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This part first looks at the history of telecommuting concept; the subsequent section discusses definitions of telecommuting and various other kinds of telework. These definitions are critically important to discuss to understand telecommuting, because the various types have different implications for individuals, organisation and the larger society. The definitions are followed by a discussion of the implications of the varieties of telecommuting for both employees and organisation.
The concept of telecommuting is hardly new but it is a term so vast, so complex in nature that many researchers and authors have taken up the challenge of attributing a proper definition to it. Despite that, no given definition till date can be ever satisfying. It encompasses a number of different styles of work in different fields such as business, education, sales and marketing, information technology, medicine and transportation among many others. In the end, only a combination of all these aspects could give an overview of what we usually call telecommuting or teleworking which can be officially defined as "a flexible way of working which covers a wide range of work activities, all of which entail working remotely from an employer, or from a traditional place of work, for a significant proportion of work time" (Gray et al., 1995).
2.2 History and Origin of Telecommuting
The credit for promoting the modern form of telecommuting goes to Jack Nilles (1972), a University of Southern California researcher, who was focusing on the telecommunications-transportation trade-off. Currently acknowledged as the "father of telecommuting/teleworking", he supervised the first formal tests of telecommuting in 1973 and 1974 with the aim of doing away with the problem of long hours of traffic jam by letting employees worker nearer to home, or at home, via the use of telecommunications.
Nevertheless, even though the designation of telecommuting did not exist until the 1970's, the initiatives date long back. There is evidence that teleworking started in the late 1950's by an American scientific organisation called Computations Inc. The company was involved in offering home-based computer expert services (Dosieah, 2002).
Similarly, telecommuting began in the United Kingdom also many years before Nilles (1972) coined the telecommuting tag. Still according to Dosieah (2002), its origination primarily came from the needs of home-based women who required flexible working arrangements in order to earn a living whilst remaining at home to look after their children. In 1962, Stephanie Steve Shirley founded a software development company which later became known as F International. Today, the company renamed as Xansa employs around 8600 people across the world, the majority of whom are home-based teleworkers (Wikepedia, 2010).
2.3 Telecommuting: Towards a more comprehensive definition
Following the much above definition of telecommuting of Gray et al. (1995), they carry on to say telecommuting may be on either a full-time or part-time basis, and that the work involves electronic processing of information, and always involves using telecommunications to keep the remote employer and employee in contact with each other. While this can be a possibly working definition, it should be observed that it excludes traditional "outworkers" as well as those who work from home only occasionally. Other designation for telecommuting are teleworking, networking, remote working, flexible working and home-working. The existence of such varied synonyms is important as they each connote a slightly different meaning for the phenomenon.
Hobbs and Armstrong (1998) both concur to say that telecommuting is not one that can be clearly defined since it covers a range of different styles of work. For example, it includes people working at home (such as programmers), people working from home (such as salespeople), and people working at work centres (such as satellite offices). Therefore, we can make out that the alternative workplace can be an employee's home, a satellite office, or a neighbourhood work centre.
The definition according to Green (1997) come as follows:
A satellite office is a remote office location that is sponsored by the employer and houses only that company's employees.
A neighbourhood work centre is an office location where employees of unrelated companies share space, equipment and perhaps secretarial support.
2.4 Telecommuting versus teleworking
Although both terms are widely now acknowledged as describing the same phenomenon and can be used in turns, the subtle variation in the two designations cannot be overlooked. According to JALA International (1998), an organisation co-founded by Jack Nilles, regrouping telework, telecommuting and applied futures research experts, the two terms explain the variation. Based on their gathered expertise on the subject, the general definitions are set as follows:
Teleworking would be "ANY form of substitution of information technologies (such as telecommunications and/or computers) for normal-work related travel; moving the work to the workers instead of moving the workers to work.
Telecommuting, on the other hand, would be the "periodic work out of the principal office, one or more days per week, either at home, a client's site, or in a telework centre; the partial or total substitution of information technologies for the commute to work. The emphasis here is on reduction or elimination of the daily commute to and from the workplace." In short, telecommuting is a form of teleworking.
However, both terms have been so extensively and interchangeably employed in the literature that it is no longer necessary to contradict the designation of teleworker for a part-time telecommuter and vice-versa. The distinction only becomes necessary when defining the terms and conditions relating to the application of the concept.
