analytic hierarchy process


International Labor Organization


Spherical fuzzy AHP


  1. Baykal E (2022) Succession in family business through authentic leadership. In I. Management Association (Ed.), Research Anthology on Strategies for Maintaining Successful Family Firms (pp. 488-503). IGI Global.

  2. Belzunegui-Eraso A, Erro-Garces A (2020) Teleworking in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. Sustainability 12(9):3662.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bodjona CPH, Gueyie JP, Magnangou E (2021) Telework and the perceived financial performance of Togolese firms during the Covid-19 health crisis. Int J Entrep 25:1–12

    Google Scholar 

  4. Busu M, Gyorgy A (2021) The mediating role of the ability to adapt to teleworking to increase the organizational performance. Amfiteatru Econ J 23(58):654–668

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Carillo K, Cachat-Rosset G, Marsan J, Saba T, Klarsfeld A (2021) Adjusting to epidemic-induced telework: empirical insights from teleworkers in France. Eur J Inf Syst 30(1):69–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Carvalho M, Hagerman AD, Whitacre B (2022) Telework and COVID-19 resiliency in the southeastern United States. J Reg Anal Policy 52(1):19–34

    Google Scholar 

  7. Criscuolo C, Gal P, Leidecker T, Losma F, Nicoletti G (2021) The role of telework for productivity during and post-COVID-19: results from an OECD survey among managers and workers. OECD Publishing, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  8. Contreras F, Baykal E, Abid G (2020) E-leadership and teleworking in times of COVID-19 and beyond: What we know and where do we go. Front Psychol 11:590271.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cortes-Perez HD, Escobar-Sierra M, Galindo-Monsalve R (2023) Influence of lifestyle and cultural traits on the willingness to telework: a case study in the Aburrá Valley, Medellín. Colomb Glob Bus Rev 24(1):206–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Dilmaghani M (2021) There is a time and a place for work: comparative evaluation of flexible work arrangements in Canada. Int J Manpow 42(1):167–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Dinçer H, Yüksel S, Martínez L (2022) Collaboration enhanced hybrid fuzzy decision-making approach to analyze the renewable energy investment projects. Energy Rep 8:377–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Dingel JI, Neiman B (2020) How many jobs can be done at home? J Public Econ 189:104235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dogru C (2022) Teleworking as an emerging strategy during COVID-19: Evidence from the United States. In Ana Pego (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Digital Innovation and Networking in Post-COVID-19 Organizations (pp. 68-94). IGI Global.

  14. Eti S, Dinçer H, Gökalp Y, Yüksel S, Kararoğlu D (2023) Identifying key issues to handle the inflation problem in the healthcare industry caused by energy prices: An evaluation with decision-making models. In Ulas Akkucuk (Ed.), Managing Inflation and Supply Chain Disruptions in the Global Economy (pp. 162-178). IGI Global.

  15. Eurofound, International Labour Organization (2017) Working anytime, anywhere: the effects on the world of work. Luxembourg: Office of the European Union ve Geneva, CH: International Labour Office. . Accessed 09 Mar 2023

  16. Felstead A, Henseke G (2017) Assessing the growth of remote working and its consequences for effort, well-being and work-life balance. N Technol Work Employ 32(3):195–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Ficapal-Cusi P, Torrent-Sellens J, Palos-Sanchez P, Gonzalez-Gonzalez I (2023) The telework performance dilemma: exploring the role of trust, social isolation and fatigue. Int J Manpow. (Early Access)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Fitzgerald M, Kruschwitz N, Bonnet D, Welch M (2014) Embracing digital technology: a new strategic imperative. MIT Sloan Manag Rev 55(2):1

    Google Scholar 

  19. Franken E, Bentley T, Shafaei A, Farr-Wharton B, Onnis L-A, Omari M (2021) Forced flexibility and remote working: opportunities and challenges in the new normal. J Manag Organ 27(6):1131–1149.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Fuhrer C (2022) The contribution of telework to resilience: Covid-19 analysis. In: 2022 3rd International conference on next generation computing applications (NextComp), pp 1–6. IEEE.

