Employee Telework Research Paper

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Telework is an increasingly popular form of 21st-century work in which individuals carry out their jobs away from the central company office using computer technology. Due to telework’s dramatically increasing popularity, researchers have begun to devote greater attention to understanding telework and the implications this new form of work has on individuals and organizations. This research-paper is therefore devoted to providing an overview of telework research and the inherent trade-offs employees and managers must consider when making decisions about telework. After a brief review of the factors influencing telework’s growth and the forms of telework, the research-paper will summarize important research findings for telework’s positive and negative impacts on employees and the organization. Each of these areas will incorporate important findings from prior telework research. Then, several key areas of emerging research will be reviewed, which promise to shed important insights into our understanding of telework’s implications. The research-paper will conclude with a discussion of crucial implementation challenges for the employee and organization and suggestions for helping to improve telework success.

Factors Influencing Telework’s Growth

Telework has been experiencing tremendous growth in recent years, and this trend is projected to continue at even higher rates in the years to come. With its popularity more than doubling in a 2-year period, the growth in telework is occurring globally, including much of Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States. A number of factors have combined to fuel this explosive growth. First, companies are responding to employee needs for greater capability in dealing with increased family demands, as the number of dual-career and single-parent households continues to grow. Moreover, employees are demanding greater flexibility to accommodate leisure activities and to be able to work independent of location. Companies tend to view telework as a tool to help attract and retain talented employees, who might otherwise be less satisfied with their work and have a higher tendency to leave the organization. Companies also look upon telework as a means to reduce the costs of office space, since employees who do not work in the office full time need less office space. Computer technology has also made telework increasingly convenient and cost effective. Such technology has enabled reliable and robust remote access to corporate databases, flexibility in remote communication, and easy and convenient tools for interacting with others from a distance. Finally, following tragic and horrifying terrorist events, individuals and companies have begun to look at telework as a means to ensure business continuity by providing a means for employees to remain working and productive if the office space or travel is disrupted. Together, these factors have combined to produce unprecedented increases in telework as a preferred work mode.

Forms Of Telework

When people think about telework, they likely have a number of different concepts in mind. Telework, also known as telecommuting, is a new form of work that generally involves working away from the office by using computer technology to communicate. Most people who telework do so from home for a portion of their work week (e.g., 1—1 days/week) and spend the rest of the time in the office. Telework can also be conducted from satellite work centers, airports, hotels, and client sites all of which are removed from the central company office and involve working while remaining connected to others via computer, phones, and other electronic devices. Employees in large cities typically use satellite centers to avoid lengthy commutes by driving to a center near their home to utilize a desk, computer hookups, copy machines, and the like. While less common than working from home, many researchers still consider satellite centers a form of telework. Moreover, while some people work from home full time, researchers generally consider these individuals to be home-based workers or virtual workers rather than teleworkers, and therefore do not consider them part of the general telework population. Considering the wide variety of telework forms and the definitional differences in the research literature, it is therefore important to be clear about exactly what form of telework is being considered when reading and interpreting research studies.

Trade-Offs In Telework

Given telework’s tremendous growth, researchers and practitioners have begun to unravel the many complexities of this technology-enabled work mode. While research is ongoing, some initial trends can be drawn that begin to paint a picture of the careful balance that must be struck if telework is to be successful. In particular, evidence from research indicates telework has both positive and negative implications for a range of important employee and organizational outcomes. Moreover, each aspect of telework may have both positive and negative implications for the individual or organization, and as will be discussed more next, careful consideration of the full range of impacts of telework is needed before important decisions are made. The next section will highlight major research findings in order to shed insights into the wide spectrum of individual and employee impacts from telework.

How Telework Impacts Individuals

Positive Impacts On Individuals

Telework has been reported to have many positive effects on the individual. Perhaps the most often cited advantage is increased job satisfaction (Bailey & Kurland, 2002).

Telework offers individuals the opportunity to more easily adjust work tasks to suit their own needs, and therefore gain greater control and flexibility while still accomplishing their work. A greater sense of autonomy in one’s job is an important psychological state that leads to job satisfaction. By adjusting work tasks to meet their own individual needs and desires, teleworkers can better accommodate nonwork demands and desires that would otherwise interfere with their work. For example, a teleworker may simply need to be present at home to either meet a child’s school bus or be there in case of an emergency, and being able to work from home therefore decreases worry and stress that might otherwise occur during the course of his or her work day. Thus, by eliminating unwanted or unnecessary stress from their work, teleworkers are reported to enjoy their jobs more and have greater job satisfaction.

Another positive impact of telework is saved commute time. Surveys of teleworkers show that the absence of a commute generally saves about 1 hour per day, which teleworkers are then free to apply to spending more time working or meeting their desires for outside activities or family. The absence of a commute can be particularly beneficial when commuting long distances, or when dealing with heavy traffic congestion or bad weather. Not only does the absence of a commute save money and time, it also reduces stress and enables individuals to accomplish other more desirable activities. For instance, by saving time and avoiding a commute, an individual may be able to attend a child’s sport game or pick up a child from an afterschool activity. The individual could also use the additional time to complete job tasks or carry out a job task more thoroughly. Either way, the absence of a commute due to telework enables individuals to accommodate other desirable activities which would otherwise not be possible.

Research on telework has also recently focused on its impacts on work-family conflict. This type of conflict occurs when performing one’s work role interferes with the performance of one’s family or nonwork role, or alternatively when one’s family role interferes with the ability to carry out one’s work role. In a large study conducted in a high-tech organization, Golden, Veiga, and Simsek (2006) found that the more extensively individuals teleworked, the lower the level of work-to-family conflict. However, they also found that the more extensively individuals teleworked, the higher the family-to-work conflict. In other words, telework seemed to present both positive and negative impacts in terms of conflict between work and family. From one perspective, the more extensively individuals teleworked, the less their work interfered with their family. This may be due to the saved time, stress, and money associated with not having to commute to work. From the other perspective, however, the study also found that the more individuals telework, the more that their family tends to interfere with their work. Since teleworkers tend to work from home more, family members or demands from family obligations may impinge upon the individual’s ability to work, creating greater conflict in terms of family-to-work conflict. The impact of telework on work-to-family and family-to-work conflict was also found to be influenced by the nature of the jobs held by individuals and their family situations, suggesting the complexity of this type of research. Although more research is needed, the benefits of telework in terms of work-family conflict continue to be a leading reason individuals choose to telework, and therefore a fertile area for future research.

Telework has also been reported to increase employee productivity and performance, although as of yet this is somewhat less supported by empirical research. Teleworkers report they are more productive due to saved time and an enhanced ability to control interruptions from colleagues and others (Guimaraes & Dallow, 1999). By lowering distractions typically found in an office environment, teleworkers report they achieve greater focus and concentration in their work and are therefore able to work more efficiently and with better results. Interview data suggests that teleworkers utilize the more controlled environment presented by teleworking from home to their advantage, blocking out unnecessary interruptions that might be found in a typical office environment. Instead of having to respond to co-workers or others simply because they stop by their office or cubicle, teleworkers can choose to respond to requests from others when it is best for their own work tasks, and therefore achieve their own higher quality work outcomes such as enhanced productivity.

A common thread in all these advantages of telework is the freedom and flexibility provided by the ability to work remotely away from the office. By untethering the employee from the central company office, telework provides the opportunity to accomplish additional tasks or shift tasks to more desirable periods. For instance, if the job permits, a teleworker may choose to work from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., and then take time off for children and home needs, and then continue with work later in the evening. While not all jobs permit such scheduling flexibility, research suggests that employees who have this type of flexibility in their jobs are able to derive great benefit from telework.

Negative Impacts on Individuals

Perhaps the most commonly cited negative impact of telework is its isolating effect (Cooper & Kurland, 2002). Due to separation from the office and coworkers, teleworkers often report feeling left out of office activities and events. Teleworkers are no longer privy to chance encounters by the water cooler or elevators and as a result lose out on casual informal interactions that build relationships and camaraderie. Moreover, teleworkers miss out on lunch conversations and other interaction opportunities in which valuable office information may be exchanged. The absence or reduction in such informal interactions limits the information they receive about office events or other pertinent activities, which not only leave them feeling isolated but may also hinder their ability to do their job.