2.5 Forms of telecommuting
To make up for the scarcity of clarification in the telecommuting existing literature, Mudhawo (2006) has sought to explain in-depth the range of ways in which teleworking can be practised. These engage:
A home based teleworker is someone who does not have a permanent desk in an office and who works predominantly at home.
An office based teleworker is someone who has a permanent desk in an office. He or she might have a computer at home but predominantly works at his or her office.
A flexi office teleworker spends part or whole working days at home, including workers who may only work at home during evenings or weekends or who are at home but "on call' during this time.
A home mobile teleworker is someone who has a desk and a computer at his or her office and at home, he or she spends 2 or 3 days at the office and the rest of the week at home.
A home-mobile office teleworker is someone who has a desk and a computer at his or her office and a laptop. He or she spends 3 days at the office, 1 day at home and 1 day in other offices.
2.6 Implications for telecommuting
A scrutiny of the existing telecommuting literature pointed out various studies that have concurred that telecommuting has changed the way workers perform their jobs. The following points group some of the main implications for telecommuting:
The way workers are supervised - for instance, the supervisor is not able to directly observe the worker's performance and keep him/her in check. As Thatcher and Zhu (2006) stated, telecommuting "reduces direct supervision, coordination and feedback". Supervisors are compelled to find other ways to monitor workers, coordinate with them and to provide them with feedback Also, supervisors have to schedule regular meetings with workers, conduct phone conferences, and develop formal work plans to ensure telecommuting workers are managed effectively. Furthermore, supervisors have to measure productivity differently than they would have in a traditional work environment, since direct observation is no longer an option. Performance can only be measured by results and quality of results instead of time dedicated to achieve it.
Telecommuting also changes workers' dependence on supervision. Workers will have to exercise more initiative and may have to make more decisions on their own, since a supervisor will not be there to guide them step-by-step. Workers that are afraid to make their own decisions may encounter difficulties in a telecommuting environment. Organizations should select workers that are independent and self-motivated for telecommuting positions. Workers that do not have those traits could still perform some telecommuting tasks, such as routine data entry, where complex decisions and problem solving are not required.
Topi (2004) is of the opinion that it forces workers and supervisors to embrace technology. Effective telecommuting is not possible without technology. Workers will have to know how to use fax machines, computers, and communication software in order to do their job. Workers will also have to know how to secure and protect their computer resources from hackers, viruses, and other malicious software. Workers and supervisors will also have to understand networking technology enough to be able to resolve minor connection issues. In addition, workers and supervisors may need technical training to prepare them for the complexities of telecommuting.
Still according to Topi (2004), human resource and other support functions will need to change in order to provide workers with the support they need. These departments will have to automate many of their services, since they will not be within walking distance of workers. For example, the human resource department may have to post forms on Web pages, so workers can access them from home. The computer support department will also have to change how it handles workers' problems, since workers will be located away from the office. If computer support technicians cannot resolve problems over the phone or through networking technology, they will have to dispatch a technician to fix the problem. The same level of support provided to traditional workers should be provided to telecommuters. On the other hand, the telecommuter might have to call for the expertise of a local technician hired at his/her own expense in the case where the telecommuter is working for a foreign-based company.
The most significant change telecommuting brings to the job is that it allows works to work from home. The traditional work day is no longer the norm in a telecommuting environment. Instead, telecommuters are given the freedom to balance work and "personal demands, such as taking care of children, handling personal matters, working on hobbies, participating in sports, attending events important in the lives of significant others, and dealing with day-to-day chores" (Hunton, 2005).
2.7 Communication forms in the telecommuting practice
Modern organizations are supported by various communication tools, from telephone, fax, email, and videoconferencing, to more recently tools such as Skype and Instant Messaging (IM). According to AOL's Third Annual Instant Messenger Trends Survey (2005), 70% of Internet users use IM, while 26% of employed IM users use IM at work. IBM's Lotus Sametime, a leading enterprise IM system, is reported to have more than 15 million users (Topolski 2006) worldwide. The increasingly portable nature of computer and communications devices has made telecommuting a simple affair. Face-to-face meeting, conference, written memos have all become outmoded. In telecommuting practice, modems and telephone lines connect virtual offices and conferences. Good communication is the essential element of a successful telecommuting experience. Using modern communications technology, telecommuters can connect with their office to convey information electronically using the following:
Computer or laptop
Internet connectivity (high-speed broadband is best)
Email program e.g. Gmail, Microsoft Outlook
Instant messaging software e.g. Skype, MSN messenger
Telephone, Mobile phone, BlackBerry
Collaboration software. A software program designed specifically for an industry and company structure.