  21. Garg CP, Agrawal V (2023) Evaluation of key performance indicators of Indian airlines using fuzzy AHP method. Int J Bus Perform Manag 24(1):1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Garro-Abarca V, Palos-Sanchez P, Aguayo-Camacho M (2021) Virtual teams in times of pandemic: factors that influence performance. Front Psychol 12:1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Garrote Sanchez D, Gomez Parra N, Ozden C, Rijkers B, Viollaz M, Winkler H (2021) Who on earth can work from home? World Bank Res Obs 36(1):67–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Ghaleb H, Alhajlah HH, Bin Abdullah AA, Kassem MA, Al-Sharafi MA (2022) A scientometric analysis and systematic literature review for construction project complexity. Buildings 12(4):482.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Geciene J (2021) Organizational resilience management in the face of a crisis: results of a survey of social service institutions before and during a Covid-19 pandemic. Contemp Res Organ Manag Adm 9(1):32–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Gohoungodji P, N’Dri AB, Matos ALB (2023) What makes telework work? Evidence of success factors across two decades of empirical research: a systematic and critical review. Int J Hum Resour Manag 34(3):605–649.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Gottlieb C, Grobovsek J, Poschke M, Saltiel F (2021) Working from home in developing countries. Eur Econ Rev 133:103679.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Green N, Tappin D, Bentley T (2017) Exploring the teleworking experiences of organisations in a post-disaster environment. N Z J Hum Resour Manag 17(1):1

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hofstede Geert H (1980) Culture’s consequences: ınternational differences in work-related values. SAGE, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hofstede Geert H (2001) Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations, 2nd edn. SAGE, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

  31. International Labour Organization (2009) Business continuity planning, guideliness for small and medium sized enterprises, prevent and prepare for pandemics. Accessed 09 Mar 2023

  32. International Labour Organization (2020a) COVID-19: guidance for labour statistics data collection; Defining and measuring remote work, telework, work at home and home-based work. Accessed 09 Mar 2023

  33. International Labour Organization (2020b) ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work, third edition. Updated estimates and analysis. Accessed 09 Mar 2023

  34. International Labour Organization (2020c) Teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond a practical guide. International Labour Office, Geneva. Accessed 09 Mar 2023

  35. Iwaniuk A, Hawrysz L, Bulinska-Stangrecka H, Huras P (2021) Barriers to the effectiveness of teleworking in public administration. Zesz Naukowe Organ Zarz Politech Sl.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Jaiswal A, Sengupta S, Panda M, Hati L, Prikshat V, Patel P, Mohyuddin S (2022) Teleworking: role of psychological well-being and technostress in the relationship between trust in management and employee performance. Int J Manpow. (Early Access)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Kahraman C, Kutlu Gündoğdu F (2018) From 1D to 3D membership: spherical fuzzy sets. In: BOS/SOR2018 conference. Warsaw Poland

  38. Katsabian T (2020) The telework virus: How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected telework and exposed its implications for privacy and equality. SSRN 3684702. Accessed 15 March 2023.

  39. Kayacık M, Dinçer H, Yüksel S (2022) Using quantum spherical fuzzy decision support system as a novel sustainability index approach for analyzing industries listed in the stock exchange. Borsa Istanbul Rev 22(6):1145–1157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. KutluGündoğdu F, Kahraman C (2019) Spherical fuzzy sets and spherical fuzzy TOPSIS method. J Intell Fuzzy Syst 36(1):337–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Lund S, Madgavkar A, Manyika J, Smit S, Ellingrud K, Meaney M, Robinson O (2021) The future of work after Covid-19. McKinsey Global Institute 18. Accessed 13 Mar 2023

  42. Manko BA, Rosiński J (2021) Success factors in managing remote work: a global perspective. Organ Zarz Kwart Naukowy 1(53):1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Martínez L, Dinçer H, Yüksel S (2023) A hybrid decision making approach for new service development process of renewable energy investment. Appl Soft Comput 133:109897.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Mhlophe K, Chinjova F (2022) Teleworking as a business sustainability and continuity strategy: an assessment of the Zimbabwean telecommunications sector under Covid-19. Int J Appl Bus Manag Sci 3(1):83–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Mihalca L, Irimiaș T, Brendea G (2021) Teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic: determining factors of perceived work productivity, job performance, and satisfaction. Amfiteatru Econ 23(58):620–636

