Performance Management

Connecting Teleworkers to the Organization

As companies and the workforce continueto change, options for working environments are also increasing. More and more employees are trading in their corner office to work from home, or telecommute. This may be a desirable option for many employees as it affords more flexibility, decreases travel time and reduces conflicts with demands outside of the organization. However, being completely separated from the office and other individuals can often lead employees to feel isolated.

What Is Professional Isolation?

Professional isolation is the belief or perception that one is not connected to others in the organization, which can reduce one’s influence and social contact. This can occur because individuals often use feedback from others in the organization to determine how they should behave/react/perform in certain situations and to evaluate their own performance.  When social contact is limited, feedback is less likely, leaving the employees unsure of appropriate behaviors and about their performance relative to others.

How Can Professional Isolation Affect Performance and Turnover Intentions?

Performance  – Limited input and feedback from others in the organization can place teleworkers at a severe disadvantage. Consequently, teleworkers may feel more anxious and lonely, resulting in psychological or physical health problems, and a reduction in job performance. Turnover – Additionally, teleworkers are less likely to leave the organization. Though this may seem like a positive implication, reduced turnover is more likely due to a lack of confidence on the part of the employee. Telework benefits (i.e. flexibility, decreased travel, etc.) outweigh the costs (i.e. loneliness, decreased interpersonal contact, etc.), and therefore the employee may choose to stay with the organization, even though he or she may not be satisfied or highly motivated to perform. Dissatisfied teleworkers may stay with the organization because they value the flexibility, and think it will be difficult to find another job that allows them to telecommute. However, the number of companies who offer telecommuting is increasing. This may cause the fear associated with losing flexibility to decrease, and turnover among telecommuters may, in turn, increase.

What Other Factors Can Influence Professional Isolation in Telework?

  • Amount of time spent teleworking – Perceptions that coworkers and supervisors are inaccessible increase as the amount of time spent teleworking increases. This “inaccessibility” may make it more difficult for the employee to identify with the organization.
  • Face-to-face interactions – Face-to-face interactions with other employees tend to reduce the negative impact professional isolation may have on job performance. Therefore, the more face-to-face interaction the teleworker has with other employees, the less impact isolation will have on his or her performance.
  • Access to communication enhancing technologyAs access to technology increases, the ability to perform effectively also increases. It seems, however, that communication via technology is not an adequate substitute for face-to-face interactions.

Practical Implications

In order to reduce or prevent the negative effects of professional isolation there are several steps that managers can take:
  • Training – Help employees understand the possible negative implications of professional isolation as a teleworker.    Providing communication strategies and ways to foster interactions with other employees and teleworkers can be effective in preventing professional isolation.
  • Performance AppraisalsAllow employees to demonstrate their knowledge and competence during performance appraisals. In addition, provide professional growth opportunities (i.e. training, increased responsibilities, more complex projects/ assignments, etc.) that challenge the teleworker and strengthen his/her skills.   Allowing the teleworker to make an important contribution to the organization and discussing goals/opportunities for advancement will demonstrate the organization’s support and can help to mitigate the negative effects of telework.
  • HR – Modify the position or responsibilities of those who telework to make them feel more integrated and involved in “core organizational functions.” Teleworkers can benefit by participating in group projects that encourage regular communication with coworkers, including in-office employees or other telecommuters. This can allow employees to feel more connected and invested in the organization.
Overall, it is important to recognize employees who telework are interacting with the organization in a different way than traditional employees. Therefore, it is essential employers develop systems for training, professional growth and gathering and providing feedback so teleworkers can maintain a connectedness to the “core organizational functions.” Preventing teleworkers from experiencing professional isolation will positively influence the work environment, and allow companies to compete in a dynamic and changing global economy.

Interpretation by:

Elizabeth Allen

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Golden, T., Veiga, J. & Dino, R. (2008). The Impact of Professional Isolation on Teleworker Job Performance and Turnover Intentions: Does Time Spent Teleworking, Interacting Face-to-Face, or Having Access to Communication-Enhancing Technology Matter?, Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, (6), 1412-1421.