2.8 Claimed advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting for INDIVIDUALS and ORGANISATION
As discussed much above, the changes brought by telecommuting introduce a number of advantages and disadvantages for individual workers as well as the organisation. The said benefits and drawbacks brought by telecommuting are clarified as follows:
2.8.1 Claimed advantages for Individuals:
Ease of communication. According to Capella University (2005), some workers that are afraid to speak in public or face-to-face with work group members will find it much easier to use email or other forms of communication. A worker with a good idea may be afraid to present it in a traditional face-to-face meeting, if the member experiences this fear. The availability of other communication mediums used in telecommuting can eliminate this barrier to communication.
Increased productivity. Studies have shown that workers who successfully telecommute are 10-15% more productive than those who do not. A personalized work environment with no distractions from other employees or office politics gives individuals more freedom and control over their work, making them significantly more productive and efficient.
Time saving. The most obvious benefit for employees in telecommuting is the elimination of the time, trouble, and expense of physically commuting to work. This gives the average person about an extra hour each day to use for the thinking, writing, telephoning, planning, and paperwork that keeps the wheels of business turning.
Autonomy/independence. In any work structure, an absence of direct supervision is likely to increase the individual's level of responsibility within the organization and this is even more so for the telecommuter. Working independently can fulfill an individual's need for autonomy, control, responsibility and challenge. The individual's control over work occurs more freely and naturally.
Flexible working hours. Another factor contributing to independence is flexibility of working hours. A work station at home allows work activity to take place at any time of the day or night, increased by a more efficient use of technological equipment, planning of leisure time, and a balancing of other tasks that individuals fulfill in the domains of family and community.
Work-life balance. More control over their time allows employees to take short breaks during the day to have lunch with a friend, pick up the kids from school, or cook dinner for the family.
Professional flexiblity. Telecommuting allows individuals to work in their desired profession, with more freedom of choice, and even the possibility of working for a number of employers simultaneously, thereby opening additional promotion opportunities.
Reduced expenses. Working at home also saves money - less gasoline, less wear and tear on dress clothes, and lower food costs due to being able to eat at home.
220.127.116.11 Claimed disadvantages for Individuals:
Feelings of isolation. Telecommuters report experiencing isolation, solitude and feeling like outsiders whenever they go into the organization to fulfill various necessary tasks (Bussing, 1998). Working at home can impair the individual's ability to influence other people and events in the workplace. This can be detrimental to people who have a strong need for social interaction and for an extensive social life. Individuals report that they miss talking to other people or sharing their achievements with them (Bussing, 1998).
No separation between spheres of work and home. The easy transition from home-related aspects to work issues and vice versa can potentially be a problem for telecommuters. Among other things, this stems from a lack of boundaries or partitioning between the two domains. Under normal circumstances, leaving home to go to work provides a space between the two roles. Without clear boundaries, family members are likely to feel that the person working from home is constantly available for their demands, and this impairs the worker's efficiency. In certain circumstances, telecommuting may endanger telecommuters' status or recognition as workers, which could result in constant disturbances from family members and even neighbors making demands upon them. In other circumstances family simply may not treat working from home seriously, thereby eradicating the telecommuter's status as a worker simply because of the lack of an established workplace. On the other hand, the immediate pressures of work could fall onto the family's shoulders, who would then have to give the telecommuter moral or mental support.
More personal conflicts when working at home. Hunton (2005) discovered that telecommuters had higher rates of conflict when compared to traditional workers. The problem could be attributed to the amount of time spent with family and friends. Hunton also discovered that workers who worked exclusively from home had a higher rate of non-work-related interruptions that lasted an average of two hours a day as compared to those workers who worked in satellite locations part-time or those that worked in the main office. For these reasons and others, Hunton concluded that telecommuting exclusively from home is not the best option for companies or workers. Instead, he suggests that employers setup satellite locations or require that worker conduct some of their duties from the office.