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Moglia M, Hopkins J, Bardoel A (2021) Telework, hybrid work and the United Nation’s sustainable development goals: towards policy coherence. Sustainability 13(16):9222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Mokline B, Ben Abdallah MA (2021) Organizational resilience as response to a crisis: case of COVID-19 crisis. Contin Resil Rev 3(3):232–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Nakrosiene A, Buciuniene I, Gostautaite B (2019) Working from home: characteristics and outcomes of telework. Int J Manpow 40(1):87–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Okubo T, Inoue A, Sekijima K (2021) Teleworker performance in the COVID-19 era in Japan. Asian Econ Pap 20(2):175–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Ollo-Lopez A, Goni-Legaz S, Erro-Garces A (2021) Home-based telework: usefulness and facilitators. Int J Manpow 42(4):644–660.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Ono H (2022) Telework in a land of overwork: it is not that simple or is it? Am Behav Sci.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Ozguzel C, Veneri P, Ahrend R (2020) Capacity for remote working can affect lockdown costs differently across places. OECD, Paris, France. Accessed 09 Mar 2023

  53. Pandya B, Patterson L, Ruhi U (2022) The readiness of workforce for the world of work in 2030: perceptions of university students. Int J Bus Perform Manag 23(1/2):54–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Russo RDFSM, Camanho R (2015) Criteria in AHP: a systematic review of literature. Procedia Comput Sci 55:1123–1132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Saaty TL (1980) The analytic hierarchy process: planning, priority setting, resource allocation. McGraw-Hill, New York

    Google Scholar 

  56. Saragih S, Setiawan S, Markus T, Rhian P (2021) Benefits and challenges of telework during the Covid-19 pandemic. Int Res J Bus Stud 14(2):129–135

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Shifrin NV, Michel JS (2022) Flexible work arrangements and employee health: a meta-analytic review. Work Stress 36(1):60–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Silahtaroğlu G, Dinçer H, Yüksel S (2021) Defining the significant factors of currency exchange rate risk by considering text mining and fuzzy AHP. In: Data science and multiple criteria decision making approaches in finance: applications and methods. Springer, Cham, pp 145–168

  59. Spivakovskyy S, Spivakovska T, Zozulov O, Heiets I (2022) Designing online communication mix for machinery manufacturers. Int J Bus Perform Manag 23(1–2):166–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Stoian CA, Caraiani C, Anica-Popa IF, Dascalu C, Lungu CI (2022) Telework systematic model design for the future of work. Sustainability 14(12):7146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Teece DJ, Pisano G, Shuen A (1997) Dynamic capabilities and strategic management. Strateg Manag J 18(7):509–533.;2-Z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Tepe S, Eti S (2022) A study on strategy development for e-commerce businesses with clustering and spherical fuzzy analytic hierarchy process. Niğde Ömer Halisdemir Üniv Mühendis Bilim Derg 11(2):294–302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Turkeș MC, Stancioiu AF, Baltescu CA (2021) Telework during the COVID-19 pandemic—an approach from the perspective of Romanian enterprises. Amfiteatru Econ 23(58):700–717

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Wang B, Liu Y, Qian J, Parker SK (2020) Achieving effective remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic: a work design perspective. Appl Psychol 70(1):16–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. World Bank (n.d.) Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) finance. Accessed 09 Mar 2023

  66. Yorulmaz H (2023) Dijital çağda KOBİ’lerde örgütsel dayanıklılık için stratejik yönelimler ve esnek çalışma model önerisi [Strategic orientations and telework model proposal for organizational resilience in SMEs in the digital era] [Unpublished Doctoral dissertation]. Istanbul Medipol University.

  67. Yorulmaz H, Baykal E, Eti S (2023) Effects of teleworking and strategic orientations on resilience in the post-pandemic period. OPUS J Soc Res 20(51):30–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Zadeh LA (1965) Fuzzy sets. Inf Control 8(3):338–353

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Zhong M (2021) Research on the organizational resilience construction of SMEs under the background of VUCA. In: 2021 International conference on electronic commerce, engineering management and ınformation systems. Francis Academic Press, United Kingdom, pp 438–443

Download references


Not applicable.


No funding was received from any organization.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



SE made the methodology and analysis part, while HY compiled introduction, literature review, discussion, conclusion, and the overall formatting of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Halil Yorulmaz.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Not applicable.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

No potential competing interest of any form was reported by the authors.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.



See Table 7.

Table 7 Linguistic variables

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yorulmaz, H., Eti, S. Building telework capability in the new business era for SMEs, using spherical fuzzy AHP methodology for prioritizing the actions. Futur Bus J 10, 10 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: