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Telecommuting: the advantages and disadvantages

Introduction

Many authors have tried to define ’’telecommuting’’ in one clear definition.

The definitions differ from ’’telecommuting is working from home’’ (Mokhtarian, 1991) to definitions including time, places and used tools descriptions. This paper will demonstrate that telecommuting is a working arrangement that provides employees the opportunity to work from other places then the employers office for at least a part of their normal work schedule, using technology to interact with colleagues, supervisors and other professional contacts.

Despite the still growing popularity of telecommuting, there are as many advantages as well disadvantages for both employee and employer. This paper discusses some of the major advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting for both the employer and the employee.

As this paper point out, as a result of more control over work-schedule, the decreased traveling time and costs, and an changed working environment, telecommuting can contribute to an increased job satisfaction for the telecommuter. Disadvantages however include possible dangers as overworking and overeating, and the reduction of professional relationships with colleagues and supervisors. This reduction can lead to a decreasing change of promotion.

For the employer, the increase of job satisfaction means in general a higher productivity, and a lower staff turnover. Telecommuting can also reduce the costs of hiring, leasing of buying real estate to provide offices and the possibility to hire professional labor worldwide.

However, also employers have to take into account some major disadvantages. The reduced face-to-face interaction, necessary to value an employer and the possible unbalance in a team when only a few functions lend them for telecommuting.

Despite the many advantages of telecommuting, its success is strongly dependent on the function, company regulations and management, and the telecommuter self if telecommuting will be a success.

Advantages for the employee

A first major advantage of telecommuting is the reduction of traveling time and costs as a result of the possibility to work from home or other central working spaces in the neighbourhood (Mokhtarian, 1991). Some companies establish teleworkcenters and remote offices as alternative locations for their telecommuting workers. However in most cases the home of the telecommuter will become the working-place (Mokhtarian, 1991) (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). The reduction of travelling time and costs as a result of work from home can contribute to an increased job satisfaction.

Another advantage of telecommuting is the possibility to adjust working hours to personal needs. If for instance the telecommuter has a family at home and arrange to telecommute from home, the telecommuter has no travelling time, can work with the family in the neighbourhood, and due the face the work schedule is flexible, is possible to create more quality time with the family. Therefore, telecommuting can contribute to an improved family relationship.

A major overall advantage of telecommuting is the increase in job satisfaction. Research has shown that the changes caused by telecommuting in the previous section, often result in a higher job satisfaction. This is a result of the fact the telecommuter has increased control over the location, timing and means of completing the work (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007).

To conclude the advantages as stated before; telecommuting seems to contribute to improvement of work and personal relationships by the utilizing the flexibility of the telecommuting concept. As a result of telecommuting the job satisfaction of the employee can be increased.

Disadvantages for the employee

The following paragraph will discuss the disadvantages for the employee. The first important disadvantages is the reduction of the availability of resources. Telecommuting reduces the access to resources found only at employers office. An example of a resource that not can be accessed from home are for instance accounting-records, that normally contains physical papers like invoices and work orders. Depending on the job one has, it can be important to access those archives to get collect information (Green, López, Wysocki, & Kepner, 2003). Reduction of availability of resources and date can impact the productivity due the fact essential data is not available.

Matters that occur because of a lack of regulation can be pointed out as a second disadvantage. It can cause the potential danger to over-work, over-eat and under-exercise, the so called desk-potato or "fridge factor" syndrome (Fortier, 1999).. Those symptoms can occur because pause times are no longer pre-set and the temptation of eating is for some no longer in control. The risks of overworking and overeating cannot be underestimated and therefor have to take in account by telecommuter and as well by the employer.

Another disadvantage of telecommuting, concerning professional relationships, is the lack of personal contact with colleagues and supervisors. Because telecommuting reduces the face-to-face communication, different theories make similar predictions about quality and frequency of interaction, implying mainly negative impacts on interpersonal relationships for telecommuters. In a regular office setting, it is possible to provide direct input in solving problems on every scale. It is also possible to directly receive feedback when a certain situations take place. Even the ’’distractions’’ by colleagues can be important moments to reinforce relationships. Face-to-face interactions with colleagues provide access to informal networks and create opportunities for job relevant interactions. Spatial distance from others at work likely translates into personal distance; for telecommuters this might mean becoming ‘’out of sight, out of mind’’. Face-to-face communication is considered the medium with the highest social presence and very important in personal and professional relationships. (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). Personal face-to-face interaction is essential in job and professional relationship developments, reducing those moments can influence both developments negatively.

Advantages for the employer

The following paragraph will discuss the advantage for the employer. For the employer there are advantages concerning the changed the work environment. For example, if telecommuting days are flexible and if that result in a lower presence of employers evenly spread over the week, business require less office-space and less parking for employees. Instead of leasing new office space or expanding existing office buildings, it is vastly less expensive to provide telecommuters with their own communication tools to work from their own homes (Green, López, Wysocki, & Kepner, 2003) (HongGirl, Bongsik, & Kunihiko, 2007). Some companies opt to create central working offices outside of the city instead of using expensive office space in the centre. The employer can hire less expensive office-space together with other telecommute supporting companies and with that reduce costs.

With telecommuting work is no longer time or place bounded. This results in another major advantage of telecommuting that it can create the possibility to hire professional labor from over the whole world, including those with health problems and disabilities. (Green, López, Wysocki, & Kepner, 2003).

Disadvantages for the employer

The following paragraphs will discuss the disadvantages of telecommuting for the employer.