Similarly, communication problems are also known to plague teleworkers (Allen & Renn, 2003). While most teleworkers remain connected to the office via telephone, e-mail, and access to corporate databases, the relative isolation and more limited communication that occurs between teleworkers and others in the office tends to decrease morale and hurt perceptions of being part of the office. Teleworkers report having to make extra effort just to stay abreast of office communication, which otherwise occurs spontaneously due to close physical proximity. For instance, while a simple yet important comment or remark might occur naturally when engaged in a face-to-face conversation, that same remark or comment may be far less likely to occur over e-mail. E-mail communication has been shown to be far less rich and complete than face-to-face interactions, with the result that reliance upon e-mail leaves the receiver of the communication with less information. For a teleworker, the greater reliance on e-mail rather than face-to-face communication dramatically increases the likelihood that he or she will receive incomplete or missing information regarding important office activities, with potentially negative consequences. Such communication challenges as a result of telework may impede the ability of teleworkers to conduct their job, leading to increased frustration, less job satisfaction, and even ultimately to a greater likelihood of leaving the company.

Telework may also increase the amount of conflict that individuals experience between their work and family lives (Hill, Miller, Weiner, & Colihan, 1998). As noted above, while telework may decrease the conflict experienced due to work impacting family, telework is also apt to increase the extent to which family impacts work. With a greater proportion of time spent working at home, telework opens up a whole host of additional distractions and opportunities for diversions from work that are not otherwise present in the work environment. As a result, family intrusions into work may be greater or more difficult to contain, leading to greater conflict of family demands with those stemming from work. Literature suggests some of these problems may be avoided or limited by maintaining a separate workspace in the home used solely for work, and ensuring that family members do not interrupt the teleworker during work time. While following these guidelines will not eliminate all family-based distractions, they may help the teleworkers limit unnecessary and undesirable conflict experienced from working at home.

By virtue of their separation from the office, teleworkers may also lack technical support. Since teleworking involves greater reliance on technology to communicate and interact with others in the office, teleworkers are especially vulnerable to fluctuations in technology and its correct operation. If a piece of equipment or software is not functioning correctly, increased stress, aggravation, and frustration are apt to result. Due to distance, teleworkers may also not have access to the same level of support or ease of access to support, since most companies are set up to provide technology support only to on-site employees. The greater difficulty in obtaining help with technology not only increases frustration, but also further impedes teleworkers’ ability to remain connected to others in the office and ongoing office activities.

Research based on interviews with teleworkers and practitioner articles suggest that teleworkers may experience detrimental career impacts (Vega, 2003). Since teleworkers are separated from others, they are more apt to be “out of sight, out of mind” in regards to choice opportunities or assignments. Moreover, due to their separation, managers and others have fewer opportunities to observe their work performance. This increases the likelihood of biases and stereotypes in their performance ratings. While teleworkers must generally be managed by results rather than “face time,” managers and others may not be comfortable with a new approach to management for workers they cannot easily observe, and therefore may be more prone to judge them less positively. Indeed, fear of negative career impacts is one of the leading reasons why individuals do not choose to telework when given the option to do so.

Finally, research is beginning to emerge that shows telework may have negative implications for relationships between the teleworker and his or her manager and coworkers (Golden, 2006b). It appears the teleworker’s separation from the office environment and its social milieu may strain relationships or prevent relationships from becoming as strong as they might be otherwise. Since teleworkers rely more heavily on e-mail and telephone to communicate with others in the office, the richness of communication and interactions with others are likely to be less than if communication and interaction were carried out face-to-face. Research has shown that many cues are necessary for effective communication and are not conveyed in media such as e-mail and telephone. Missing are gestures, nonverbal body language, voice intonations, and the like. As a result, when communication with coworkers or supervisors takes place largely through e-mail, which is apt to be brief or incomplete, understanding is diminished and the relationships are apt to suffer over time. In these relationships, conflict is apt to be higher as well, since e-mail is asynchronous and does not occur in real time, and the delay in responding hinders understanding and precludes easy clarification or misinterpretations from being corrected. As a result, even minor misunderstandings become magnified and take far greater time and care to correct, further hindering the free-flowing nature of strong and vibrant relationships.

