Telecommuting, telework, remote work, working at home is an arrangement where employees dont need to commute to the physical work location in order to perform their job tasks. Employees use what is called “satellite offices”, it can be a coffee shop, customer location or simply working at home (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2002). A person who telecommutes usually called “telecommuter” or “teleworker”. The challenge of undertaking telecommuting is that it doesn’t have a universal definition (Salomon , Mokhtarian, and Choo 2005), but the most agreed definition is the reliance on information and communication technology (ICT) to perform the job. This requires a specific technological infrastructure including Internet access, phone, fax, e-mail and of course a proper broadband connection to handle the data transfer. In publications, the term telecommuting and teleworking are being used interchangeably but telework is considered to have a broader meaning covering a wider range of work distribution, on the other hand, telecommuting refers specifically to the work performed in a location that reduces the commuting time. Telework with its broader concept has four dimensions, work location, that could be any place outside the central office; ICT (Information and telecommunication technology) as the heart of the telework infrastructure; Time Distribution, the amount of time spent during telecommuting outside central office; Employment type, referring to the relationship between employee and employer ranging from contract to full time job (Kelly Garrett, James N. Danziger)
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Telecommuting History and Timeline
The wheels of telecommuting began to run in the 1990’s with the help of the information age that facilitated the idea. However, telecommuting existed before that time. During the time between 1950’s to 1970’s, some factories has adopted the concept of telecommuting and applied it to some products that has been built manually, this allowed a flexible work for some employees at home, particularly women and young children. As the technological advance took place in the second half of the twentieth century following World War II, specially in the field of ICT, telecommuting started to take a presence.
By 1970 telecommuting gained a potential precedence. Jack Nilles, known as “The father of telework and telecommuting”, started his research in 1972 in a response of the realization of the OPEC oil crisis and the dramatic increase of the world fossil-fuel, Nilles realized that the long term commute to work will have a severe impact on the energy consumption and increase the depletion of the fossil fuels. With his work at NASA and US Air Force, the idea of “telecommuting” or “telework” came to place. Nilles implemented a project to allow 30 employees to telework. Between 1970 and 1980 along with the eased up of the oil crisis, computers started to grow up to assist the building block of telecommuting.
By 1979, Frank Schiff published the first telecommuting article in Washington post, named “Working At Home Can Save Gasoline”. By 1980 companies adopting telework started to spread in Europe, in addition, private and public sectors in USA initiated telework for their employees. As early as 1980, the first telecommuting conferences were held by another pioneer in that field Gil Gordon.
By 1990, telecommuting gained a potential importance and the US congress led by Frank Wolf and Steny Hoyer started to develop telecenters in California. By 1990, large private sectors penetrated the telecommuting world, AT&T is one of the leaders who shared in increasing the awareness of telecommuting. In 1995 AT&T in corporation with several government agencies provided educational programs to the public. In 1996, the president’s council of management introduced the “National telecommuting Initiative” to increase the number of teleworkers to 60,000
Telecommuting components and types
Three main components can be identified for telecommuting (Boisvert, Pinsonneault, 1996)
Utilization of information technology (IT)
The main process of telecommuting depends mainly on the transfer of information between work center and the remote employee, thus, information technology (IT) represents a major component for telecommuting because it provides a constant communication between the employees and their organization and colleagues.
Link with an organization
Another component of telecommuting depends on the type of contact between employees and organizations, telecommuters usually have strong relationship with organizations in contrast to independent workers (Bailyn, 1994). Telecommuting is not limited to permanent workers, contractual employees also telecommute. Researchers found distinctions between those types and came to the conclusion that telecommuting with contractual workers usually generate difficulties (Huws, 1984, 1993; Ramsower, 1985)
De-localization of work
Delocalization of work can take several forms depending on the “space” and the “place” of the worker, four different forms are outlined below:
Telecommuting from home (home-based): One of the most popular methods, usually takes place at the worker residence, this type of telecommuting requires a proper infrastructure (equipments and communications), installation of those equipments can be subsidized by organizations (Nilles, 1994).
Satellite office: It’s a remote office location; usually take the form of small organizational affiliates placed in an area that has a proximity to employee’s residences. The main purpose is to provide a permanent link to headquarters (Nilles, 1994, Doswell, 1992).
This type of telecommuting provides an interesting compromise for organizations that want to keep their workers in a traditional environment (work like environment) and near their homes at the same time.
Neighborhood work center: in contrast to satellite offices, this is a private information centers to provide a workspace for employees from different companies in a certain location. This work center is responsible for all required administrative tasks and telecommunication tools (Olson, 1987a).