Increased length of workday. For instance, studies have shown that telecommuters tend to work longer hours, because workdays became blurred (Dimitrova, 2003). In other words, telecommuters do not clock in and out like traditional workers and often keep working past their normal hours, since they are already at their residence. Also, still according to Dimitrova (2003), works tend to start earlier and end later, because they do not have to commute to work like traditional workers. Another significant finding from Butler et al. (2007) is that workers that telecommute work an average of four hours more than traditional workers. Butler et al. (2007) attributed this increase in the number of hours worked to the need to prove that telecommuters are just as valuable to the organization as traditional workers. They imply that since workers are out of sight, they may feel they have to prove their worth.
Information overload. Unlike traditional work groups that have the luxury of working face-to-face, telecommuters face a major disadvantage since there is no face-to-face interaction. Face-to-face exchange greatly reduces some of the barriers to communication that are introduced by telecommuting. Information overload can occur when more information is received than can be mentally processed by individuals (Capella University, 2005). In a traditional work environment, work group members can read each others' expressions to determine if information overload is taking place. Capella University (2005) and Watsom-Manheim et al. (2007) are in accordance to say that since telecommuting work groups use a variety of electronic communication media such as chat, e-mail, fax, instant messaging, telephone, and video conferencing, the potential for information overload is likely to occur.
Invasion of private life or overability syndrome. Despite claims that telecommuting improves work-life balance, some telecommuting companies expect their telecommuters "to be accessible via email or on the phone at a moment's notice" (Henderson, 2000).
Legal issues. Most industrial legislation today does not cover the specific problems raised by the new flexible work arrangements. This can allow exploitation of existing loopholes in regulations governing proper work relations. A lack of clarity on such matters may affect the worker in terms of employee-employer relations, or issues of insurance. Is the worker entitled to social security or workers' compensation when an accident takes place at home? What are the workers' rights regarding sick leave, overtime and holidays?
2.8.2 Claimed advantages for Organisation:
More cost-effective for employers. The most obvious advantage to employers is the savings in expenses that they can realize. Fewer employees in the office means less need for desks, chairs, bathrooms, computers, copy machines, parking spaces, heating and lighting, telephones, and everything else required for maintaining a working office. Telecommuting saves on the cost of rent, real estate, taxes, maintenance, and property that is generally located in expensive city center areas or industrial parks. Reduced spending on parking, transportation, travel expenses, as well as a significant reduction in payments for overtime and workers' expenses lead to additional savings. Further savings are made in the reduction of costs involved when workers change their place of residence.
Larger pool of talents across distance. Telecommuting also makes it practical for an organization to reach out another 20 or 30 miles or more to find qualified people to fill important posts, and makes it possible to locate individual workers near important clients. Telecommuting also opens the organization's access to pools of skilled individuals who were physically inaccessible in the past, such as parents of small children, disabled or older people, and those who have to deal with other issues of family, culture or sheer physical distance. In addition, the workforce pool is widened to include those who wish to work only part time with flexible hours (Harpaz 2002).
Increased productivity. Reports point to an increase in productivity among e-workers in comparison to their site-based colleagues (Hesse and Grantham, 1991). In part, this can be attributed to the time and effort lost in solving interpersonal problems that are likely to arise as a result of the routine friction and conflicts between workers sharing the same office.
Significant decrease in absence levels. A sick child, urgent matters, or bad weather conditions are no longer reasons for tardiness or absence, nor do these delay work tasks. "Sick leave" is almost non-existent among e-workers. Since they are located in relatively comfortable surroundings, many continue working even when they are not feeling well or are sick.
Positive image for the organisation. An organization that facilitates telecommuting is perceived positively by the public as modern and progressive, since it makes use of new work methods.
18.104.22.168 Claimed disadvantages for Organisations:
Detrimental to organisational commitment and identification. "Out of sight, out of mind' - showing up at the workplace, close to the hub of things, may have the potential to create a greater sense of loyalty, identification and commitment to and with the organization and its goals. From a distance, it is more difficult to control, influence and instill motivation and commitment.
Legal issues. Organizations must take various legal issues into account that are likely to arise as a result of the transition to telecommuting. Among others, these may include issues such as the question of workers' insurance, deciding on work hours and overtime, establishing holidays, sick leaves, and confidentiality.