How Telework Impacts Organizations

Positive Impacts On Organizations

From an organizational perspective, telework offers a number of advantages. First, telework has been reported to decrease absenteeism (Bailey & Kurland, 2002). Since teleworkers can better accommodate family needs yet still accomplish work activities, teleworkers are less apt to be absent from work or to take time off in order to meet family needs. For instance, a teleworker may have a sick child at home who needs intermittent care for a day, yet the teleworker can still work quite productively from home and would otherwise be forced to be absent from work. Other personal and family-based needs can be more easily accomplished, such as taking a child or elderly parent to a medical appointment requiring just a short amount of time, but which otherwise would require taking an entire day off. Employees themselves who might fall ill or otherwise not feel well enough to endure a commute and the restrictions of being in an office can still accomplish vital tasks from home. In this way telework appears to decrease employee absences and positively impact the organization.

Telework is also reported to reduce organizational expenses. Since individuals who telework are generally in the office only some of the work week, less office space is required and fewer overhead costs are incurred. Employee offices for teleworkers can be smaller, shared between individuals, or even eliminated all together. In a few well-publicized articles, IBM saved millions of dollars in office real-estate costs, eliminating office space due to the implementation of a large telework program. The cost savings due to saved real estate was particularly noteworthy among its sales force, in which entire buildings of corporate office space was saved as the sales force became based out of their homes. Moreover, from the corporation’s perspective, individuals who telework tend to incur fewer overhead expenses due to the location of their work at home. They require less electricity, heat, air conditioning, and office supplies.

Perhaps the most-often cited benefit of telework for organizations is increased productivity, quality, and responsiveness of employees (Korte & Wynne, 1996; Nilles, 1994; Piskurich, 1998). Although these assertions are largely based on self-reported data from companies that have implemented telework programs, these benefits point to the eagerness with which employees endorse telework and the reciprocal benefits derived by the organization. Organizations report teleworker productivity is increased due to saved commute time and greater focus achieved by employees and that teleworkers are more efficient in the use of their time. Moreover, teleworkers are able and more willing to provide increased quality of service to customers, particularly during nonstandard or after-hours periods, due to the ease with which teleworkers can conduct their work away from the central office. With less self-sacrifice required of individuals due to their ability to telework, corporations are able to reap the benefits of greater employee responsiveness and enhanced flexibility to better meet customer and business requirements.

Organizations engaged in global business operations are particularly able to harness the benefits of telework’s flexibility. Given the variation in time zones, telework offers employees the ability to carry out important tasks more conveniently when they occur outside of traditional work hours. With a greater willingness to take early-morning or late-night conference calls or attend virtual meetings, global corporations therefore achieve better business results due to enhanced communication, greater continuity in development and operations activities, and more satisfied employees who feel less imposed upon than if they had to conduct these activities from the corporations’ office. Particularly in 24-hour continuous software-development projects, in which tasks are begun in one time zone, and then passed off to employees in successive locations around the world before returning to the original time zone the next day, telework offers irreplaceable flexibility to carry out essential global operations. As global development and manufacturing operations continue to increase, telework’s role in facilitating enhanced continuity and communications is apt to grow accordingly.

Telework has also been found to increase corporate retention and reduce turnover rates, while also attracting employees who might otherwise be unable or unwilling to relocate. A few studies have found that telework reduces turnover. These studies suggest that the more hours individuals telework, the less likely they are to leave the company (Golden, 2006a). The rationale is that individuals who choose to telework more extensively experience enhanced freedom and flexibility to carry out work and nonwork activities as they see fit and remain highly satisfied with this work arrangement. This results in less of a desire to leave the organization. Corporations view telework as a tool to increase the attraction and retention of valuable employees, providing a means to reduce recruitment and retention costs while increasing employees’ satisfaction and quality of life. The recruitment benefit is especially applicable to corporations’ efforts to hire individuals who are not geographically mobile and cannot relocate because of family ties or a spouse’s job. Corporations in these instances are able to hire valued employees with needed skills who would otherwise be precluded from employment. These advantageous hiring practices have been reported in studies not just in the United States and Europe, but also in Australia, where geographic distances prevent regular commutes to a corporation’s office.