Mobile teleworking: one of the newest forms of telecommuting that empowers employees with the capacity and freedom of doing different activities in different places using laptops, mobiles and smart phones. In this case, telecommuter’s office can be a car, in a plane, in a hotel room or even in the road. It depends on the use of new technology to establish a reliable link to their organizations.
Therefore, one can say that telecommuter is not limited to a certain type and doesn’t take a particular form and the place is not only home on a full time basis.
Benefits of telecommuting
Telecommuting provides a range of benefits to a three main groups: The company or organization which decides to adopt telecommuting to some or all of its employees, the individual or the employee who wants to take this advantage and the society who gets affected by this process.
Benefits on organizations
Those employers who decided to adopt telecommuting found it a highly positive experience, a study held by Lafferty(2000) studied the perceived advantages of telecommuting among organizations that adopted telecommuting. Table xx is showing the increased workers’ productivity, the use of telecommunication and information technology and the increased flexibility of the day to day work.
% number of rating as
Increased use of IT
More flexible work
Better Retention of experienced employees
Increased employee morale
Source: Lafferty 2000
Recruitment and Retention
The traditional model for most companies places geographical constraints when hiring new employee, usually, companies seek employees living in reasonably short distances to work location or employees decided to relocate to residences near to the business office. Telecommuting provides a great chance to find experienced candidates in different roles regardless of their locations (Lister 2010). On the other hand adopting telework and providing high degree of flexibility can attract potential employees from remote locations (Yasbel 2004).
Once the company has adopted telecommuting and utilized it to recruit good candidates, it will be able to keep them. In the business market, employees decide to resign in order to move to another opportunity, telework will enable the retention of those employees. It has been found that, by adopting telecommuting firms can keep up to 7% of the employees decided to leave to another opportunity (Lister 2011).
When an employee resigns, he usually take part of the corporate knowledge and job experience, meaning that the firm will lose an equivalent amount of productivity, at least on the short term. Moreover, there are extra expenses should be paid by the firm in order to hire a new employee ( the advertising, HR process .. etc ), even after hiring the employee, there should be a long period of training and knowledge transfer before this employee is considered to be productive. A study by ( Telstra 2008 ) estimated these costs to be 15% of the annual salary of the departing employee, other studies estimated the cost to be higher, 33% of the annual salary ( US Department of Labor)
A study by Rane (2011) reported the impact of telecommuting on keeping employees, they found that on average, more than 60% of businesses who implemented telecommuting believed that it helped with both recruiting and retention of workers.
Figure xx.x: Impact of work flexibility on recruitment and retention
Source: Rane 2011
Although telecommuting does not stop employees from being sick but it may lead to a reduction in illness and other personal leave factors that interrupt the working hours (Dixon, 2003). The availability of teleworking among firm’s employees should enable employees to work in the case of non mild illness such as cold, without affecting their productivity. That means an employee can work at home even if he is ill, this will avoid spreading diseases among other healthy employees at office by keeping the infected ones at home.
A study carried out by Lister (2011) to show the potential benefits of telecommuting in Canada, it revealed that 15% of the personal leaves taken by employees was not due being ill, but it was taken for other personal issues like taking care of a family member. With telecommuting, those employees are still capable of carrying out their work and keep it close to full productivity.
Telework also helps in reducing work time interruption due to hours spent outside work location to manager personal affairs. The flexibility provided by telecommuting enables employee to have a time-off during the standard working hours and compensate for those hours without losing the work time. In the absence of this flexibility, employee usually takes a leave to mange his personal needs or even cut his working time and leaves early (Doherty, 2000). The table below describes the rate of personal leaves when telecommuting is not available.
Take personal leaves
Take sick leave
Late arrival to work
Figure xx.x: How telecommuters manage their personal needs if they don’t telework
Source: (Doherty, 2000)
Telecommuting is one of the potential solutions in case of emergencies; it’s one of the main ways to keep the business productive to avoid the unplanned shutdown. This applies to employees involved or even not formally involved in telework programs. Below are situations where telework can provide business resilience against those unplanned shutdowns:
Threats: for example during the H1N1 infection in 2009, there was an advice to the individuals to be quarantined even if they don’t show H1N1 symptoms, here telecommuting will keep those individuals productive.
Natural disaster – for example the Jan 2011 floods in Brisbane – Australia, employees working from the head office were prevented from doing their jobs, however other employees working from home in un-affected areas remain productive. Same case applied to the latest Sandy hurricane October 2012, Oracle employees having internet connection were able to remain working from their homes.