The first major disadvantages for the employer can be the fact telecommuting creates a physical distance between the employee and their colleagues and supervisors. Normally in an office setting the supervisor is able to supervise the employees directly. A potential disadvantage of telecommuting is the impact on professional relationships due to reduced direct interaction and the possibility to interact face-to-face. According to Management today, (as cited in Green, López, Wysicki & Kepner, 2003. p 4 )

It is imperative to understand that telecommunication is an alternative option and not a substitute for person-to-person contact associated with traditional business settings. When it comes to understanding, research has suggested that 75 percent of communication is non-verbal (Management Today, 2000).

As the source above stated, personal contact cannot be replaced by forms of indirect contact, because 75 percent of communication is non-verbal and it is therefore very important to see the other when communicate.

Another disadvantages for employers and especially a challenge for managers is overcome the possible jealousy from co-workers who cannot telecommute due the function they have (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). Equally employees with different visible benefits can cause separation within a team, it is for the manager to deal with those differences and overcome problems cause by it. A unbalance in a team caused by telecommuting is a disadvantage that shows also the importance to consider the consequence in larger perspective.

Conditions for telecommuting

According to Green, López, Wysocki, and Kepner (2003), not all jobs lend themselves to telecommuting. For instance, jobs that involve direct management, face-to-face contact with customers, frequent meetings, manufacturing and warehousing of goods, purchasing, and facility management are not suitable for telecommuting operations. Jobs that do lend themselves to telecommuting include for example systems and information managers, writers, computer programmers, auditing reports, data entry. The reason why those jobs lend themselves for telecommuting is that they are mainly done with a computer and involve normally no frequent interaction with intern or extern parties.

According to the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation as cited in Green, López, Wysocki, & Kepner (2003) successful telecommuters are self-starters who can do a good job with minimal supervision. They know how to organize their work and time, and are able to work well with tele-managers. In addition, telecommuters have low socialization needs and good communication skills. Factors of decreased supervision, (informal) communication with colleagues and managers, lack of time structure guidelines has to be conquer to become a good telecommuter.

For the employer there are also conditions for successful telecommuting. First it is important to develop effective telecommuting business policies which provide guidelines for telecommuting. Second, plan for technical equipment and support for the telecommuting network, this is important because it all comes down to the technical equipment. After that is been done, select and properly train telecommuters and prepare managers for telecommuting supervision. This is important because it is not like regular supervising. A company has to accomplice several conditions before it can introduce telecommuting

Analysis

Analyzing these advantages and disadvantages, it can be stated that the possible benefits as result of introducing telecommuting is at least questionable. As the condition section pointed out, telecommuting is strongly dependent of the telecommuter, the company and the function.

However, the telecommuter can be flexible with his or her work-schedule to meet personal needs, has needed less travelling time and costs, and can change the working environment which can result in a higher job satisfaction, the disadvantages can be underestimated.

The telecommuter has to challenge difficulties that occurs by the lack of regulations, and the reduced face-to-face contact with colleagues and supervisors. Especially the reduction of face-to-face contact can lead to a smaller change of promotion.

For the employer, the reduction of needed office and parking space, the possibility to hire professional labour around the world, and the possible increased productivity as result of the increased job satisfaction, are reasons to consider the support of telecommuting.

It is on the other hand very important to take into account that the personal interaction with the employees is essential in a professional relationship. Reducing that interaction can lead to ’’out of sight, out of mind’’ and can cause a struggle in the relationship with the employee.

Besides this it is recommend to overview the potential group of telecommuters, as stated before. When a potential group contains team members but not include the whole team, it is possible that teams will become unbalanced. It is therefore necessary to take the possible consequence of introducing telecommuting into account before it is implemented.

Conclusion

Companies consider supporting the concept of telecommuting have to take many challenges into account. Despite telecommuting can increase job satisfaction and productivity, the reduced personal face-to-face interaction and the possible consequence of that are significant disadvantages that overweight the advantages on general basis. The statement ’’out of sight, out of mind’’ support this. Changing ones workplace from a conventional office to a home or an alternate location is likely to alter the frequency, the quality, and, by definition, the modality of interaction one has with other organization members. Telecommuting therefore has the potential to degrade the quality of the manager–subordinate relationship (Cooper & Kurland, 2002) (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). If providing a telecommuting structure is be considered, it is important to overthink the possible impact for telecommuters as well for non-telecommuters. If a company decides to support telecommuting, it is essential to set clear guidelines and limitations for telecommuters and for supervisors. To conclude, telecommuting cannot replace normal work arrangements, it can only be added to meet employee’s needs.

Reference list

Cooper, C., & Kurland, N. (2002). Telecommuting, professional isolation, and employee development in public and private organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior 23, 511-532. DOI: 10.1002/job.145

Fortier, B. (1999) About telework, retrieved on March 27, 2011, from Innovisions Canada: http://www.ivc.ca/part2.html

Gajendran, D., & Harrison, R. (2007). The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown About Telecommuting: Meta-Analysis of Psycological Mediators and Individual Consequences. Journal of Applied Psychological, 92, 1524-1541.

Green, K., López, M., Wysocki, A., & Kepner, K. (2003). Telecommuting as a true workplace alternative1. Gainesville, FL, United States: Department of Food and Resource Economics, University Florida. Retrieved from: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hr021

HongGirl, L., Bongsik, S., & Kunihiko, H. (2007). Telework vs. central work: A comparative view of knowledge accessibility. Decision Support Systems, 687-700. doi:10.1016/j.dss.2006.11.007

Kossek, E., Lautsch, B., & Eaton, S. (2006). Telecommuting, control and boundary management; correlates of policy use and practice, job control, and work-family effectiveness. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68, 347-367. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2005.07.00

Mokhtarian, P. (1991). Defining telecommuting. Davis, California, US: Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis. Retrieved from: http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/publications/1991/UCD-ITS-RR-91-04.pdf

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