The literature on telework has also reported that corporations derive greater business continuity from telework in the event of unplanned or planned interruptions (Roitz & Jackson, 2006). Unplanned interruptions may be due to natural disasters or severe weather such as earthquakes, blizzards, or hurricanes in addition to tragic acts of terrorism. By enabling employees to continue to work from widely geographically dispersed locations, telework allows corporations to continue to operate and carry out essential business functions without geographic limitations. Planned disruptions include those such as continued operations during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, in which businesses facilitated international attendance at the Olympic venues by avoiding employee travel to and from work. Examples of the business continuity benefit from telework in the business press have spurred increased interest and study in this aspect of telework, generating additional attention and research.

Finally, telework provides corporations with a means to meet federal compliance with air-quality standards and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. By reducing employee commutes, telework decreases the overall trips and miles traveled by employees and the percent of peak-hour vehicle miles traveled measured by Federal Highway Administration. By reducing auto emissions, corporations are able to comply with air-quality standards and promote a positive public image as an environmentally friendly corporation. In terms of aiding compliance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, telework provides the opportunity for corporations to obtain valued skills from individuals unable to travel regularly to corporate offices due to physical disabilities.

Negative Impacts on Organizations

Perhaps the chief disadvantage noted by corporations with telework programs is the additional drain on managerial time and energy. Supervising teleworkers requires new management styles and additional effort in comparison to more traditional methods, and telework has been reported to breed managerial resentment (Vega, 2003). Managers complain that they cannot manage “those they can not see,” and telework introduces additional burdens in the form of employee supervision. Instead of being able to more easily observe employee behaviors on the job, managers supervising teleworkers must cope with fewer observational opportunities and learn to manage based on results rather than effort. Research suggests managers fear losing control, and the reduction in face-to-face interactions with teleworkers breeds managerial insecurities. Extra effort is also required to ensure teleworkers remain an integral part of the manager’s work unit. Managers must overcome the separation and communication challenges, which necessitates additional time and energy that the manager could otherwise spend on achieving work milestones.

Similarly, corporations must also devise and implement additional policies with regard to teleworker performance appraisals, pay systems, and liability. In reaction to managerial concerns about decreased observational opportunities in which to judge performance, corporate policies and additional training are required to implement fair and unbiased performance appraisals that do not penalize the teleworker. In effect, performance appraisals of teleworkers require careful guidance to preclude intentional and unintentional biases and maintain rewards for productive employees. In conjunction, the pay systems may also have to be revised, depending on if the teleworker is a clerical or professional-level employee. While some clerical tasks are easily quantifiable and objective, judging many professional-level positions involves significantly more care and discretion.

In terms of policy implications for liability concerns, telework may require additional employee legal agreements and greater involvement from the legal and human resource staff. For example, workplace injuries that occur while teleworking have been the subject of legislative debate, and the implications of such legislation remain partially unresolved.

There is also evidence that telework may be associated with decreased organizational identification on the part of teleworkers, suggesting that teleworkers do not view themselves as much a part of the organization as non-teleworkers. In a study conducted by Wiesenfeld, Raghuram, and Ga-rud (1999), teleworker’s electronic communication was a critical predictor of organizational identification, such that the more teleworkers remained electronically connected to others in the organization, the more they felt a part of the organization. Since teleworkers are away from the office and have fewer visible reminders of their membership in the organization, when they telework extensively, they appear to identify less with the organization. If indeed they tend to view themselves more as independent workers or contractors, teleworkers may be more prone to experience decreased loyalty to the organization or less willing to help in times of need. While additional research is needed to verify this possibility, organizations may need to exercise greater caution to avoid these possible teleworker sentiments.