Public failure – like public transportation issues due to earthquakes, storms or strikes, this prevent employees from accessing the workplace, non-teleworkers usually take leaves until problems are cleared.
Moreover telecommuting help businesses to survive and perform well in the time of economic recession, during the global financial crisis (GFC), many US businesses took steps in reducing operational costs and labors to stay in the market, telecommuting provides an alternative way to reduce the transportation costs, utility expenses, office rentals .. etc, it was estimated that 19% of those firms took this approach by increasing telecommuting rates (Galinsky, 2009)
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The productivity improvement and the quality of work related to telecommuting is one of the potential organizational benefits, however few studies tackle this point due to the difficulties in measuring productivity. According to a study by Baard (2010), telecommuters are more productive compared to their colleagues working in the traditional work place; several reasons were identified for this productivity improvement:
The home based office provides a quiet environment for work, no interruptions from colleagues, no noise; it can be tailored according to telecommuter’s preferences.
Unless you need to participate in a face to face meeting or a video conference, you have the freedom to work with your favorite clothes, in your comfort area.
Reduced stress by avoiding the headache of the traffic when commuting daily to work. Telecommuting as a benefit for employee raises the degree of satisfaction and the belongingness to the organization.
Productivity gains arising from the benefits to the employee by avoiding the long commute to work, also it’s a benefit for organization since employees save the time lost in traffic and replace it with an actual work, hence productivity increased. A study by Lister (2011) showed that 60% of the time consumed during commuting to work can be added to the work hours.
A study conducted by (Duxbury and Higgins, 1995) at Statistics Canada on 20 telecommuters, 17 supervisors and 23 employees showed that telecommuters showed a high degree of respect against scheduling and constraints and were able to efficiently organize their work at home and deal with the family obligations. Another study by Huws (1993) indicated that telecommuters were 47% productive than their counterparts, data was collected directly from their managers.
Adopting telecommuting especially for employees working in ICT sector will provide a new dimension of collaboration across several sites, hence enabling the organization to exploit wider talents and experiences usually not available in the traditional work place (Riswadkar 2009).
It’s well known that applying telecommuting requires additional cost; however a study by (Mallia 2000) estimated that companies will save $2 for each $1 spent by companies on implementing telecommuting including equipment and broadband lines. Sources for that cost saving are described below:
Office space – when companies implement telecommuting and increase the number of employees in this program, it can release some of the office space used by those employees and save the rental cost
Utility expense – when companies reduces the staff and send them home, several expenses can be reduced like electricity, gas and water consumption.
Office decentralization – when companies have a considerable number of telecommuters, there will be no need to have a head office in a central location in an expensive rental areas, now, head office can be located to other lower cost places.
Benefits on Individuals
Telecommuting has a wide range of benefits on employees, different sources of benefits are outlined below:
Employees are able to gain a considerable amount of cost saving by adopting telecommuting (Riswadkar 2009), this can be summarized as follows:
Fuel expenses are highly avoided for employees drive to work daily, or the transportation expenses for those who take public or private transportation, this is translated to the dollar’s value of the expenses or the value of the time wasted in commuting to work.
Even the clothing and dry cleaning costs
Avoided the coast of meals, employees working at home take a homemade meals instead of going out to lunch.
A study by Baruch and Nicholson (1997) on 62 part time telecommuters showed that 75% of them ( managers and professionals) reported that there was about 1 hour saving per day by reducing both time and distance required for the traditional commuting to work. Even for employees who are not frequently telecommuting, the cost saving is high, a study by Cisco and Telework Exchange (2011) estimated that employees working 2 days/week at home is equivalent to giving them a $3439 annual raise, due to the avoided costs.
Telecommuting provides a high level of freedom and flexibility in managing time between work, leisure activities and family obligations (Reinsch, 1997). A survey conducted on 20 telecommuters showed that the increased flexibility and the personal freedom were the most important motivators for adopting telework (Knight and Westbrook, 1999). Actually the increase in flexibility is a potential factor to increase satisfaction and productivity. However this flexibility has a limit, usually business activities require continues communication between employee and his colleagues and managers in the standard working hours (Byrne 2005).
Telecommuting contributes to the improvement of the work-life balance, the time saved due to avoiding the long hours spent in commuting to and from the work can be used for leisure activities, even avoiding the rush hours reduces the stress and improves the quality of life. The flexibility of telecommuting and applying the flexible work arrangement (FWA) provides a good chance for the telecommuter to select the best time for leisure. FWA also has a positive impact on the physical and physiological health for employees (Working Families 2011).
