Telecommuting, also called remote working, distance working, telework, teleworking, working from home (WFH), mobile work, remote job, work from anywhere (WFA), and flexible workplace, is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel (e.g. by bus, bicycle or car, etc.) to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse, or store.
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Telecommuting came to be in the 1970s to describe work-related substitutions of telecommunication and related information technologies for travel.
In the 1990s, telecommuting became the subject of pop culture attention. In 1995, the motto that "work is something you do, not something you travel to" was coined. Variations of this motto include: "Work is something we DO, not a place that we GO" and "Work is what we do, not where we are." Telecommuting has been adopted by a range of businesses, governments and not-for-profit organizations. Organizations may use telecommuting to reduce costs (telecommuting employees do not require an office or cubicle, a space which needs to be rented or purchased, and incurs additional costs such as lighting, climate control, etc.). Some organizations adopt telecommuting to improve workers' quality of life, as teleworking typically reduces commuting time and time stuck in traffic jams. Along with this, teleworking may make it easier for workers to balance their work responsibilities with their personal life and family roles (e.g., caring for children or elderly parents). Some organizations adopt teleworking for environmental reasons, as telework can reduce congestion and air pollution, with fewer cars on the roads.
Teleworkers in the 21st century often use mobile telecommunications technology such as a Wi-Fi-equipped laptop or tablet computers and smartphones to work from coffee shops; others may use a desktop computer and a landline phone at their home. According to a Reuters poll, approximately "one in five workers around the globe, particularly employees in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent work from home every day." In the 2000s, annual leave or vacation in some organizations was seen as absence from the workplace rather than ceasing work, and some office employees used telework to continue to check work e-mails while on vacation.
The practice became much more mainstream during the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of workers were forced to start telecommuting for the first time.
Although the concepts of "telecommuting" and "telework" are closely related, there is a difference between the two. All types of technology-assisted work conducted outside a centrally located work space (including work undertaken in the home, outside calls, etc.) are regarded as telework. Telecommuters often maintain a traditional office and usually work from an alternative work site from 1 to 3 days a week. Telecommuting refers more specifically to work undertaken at a location that reduces commuting time. These locations can be inside the home or at some other remote workplace, which is facilitated through a broadband connection, computer or phone lines, or any other electronic media used to interact and communicate. As a broader concept than telecommuting, telework has four dimensions in its definitional framework: work location, that can be anywhere outside a centralized organizational work place; usage of ICTs (information and communication technologies) as technical support for telework; time distribution, referring to the amount of time replaced in the traditional workplace; and the diversity of employment relationships between employer and employee, ranging from contract work to traditional full-time employment.
A person who telecommutes is known as a "telecommuter", "teleworker", and sometimes as a "home-sourced", or "work-at-home" employee. A telecommuter is also called a "telecommuting specialist", as a designation and in a professional context. Many telecommuters work from home, while others, sometimes called "nomadic workers" work at coffee shops or other locations. The terms "telecommuting" and "telework" were coined by Jack Nilles in 1973.
In Italy, smart working is defined as an agreement between the parties with no precise constraints in terms of working hours or workplace and with the possible use of technology to enable the work to be performed.
As of 2012[update], estimates suggest that over fifty million U.S. workers (about 40% of the working population) could work from home at least part of the time, but in 2008 only 2.5 million employees, excluding the self-employed, considered their home to be their primary place of business. The number of employees reported to have worked from their home "on their primary job" in 2010 has been reported as 9.4 million (6.6% of the workforce), though this number might include the self-employed. As of 2017, roughly 3.7 million employees—2.8% of the workforce—work from home at least half the time, Global Analytics Workplace reports.
In 2009, the United States Office of Personnel Management reported that approximately 103,000 federal employees were teleworking. However, fewer than 14,000 were teleworking three or more days per week. In January 2012, Reuters, drawing from an Ipsos/Reuters poll, predicted that telecommuting was "a trend that has grown and one which looks like it will continue with 34% of connected workers saying they would be very likely to telecommute on a full-time basis if they could." On December 9, 2010, the U.S. Federal Government passed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 in order to improve Continuity of Operations and ensure essential Federal functions are maintained during emergencies; to promote management effectiveness when telework is used to achieve reductions in organizational and transit costs and environmental impacts; and to enhance the work–life balance of workers. For example, telework allows employees to better manage their work and family obligations and thus helps retain a more resilient Federal workforce better able to meet agency goals.
Study results from the 2013 Regus Global Economic Indicator were published in September 2013 and showed that 48% of business managers worldwide work remotely for at least half their working week. The study engaged over 26,000 business managers across 90 countries, with 55% of respondents stating that the effective management of remote workers is an attainable goal. Following the release of the results, Regus CEO Mark Dixon stated: "The business people we speak with tell us that trust and freedom play a key role in remote management, and once these are in place the benefits are clear for all to see: greater productivity, improved staff retention and lower operating costs." Forrester Research's US Telecommuting Forecast reporting that 34 million Americans work from home and the number is expected to reach a staggering 63 million – or 43% of the U.S. workforce – by 2016. Cisco reports that the company has generated an estimated annual savings of $277 million in productivity by allowing employees to telecommute and telework. And Intuit reports that by 2020, more than 40% of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be freelancers, contractors and temp workers. In the UK between 2007 and 2012, the number of employees who usually work from home increased by 13% - an increase of almost half a million people, taking the total to over 4 million employees out of a UK workforce of 30 million.