Literature also suggests that corporations may experience reduced camaraderie and increased coworker resentment as a result of telework (Vega, 2003). The displacement of teleworkers from the office reduces social interactions and chance proximal encounters that foster employee friendships and esprit de corps, which may have a negative impact on morale particularly among those who remain in the office and do not telework. Non-teleworking coworkers may resent not having the freedom and flexibility offered by telework and harbor ill-will toward those who telework. Non-teleworking coworkers may also have to pick up the “slack” or carry out additional tasks due to teleworkers’ absence from the office. For instance, non-teleworking coworkers may need to assume additional duties on days when the teleworker is out of the office or carry out short-notice assignments that cannot wait until the teleworker returns. By reducing commaraderie and fostering possible sentiments of resentment between teleworkers and non-teleworkers, telework programs may hurt overall unit effectiveness.

Data and information security is also a large corporate concern with telework. Since teleworkers tend to work at home and away from corporate controls, there is an increased risk of the loss of sensitive data and propriety information. Documents may get lost or misplaced, the disposal of sensitive corporate information may not follow corporate standards such as shredding, and proprietary information is more vulnerable to exploitation. As several well-publicized cases have shown, even the misplacement or stealing of laptops brought home with teleworkers containing customer data poses significant additional risk to the company, its image, and its customers. Additionally, remote access to corporate databases introduces greater risk of hacking, computer viruses, and other unauthorized access.

Research has also noted the corporation’s additional costs due to equipping teleworkers (Bailey & Kurland, 2002). Teleworkers generally require computers, printers, high-speed data connections, and other office equipment such as phone lines or copiers, which can be costly for corporations to provide, especially when these costs are in addition to those incurred for the individual’s corporate office. While some costs due to saved office space may be realized, particularly if telework is full time, when telework is conducted during part of the week as is the most common practice, corporations may incur additional costs. These costs include not only equipment and software, but also greater resources in terms of training and other technology support services.

Finally, telework can be disruptive to the organization’s culture and require significant management investment to bring about the cultural shift necessary to ensure telework’s success. This paradigm shift is important not just for the teleworkers themselves, but also for coworkers, managers, customers, and the whole range of other organizational stakeholders. This shift may be particularly challenging, because it affects not only the teleworkers, but also those back in the office. In bringing about the cultural shift, changes are needed in such basic ways as how the organization communicates to its employees, how it socializes newcomers, and the manner in which it conducts on-the-job training. With sufficient upfront investment, however, these cultural obstacles can generally be overcome.

Three Key Considerations In Understanding The Nature Of Telework’s Impact

With the wide-ranging implications of telework for both the individual and the organization, finding the right balance between advantages and disadvantages can be a significant challenge. On the one hand, research suggests that telework offers significant benefits for both the individual and organization. On the other hand, telework offers significant drawbacks that adversely impact both the individual and the organization. Clearly, tradeoffs must be made that account for both benefits and drawbacks when implementing telework programs. Yet, the effective balancing of tradeoffs appears to require accounting for other considerations as well.

Telework research initially compared teleworkers to non-teleworkers; however, this simple comparison appears to have overlooked several crucial aspects of telework that highly influence its impact on important work outcomes. Emerging research suggests that at least three key considerations are important to understanding the nature of telework’s impact. As discussed next, these include the extent to which an individual teleworks, the nature of the individual’s job, and the individual’s personality.

Extent of Telework

Recent telework research has begun to investigate the extent to which individuals telework as a key influence that is important to understanding the nature of telework’s impacts. Although most individuals telework for only part of the week, the extent to which they do so varies significantly. For instance, an individual may choose to telework only 5 hours per week, while another may telework 35 or more hours per week. The impact of such differences on important work outcomes is apt to be substantial.

For example, several studies have recently investigated how the extent of telework affects job satisfaction (Golden, 2006b; Golden & Veiga, 2005). Rather than creating a linear relationship, however, these studies suggest that job satisfaction varies in a curvilinear manner with the extent of telework. The change in job satisfaction as a function of the extent of telework varies in the shape of an inverted U-shaped curve, such that job satisfaction initially increases as the extent of telework increases, but then decreases at more extensive levels of telework. In essence, it appears that job satisfaction is maximized at moderate levels of telework (generally about 15 hours per week). Job satisfaction is lower, however, for individuals who telework either more extensively (22 hours per week) or less extensively (7 hours per week).