The improvement in work/life balance provided by telecommuting and the reduced stress makes the employee to feel more positive against his employer. In fact, the increase in satisfaction arises from the sense of empowerment that employee has toward the trust from his employer by sending him home with no closer monitoring to ensure that he is working hard. This empowerment is a main cause for the increased job satisfaction (Lister, 2011). Being involved in telecommuting program increase the feeling of telecommuter to be more valued from the employer, this increases the commitment and loyalty toward the organization (Baard, 2010).
Telecommuting provides a good chance for certain groups in society that faced difficulties in joining work; some of these groups are outlined below:
Disabled people – individuals with disability still have the experience and mental capability to perform the required job but might face accessibility problems with transportation and office buildings (Baard, 2010)
People, who provide caring for others like mothers and children, may have difficulties in working full time. Even some of them accept lower job role because they don’t have the flexibility to manage their personal life needs (Bourke 2011).
Individuals living in a poor remote locations usually don’t have a chance to find good local jobs even if they are skilled enough and may not be able to relocate. Telework would provide a way to join big companies in centralized cities without needing to move (Baard, 2010).
Challenges of telecommuting
Although telecommuting have positive effects on organizations and employees (flexibility,
increased productivity, satisfaction and motivation), but it also have some negative effects on the
Employee and organization level, those factors are outlined below:
One of the main barriers to telecommuting is the loss of proper infrastructure like a good internet connection, any possibility of interruption to the network bandwidth or unexpected slowness will directly affect telecommuter productivity, this means that if telecommuter doesn’t have a stable high speed connection at home, then his productivity is not guaranteed (Scholefield, 2009)
Not all employees involved in telecommuting program have a an access to a high speed internet connection at home, those who are living in a remote areas or in a location away from the telephone exchange will have a slower connections, management should take actions to exclude them from telecommuting programs due to the technical limitations they have.
Implementing telecommuting programs can be expensive for the firms that don’t have the proper infrastructure (for example, Laptops, high speed network, file servers, secured connections to access the organization resources remotely). Furthermore there should be a temporary productivity issues at the starting phase of the program due to the required training, adjusting framework and setting up rules and constraints. Most of the cost is incurred in the setting up phase especially in the first year (Nilles, 1994).
Some organizations let their employees share the telecommuting cost like the internet connection cost as it’s also used for personal purposes and the percentage is determined by the management, however the fact that telecommuting cost is incurred in front and the benefits are expected to be accrued over years, management still feel reluctant toward the idea.
Management and communication
Telework management is still new especially in the developing countries; traditional management and communication style have to be changed prior to implement telecommuting. Old management style is always tied to the face to face supervision however this is not possible in telecommuting. There should be a tight and fully controlled work framework given to employees to enable the management to measure productivity and determine when the telecommuter is over or under worked.
It’s important that supervisors and colleagues at office understand that telecommuters working from home are available to talk as if they are in the office, if this concept is fully adopted, then small discussions for small issues will be avoided and by time there will be a decline in the overall communication (Meyer, 2000). Moreover, there’s another cost at the initial phase of applying telecommuting which is the cost of changing management models, this is usually easier for small companies, however big organizations will incur potential costs, even it’s not easy to change mentality and perception of managers towards telecommuting (Christensen, 1992).
Another problem that may arise is the loss of synergy due to the physical absence of employee, actually motivation and coordination and the sense of loyalty cannot be sustained in the telecommuting context. A study in UK was conducted to determine the factors affecting resistance to telecommuting showed that over 35% of the managers believed that telecommuting will threaten corporate structure (Gray, Hodson, and Gordon, 1993).
Trust and culture related issues
Some researchers found that there’s a culture resistance toward telecommuting from co-workers and managers, it has been considered to be one of the most effective factors (ATAC, 2006). There still a lack of trust within managers thinking that telecommuters will not keep the same level of productivity without a closer monitoring (Scholefield 2009). Both managers and in-office co-workers believe that telecommuters are not working hard at home because of the possible distractions such as televisions, children and pets. Although many studies showed that there’s an increase in productivity with telecommuting but it depends at the end on the telecommuter’s environment at home and whether he will be able to deal with conflicts and interruptions or not.
Most of the telecommuting business is carried out over internet, this wide unsecured network is considered to be the main threat for organizations, Security of IT systems and the high confidential information is a management potential concern in telework. The risk arises in the malicious security breaches due to the big transfer of information between office and home network, knowing that security constraints at home is lower than the main office (Whiteman, 2006). Managers are concerned that company information is not only hacked by an unauthorized parties but also it can be manipulated (Greenstein and Feinberg, 1999).