Data security. Data security is a major concern for organizations. As Crandall and (2005) point out, "security issues raise questions as to how much and what type of work should transpire in the home environment". Breaches can occur if home owners do not secure their homes as they should or guests in their home gain access to sensitive data. These organisations can incur customer notification costs, image repair costs and legal costs as a result of these breaches. Privacy laws require that sensitive and private data be kept private. Therefore, employers are at risk, if employees maintain sensitive and private data on their home computers, regardless of who owns the computer.
PART II - ORGANISATION, VIRTUAL ORGANISATION AND ORGANISATIONAL COMMITMENT
Before bringing into focus one of the distinctive threads traversing the term "organisation", relating to this study - organisational commitment - it is important to clearly understand the core of all these derivations, that is the appellation "organisation".
An organisation is a company, corporation, firm, enterprise, site, authority or institution, or part or combination thereof, whether in corporate or not, public or private, that has its own functions and administration (ISO 14001: 1996 definition 3.12). In other words, it is the arrangement of human and physical resources based upon the need to control and integrate the activities of individuals and groups (Encyclo, 2007).
In the case of virtual organisation, the "virtual" part of the concept cannot be ignored. The related terms "virtual", "virtually", virtuality" imply that something exists having a potential effect but it is not tangible. In classical organisations, the boundaries are clearly defined while virtual organisations have a flexible structure with no spatial boundaries (Jackson, 1999).
The experiences of teleworkers reveal that while they are "virtual" workers in that they are distanced from their organisations, they continue to be embedded in a physical environment (in their case, the home). Given the historical definition of the home as a private, extra-organisational space, teleworkers are seen to be working "outside" organisational boundaries; they highlight the lack of trust, the need for visibility and the assumption of physical presence underlying knowledge-exchange within their organisations.
The intangibility of the virtual organisation is reflected on the altered work experiences in the telecommuting practice as compared to a tangible organisation, which justifies the substantiation of organisational commitment as the dependent factor.
Organizational commitment is a concept that seeks to capture the nature of the attachments formed by individuals to their employing organizations (Ketchand and Strawser, 2001). Indeed, studies have shown that employees who identify with and feel loyal to their employer are more likely to make decisions consistent with the organisation's best interests (Tayyab, 2006). Employees' commitment to their organisation is generally recognised as one of the major determinants of organisational effectiveness.
According to Goliath (2005), the literature on organisational commitment has consistently been dominated by two views on the subject, whether organisational commitment is an attitude towards organisation or is it a behavioural construct. These views were simultaneously mirrored in the literature, and there had been little consensus on the subject till Allen and Meyer (1990) came out with their three component conceptualisation of organisational commitment in an effort to integrate the two streams. But in the process they defined organisational commitment as a psychological state of mind of an employee. Their definition of organisational commitment consisted of:
affective commitment which refers to the employee's emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organisation;
continuance commitment which refers to an awareness of the costs associated with leaving the organisation; and
normative commitment which reflects a feeling of obligation to continue with the employment.
22.214.171.124 Affective commitment
For several authors, the term commitment is used to describe an affective orientation toward the organization. Kanter (1968), for example, defined what she called "cohesion commitment" as the attachment of an individual's fund of affectivity and emotion to the group. Likewise, Buchanan (1974) described commitment as a partisan, affective attachment to the goals and values, and to the organization for its own sake, apart from its purely instrumental worth. Porter and his associates (Mowday, Steers and Porter, 1979; Porter, Crampon and Smith, 1976; Porter, Steers, Mowday and Boulian, 1974) described commitment as the relative strength of an individual's identification with and involvement in a particular organization. It is a "partisan affective attachment to the goals and values of an organization apart from its instrumental worth" (Popper and Lipshitz, 1992). Employees who are affectively committed to an organization remain with it because they want to do so (Meyer, Allen and Gellatly, 1990).
For Stebbins (1970), continuance commitment was the awareness of the impossibility of choosing a different social identity because of the immense penalties involved in making the switch. Still others have used the term "calculative" to describe commitment based on a consideration of the costs and benefits associated with organizational membership that is unrelated to affect (Etzioni, 1975; Hrebiniak and Alutto, 1972; Stevens, Beyer and Trice, 1978).