In another recent study, conflict between an individual’s work and family life was investigated as a function of the number of hours per week they spent teleworking away from the company office (Golden, Veiga, & Simsek, 2006). This study involving almost 450 teleworkers in a large corporation found that the extent of telework differentially impacts how work impacts family and how family impacts work. Work-to-family conflict was found to be diminished for those who teleworked more extensively, while family-to-work conflict was found to be greater as telework levels increased. The impact of telework was also found to be influenced by the nature of the individual’s job and family situation. Most importantly, the study’s findings highlight the careful balance that must be achieved when teleworking or implementing telework programs. While teleworking more may be beneficial in some respects, it may also be detrimental in others.

The extent of telework has also been investigated recently in terms of its impact on work exhaustion, turnover intentions, and organizational commitment (Golden, 2006a). More extensive telework has been associated with decreased work exhaustion, suggesting that telework helps alleviate exhaustion by helping people achieve better balance in their lives and reducing the energy required to meet obligations. It may be that working from home part of the week enables individuals to replenish their energy levels, while facilitating their ability to better accommodate both work and family demands. Reduced exhaustion has also been found to be related to an individual’s commitment to the organization and his or her intention to leave it. More specifically, as individuals telework more extensively, their commitment to the organization tends to increase, and their desire to leave the organization for another job decreases. While more research is necessary before definitive answers can be made, these results again suggest that the extent of telewok may be a crucial factor in determining the appropriate level of balance required to ensure telework’s success.

Nature of the Job

The nature of an individual’s job and the type of tasks performed highly influence the impact of teleworking. Early research on telework focused on clerical workers, where tasks were highly defined and impacts to work outcomes could be easily measured. These studies tended to investigate hourly workers conducting administrative tasks such as call-center or clerical employees. These employees have very little discretion over their job duties or how to conduct work tasks. These types of jobs were also more easily monitored by managers, who could oversee interactions with customers during phone calls and measure changes in output similarly to when work was conducted in the central office. Generally speaking, results of these studies showed that telework helped individuals feel more satisfied with their jobs and achieve better balance in their lives in terms of work and family than if they remained in the central office full time.

More recently, telework research has begun to investigate its impacts on professional level workers engaged in more complex tasks. This research suggests that the nature of the job tasks themselves is highly influential in determining telework’s impacts (Raghuram, Garud, Wiesenfeld, & Gupta, 2001). For instance, research has investigated the degree of scheduling latitude individuals have in their jobs and how this influences important individual work outcomes such as job satisfaction. In these studies, individuals who teleworked extensively and had greater freedom and flexibility in the scheduling of work tasks experienced enhanced job satisfaction in comparison to those who had less latitude. Other job attributes have also been investigated, such as the degree of interdependence teleworkers have with others in order to carry out job tasks. In these studies, individuals who telework extensively and have lower task interdependence tend to experience higher job satisfaction compared to those with higher interdependence. Based on this research, it seems that teleworkers who are less dependent upon others to conduct their work are able to enjoy the most benefit from telework in terms of enhanced job satisfaction. As these results indicate, more research is needed in this area.

Personality Characteristics

Research is also beginning to explore the role of individual differences in personality in influencing telework’s impact. This research suggests that individual personality characteristics are highly influential in determining the nature and extent of impact telework has on work outcomes.

For instance, if an individual has a strong need for social interaction yet teleworks extensively, feelings of detachment and frustration are apt to be severe, detrimentally impacting important work outcomes. These individuals are less apt to be satisfied with their jobs, particularly if they telework extensively. Such individuals enjoy talking with others, tend to have a vibrant social life, and may not be used to working independently. As a result, if they are put in situations in which they must telework, they are less apt to be content with this work arrangement and more likely to experience feelings of isolation and being cut off from others in the central office. In contrast, an individual who is introverted or enjoys being alone may derive significant personal benefit and satisfaction from working away from others. For these individuals, telework offers the opportunity for less face-to-face communication and personal interaction with others, which they may find very personally fulfilling.