The security protocols implemented at office like password policies and anti-virus programs are blocking viruses and malwares and even prevent employees from accessing threatening websites, those constraints are not likely to be found at home which increase the risk for viruses to penetrate the corporate network.
Challenges on Individuals
Although telecommuting adds many benefits to telecommuter in the work and life contexts, but it also may produce some undesirable effects as follows:
Feeling of isolation and loss of morale
Telecommuting usually take place at home, employee spends long hours working alone away from his colleagues, managers and customers, even sociable employees are affected by that individualized concept of work (Baard, 2010). Working alone for extended hours may reduce the ability of employees to interact with their co-workers and the face to face contact, this loss of effective communication may affect the morale of the employee and how he feels against his organization. A study conducted on telecommuters showed that 29% of the employees believe that telecommuting left them out of the office and increased the feeling of isolation (Reinsch, 1997).
Some employees think that working outside the work place may negatively affect their career, this may occur due to losing the sense of competition against their colleagues and the ability to compare productivity, by time employee may lose the performance requirements that lead to top performance and hence losing career opportunities.
We may find other perceptions within employees like “Out of site out of mind” concept, when it comes to promotions and opportunities. They believe that those opportunities usually come to visible employees at work. ( Meyer, 2000).
Lack of technical assistance
A survey conducted on telecommuters found that 30% of employees working from home believe that they didn’t receive a proper technical assistance (Scholefield 2009). This may be due to not being physically visible at office, so IT specialists take other priorities and start serving employees at the work place. Supporting technical issues directly at office is much easier than the “remote assistance” while employees being at home.
Work – Family conflict
One of the potential negative impacts related to telecommuting is the work/family conflicts or the “blurring role” between work and life. The lack of physical separation between work and personal life can generate difficulties in controlling employee’s mentality to have two unique roles and being emotionally separated (Baard, 2010). Modern technologies like smart phones, laptops provide the feeling of “always on” this increases the conflict between work and leisure time. Another impact of that conflict is the reduced productivity at home due to the distractions and interruption abound (Mogelonsky, 1995).
Telecommuting and the community
Traffic congestion is one of the most potential issues in Egypt especially in large cities, this lead to an extensive costs due to the long time wasted in commuting to work place in the high traffic roads as well as the depreciation cost of the vehicle itself. In a country like Egypt, about 42.7 percent of population is living in urban areas which are mainly the capital cities like Cairo and Alexandria (World Bank Indicators), the following graph shows urban population (% of total) in Egypt for the period from 2002 to 2010.
Figure xx.x Urban population (% of total) in Egypt
Source: World Bank Indicators – Egypt – Density & urbanization
This all worsen the situation and increase the traffic problems. In the last few years and especially after the Jan25 revolution, traffic has become a major problem in Egypt that is costing the country an extensive amount of money and lives. In a recent report by the (World Bank, 2012) , it was estimated that traffic congestions costs the country over EGP 50 billion annually which is considered to be 4% of the total GDP of Egypt. This amount is four times other cities with the same size. This is added to about 4000 injuries plus 1000 died each year. The figures were calculated by estimating the cost of the employees’ time being idle in the traffic jam, also the cost of vehicle’s fuel and the environmental effects due to the fuels emissions, deterioration of roads and other public utilities.
Adopting telecommuting can be a potential solution by reducing the traffic congestion, as the increased number of telecommuters will be off the roads during the rush hours. A study by (Fuhr, 2007) estimated that for every 1% reductions in cars on the road, there will be 3% reduction in traffic congestion.
Considering the level of congestions is reduced in Egypt according to the increased number of telecommuters, there will be a less need to increase the infrastructure and capacity of the roads and also will reduce the cost of maintenance which will provide an extensive saving for the government to redirect it to other sectors like health or education.
Resources required for telecommuting
Communication is one of the most important factors that is found in any telecommuting program, A study by (Neufeld and Fang, 2005) found that telecommuter’s productivity is strongly associated with quality of relationship with his managers, co-workers and his family members.
Normally in traditional work arrangement a physical existence and face to face interaction is required (Kraut, 1989), unfortunately telecommuters don’t have this advantage, they usually lose the physical proximity to co-workers, managers and even clients as well as the reduced chance to access information at office for task completion (Hamilton, 1987). Hence communication is a mandatory component in telecommuting arrangement, and there’s a need to convert traditional work process into a virtual work structure. As a conclusion, telecommuters working in different time and space need to be bridged by communication to achieve the same productivity (Kugelmass, 1995).
Factors affecting successful telecommuting
Telecommuting in numbers
Put the graph for the internet users in Egypt
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