Finally, Farrell and Rusbult (1981) suggested that commitment is related to the probability that an employee will leave his job and involves feelings of psychological attachment which is independent of affect.
Meyer and Allen (1991) suggested that recognition of the costs associated with leaving the organization is a conscious psychological state that is shaped by environmental conditions (e.g. the existence of side bets) and has implications for behaviour (e.g. continued employment with the organization). Employees wise primary link to the organization is based on continuance commitment remain because they need to do so (Meyer and Allen,1991).
Finally, a less common, but equally viable, approach has been to view commitment as an obligation to remain with the organization. Marsh and Mannari (1977), for example, described the employee with "lifetime commitment" as one who considers it morally right to stay in the company, regardless of how much status enhancement or satisfaction the firm gives over the years. In a similar vein, Wiener (1982) defined commitment as the totality of internalized normative pressures to act in a way which meets organizational goals and interests and suggested that individuals exhibit these behaviours solely because they believe it is the right and moral thing to do. Normative commitment is characterised by feelings of loyalty to a particular organization resulting from the internalization of normative pressures on the individual (Popper and Lipshitz, 1992). Employees with a high level of normative commitment feel they ought to remain with the organization (Meyer and Allen, 1991).
Thus, we find that the common thread underlying all the three conceptualisations of commitment is an assumption of transactional approach of an actor towards the organisation based on his calculation of what he gets and what he loses by following/deviating from a particular line of action.
ORGANISATIONAL COMMITMENT QUESTIONNAIRE
The Organizational Commitment Questionnaire(OCQ) is a measure that was initially developed by Porter and Smith in 1970 to measure commitment within an organization. The measure was created with commitment "being a generally affective reaction to the organization rather than specifically to the work" (Cook et al., 1981). This relates directly to organisational diagnosis, in that it measures employees' commitment to the organization oppose to their particular jobs. In this context, organisational commitment according to them is "defined as the strength of an individual's identification with and involvement in a particular organization, and is said to be characterized by three factors: a strong belief in, and acceptance of, the organization's goals and values; a readiness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the organization; and a strong desire to remain a member of the organization."
This organizational commitment measure was and still is being utilized by many. In the 1970's, people such as Kerr and Jermeir (1978) used this measure to analyse a group of 113 police officers. Ivancevich (1982) employed the OCQ in a study of 154 engineers and O'Reilly and Roberts (1978) diagnosed 562 members of a high technology naval aviation unit. Today organizations are still relying on this measure to diagnose organizational commitment.
This measure has proven to be reliable and valid over and over. "The Organizational Commitment Questionnaire has been used successfully with high reliability in over thirty-five studies in organizational behavior" (Cullen et al., 1995). Individuals such as, Dubin, Champoux and Porter(1975), Mowday, Porter, and Dubin(1974), Porter, Crampon, and Smith(1976), Porter, Steers, Mowday, and Boulian(1974), Steers(1977), Steers and Spencer(1977), and Stone and Porter(1975), have proven this measure to be a competent tool to measure organizational commitment. The OCQ coefficient alpha is evidenced to remain consistently high in the studies done by the aforementioned names in addition to other people who used the questionnaire years later and concluded a coefficient between the confirmed ranges, 0.82 to 0.93 with a median of 0.90 (Cook et al., 1981).
The empirical literature on telecommuting has grown significantly over the decade of the 1990s and into the 2000s. With the availability of more and better data to analyze, published articles have proliferated. Early studies relied on relatively small samples of telecommuters and individual places of employment that had adopted organized telecommuting programs. The literature on telecommuting is growing and improving as time goes on, interest in the subject grows, and more and better datasets become available to analyze. Future research will better capture the relative importance of work-related and individual-related variables in explaining telecommuting behaviour across a wide variety of locations and employers.
The accelerating advances in information technology and the development in electronic communication were essential precursors for the emergence of virtual organizations and new work environments that rely primarily on electronic communication and physical separation between the worker and the organization. In a virtual work environment, the spatial barrier between the workers and the organization could weaken their ties with the organization and could promote feelings of isolation. Also, since virtual workers are invisible, research suggests that external control and monitoring systems need to be reinforced with psychological linkages which act as an internal control system for the behavior and beliefs of the virtual workers (Wiesenfeld, 1999; Raghuram & Garud, 2001).