Employee Relations

How Can Telecommuting Work for You?

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Telecommuting is a non-conventional work arrangement where employees work away from the office, usually at home, and communicate with their organization using technology like PCs and the internet. This type of work arrangement is popular with many businesses and employees because of the flexibility it affords to both. Telecommuting is becoming more and more mainstream and accepted in today’s business world (with an estimated 45 million American telecommuters in 2006), yet the research supporting telecommuting’s positive and negative effects on organizations and individual employees has shown mixed results. Also, many people worry that telecommuting may lead to social isolation or work-family conflict.  This article will discuss what research has found about the benefits and short-comings of telecommuting. Telecommuting has been found to have a generally small to moderate relationship with several important business-relevant outcomes, including:
  • Increased employees’ perceived autonomy, or how much control employees feel they have over their jobs
  • Decreased work-family conflict
  • Increased interpersonal relationships between telecommuting employees and their supervisors
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased supervisor ratings and archival records of job performance (but not greater self-ratings of performance than non-telecommuters)
  • Less employee turnover intention
  • Less employee role stress
It was also discovered that some of telecommuting’s effects appear to depend on:

Intensity

Intensity is number of days per week an employee telecommutes. Employees who telecommute more than half a week tended to have more negative relationships with their coworkers (but not supervisors). One reason why supervisor relations are not affected with increasing telecommuting, while coworker relations are not, might be self-selection into telecommuting. In other words, employees who are already doing well probably have better relations with their supervisor, who would be more willing to let them telecommute. At the same time, employees might want to telecommute because they already have negative relationships with their coworkers and would not mind spending work time away from them. Additionally, high intensity telecommuters tend to have even less role-stress than employees who telecommute less often.

Gender

Telecommuting samples that had higher proportions of women had greater objective and supervisor ratings of performance and also had greater perceived career prospects (rather than feeling like career prospects were being hurt by telecommuting).

Experience

Experience, as it relates to telecommuting, is conceptualized as how long an employee has telecommuted for work. Employees who have telecommuted for more than a year had even less role stress and work/family conflict than those employees with less experience.

Practical Implications

  • If feasible, consider offering telecommuting as an option to help retain or recruit more talented and qualified employees.
  • Be clear with your employees about how telecommuting may affect their future career prospects with your organization.
  • Employees who are just starting to telecommute may have a more difficult time learning to balance their work-family life at first. Consider offering some type of training or counseling to help ease the transition to telecommuting and make the experience more likely to be successful for both employees and your organization.
  • Take steps to ensure that telecommuting does not lead to or enhance negative relationships between telecommuting and non-telecommuting employees. Holding regular meetings or work lunches that include both your telecommuting and non-telecommuting employees may help ease tensions. Ensuring telecommuting seems normal and not just a special privilege can help reduce negative feelings between employees.
Telecommuting may offer your organization a great deal of flexibility in coming to a satisfying arrangement with your employees that takes into account both parties’ needs. The suggestions provided here can aid in successfully implementing telecommuting as a viable option for your organization!

Don Johnson

DeGarmo

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Gajendran, R.S., & Harrison, D.A. (2007). The good, the bad, and the unknown about telecommuting: Meta-analysis of psychological mediators and individual consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(6), 1524-1541.
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