Research is also suggestive that other personality characteristics may influence telework’s outcomes, such as individual need for control or autonomy, need for affiliation, and centrality of work in one’s life (Wiesenfeld, Raghuram, & Garud, 2001). Individuals with a greater need for autonomy are apt to enjoy the freedom and flexibility offered by telework as a means to gain greater independence in the manner in which they conduct themselves at work. By separating themselves from others and the central office, these individuals gain greater autonomy over when and how job tasks are accomplished, and therefore achieve enhanced personal satisfaction. Similarly, individuals with a high need for affiliation may be somewhat frustrated at the inability to emotionally connect with coworkers. These individuals may experience greater frustration at the separation and distance imposed by telework. Moreover, individuals who have a higher tendency to be “workaholics” may find telework troubling, as boundaries between work and home are blurred, which can lead to a higher propensity to work longer hours and an inability to detach from work demands. Although research on personality characteristics among teleworkers has begun to shed insights, clearly much more remains to be done before such suggestions indicated by existing research can be confirmed.

Telework Implementation And Suggestions For Success

As the previous research summary suggests, there appears to be an inherent balance required in telework to account for its many implications for the employee and organization. While clearly many potential benefits exist, these must be taken into account considering the potential negative impacts to this way of working. Although research is still emerging and any conclusions must remain tentative pending further study, several observations can be made that may be useful for employees and organizations.

First, although telework is not a panacea, it does seem to offer a number of advantages over traditional work modes when conducted at moderate levels. Based on existing literature, greater advantages and fewer disadvantages seem to be realized when telework is conducted during a portion of the work week, perhaps around 15 hours. Moderate levels of telework may provide individuals with desirable levels of flexibility and autonomy without also incurring more detrimental impacts such as isolation and feeling cut off from others in the office. Additionally, telework during part of the week may offer individuals a relief from the regular routines of office life and its associated stressors, while also providing an opportunity to rejuvenate energy and obtain a needed break from draining commutes. When practiced in moderation, it may also enhance the quality of work life such that individuals are more satisfied in their jobs and less likely to leave the organization. Organizations in turn benefit from greater employee loyalty and commitment to work, garnering more dedicated employees who enhance productivity.

Second, perhaps the primary reason many individuals choose telework is to better manage work and family demands, and in this regard a balance also appears to be needed. Teleworking appears to allow employees to better manage family responsibilities, since existing research suggests that telework decreases work’s impact on family. However, research also suggests that telework increases family’s impact on work, so careful attention must be paid to managing the boundary between work and family. More specifically, telework research suggests teleworkers need a separate and dedicated workspace in their home that is away from distractions and insulated from the temptations inherent in the home domain. Teleworkers need to ensure family members refrain from undue interruptions and respect the physical and emotional boundaries erected by the teleworker to concentrate on work tasks. Moreover, organizations can facilitate the institutionalizing of telework by enacting telework agreements with individuals, making work arrangements and agreed-upon procedures explicit to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.

Third, while isolation may be a primary drawback of telework, both individual and organizational efforts need to be made to enhance contact and social interaction between teleworkers and those in the office. Based on research consistently noting the isolating effect of telework, increased efforts need to be made to foster informal exchanges between teleworkers and coworkers. While this effect appears to be less severe when telework is practiced at less than extensive levels, high levels of communication containing both task and relationship-building interactions appear to be crucial in sustaining positive teleworking experiences. These interactions can take place during regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings and informal gatherings, but need to include sufficient levels of socioemotional interaction to sustain and build important relationships with coworkers, managers, and others.

Finally, teleworking appears to require alternative management techniques, necessitating newer control mechanisms, additional training, and fresh forms of assessing actual work-related contributions. Managers of teleworkers need to be cognizant of the need to employ techniques that harness the benefits of employee flexibility, measuring quantifiable results and actual contribution rather than inordinately weighing more traditional indicators such as face-to-face time and hours worked. By instituting training programs that set realistic expectations and methods for ensuring frequent and rich interactions between the teleworker and others, pitfalls of telework may be avoided or minimized. Through careful note of the research summarized here and that which is emerging, thoughtful tele-workers and their managers may be able to maximize the potential of telework, providing improved individual and organizational effectiveness.

References:

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