In early 2020, many companies' employees across the globe were forced to self isolate and work from home as an alternative due to the global pandemic of COVID-19. Survey from Clutch.co showed that 17% of U.S employees worked from home 5 days or more per week before the pandemic, and the share increased to 44% during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Very few companies employ large numbers of home-based full-time staff. The call center industry is one notable exception: several U.S. call centers employ thousands of home-based workers. For many employees, the option to work from home is available as an employee benefit but most participants only do so a fraction of the time. Top paid among work-from-home sectors are home-based physicians and radiologists in which it is suspected that they earn near the $1,975 median weekly income of physicians, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it a six-figure job. Studies show that at-home workers are willing to earn up to 30% less and experience heightened productivity.
The roots of telecommuting are found in early 1970s technology that linked satellite offices to downtown mainframes through dumb terminals using telephone lines as a network bridge. The ongoing and exponential decreases in cost along with the increases in performance and usability of personal computers, forged the way for moving the office to the home. By the early 1980s, branch offices and home workers were able to connect to organizational mainframes using personal computers and terminal emulation. Telework is facilitated by tools such as groupware, virtual private networks, conference calling, videoconferencing, virtual call centre, Voice over IP (VoIP), and by the decreasing cost of good quality laptop computers. It can be efficient and useful for companies since it allows workers to communicate over long distances, saving significant amounts of travel time and cost. As broadband Internet connections become more commonplace, more and more workers have adequate bandwidth at home to use these tools to link their home to their corporate intranet and internal phone networks.
The adoption of local area networks promoted the sharing of resources, and client–server model client–server computing allowed for even greater decentralization. Today, telecommuters can carry laptops which they can use both at the office, at home, and nearly anywhere else. The rise of cloud computing technology and Wi-Fi availability have enabled access to remote servers via a combination of portable hardware and software. Furthermore, with their improving technology and increasing popularity, smartphones are becoming widely used in telework. They substantially increase the mobility of the worker and the degree of coordination with their organization. The technology of mobile phones and personal digital assistant, personal digital assistant (PDA) devices allows instant communication through text messages, camera photos, and video clips from anywhere and at any time.
Media richness theory
The technology to communicate is not advanced enough to replicate face-to-face office interactions. Room for mistakes and miscommunication can increase. According to media richness theory, face-to-face interactions provide the capacity to process rich information: ambiguous issues can be clarified, immediate feedback can be provided, and there is personalized communication (e.g. body language, tone of voice). Telecommuting requires the use of various types of media to communicate, such as the telephone and email. Emails have a time lag that does not allow for immediate feedback; telephone conversations make it harder to decipher the emotions of the person or team on the phone; and both of these forms of communication do not allow one to see the other person. Typical organization communication patterns are thus altered in telecommuting. For instance, teams using computer-mediated communication with computer conferencing take longer to make group decisions than face-to-face groups.
Workers tend to be satisfied with face-to-face interactions, phone conversations, and in-person departmental meetings to receive communications, but email and the Internet do not add to their communication satisfaction. This suggests that teleworking may not have the components for "rich communication" compared to face-to-face interactions, although one study found that virtual workers in a team were more satisfied with their technology-mediated communication than their in-person office communication.
Job characteristic theory
Some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of telecommuting can be explained by job characteristic theory, which proposes that the traits and tasks of the job itself affect employees' work attitudes and behavior. If five characteristics of a job are present (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback), then the employee in that job will experience more internal work motivation, satisfaction with personal growth opportunities, general job satisfaction, higher job performance, and lower absenteeism and turnover. Many studies have provided evidence that job characteristics influence employees' behaviors and attitudes. Additionally, job characteristics can interact with individual differences to impact employee attitudes and behavior. Of these five job characteristics, telework specifically changes autonomy and feedback compared to face-to-face work and can thus influence employees' behaviors and attitudes. According to Job Characteristics Theory, changes in autonomy and feedback influence work behaviors and attitudes more than a change in skill variety, task identity, or task significance.
Autonomy influences experienced responsibility such that if the job provides freedom, independence, and scheduling flexibility, the individual should feel responsible for his or her work outcomes. Telework provides flexibility in scheduling and freedom because being outside the office gives the worker more choices. Teleworkers do not have to stick to office routines and can shift work to different times of day. Telework allows employees the freedom to choose where they work, when they work and even what they wear to work to allow their best work. Teleworkers may experience more responsibility to the extent that they feel in control and accountable for their work. The autonomy of telework allows for lower work-family conflict. Teleworking provides the freedom to arrange work to avoid family conflicts. Increased control over life demands is one of its main attractions. The level of autonomy in telework felt by the employee depends on a variety of factors, including scheduling flexibility and the household size. In addition to reducing work-family conflict, conflicts with activities are also reduced. Increased and fewer time restrictions freedom allow workers to participate more in recreational activities, whether social or physical. However, studies also show that autonomy must be balanced with high levels of discipline if a healthy work/leisure balance is to be maintained.
The job characteristic dimension, feedback, increases employees' knowledge of results. Feedback refers to the degree that an individual receives direct and clear information about his or her performance related to work activities. Feedback is particularly important so that the employees continuously learn about how they are performing. Electronic communication provides fewer cues for teleworkers and thus, they may have more difficulties interpreting and gaining information, and subsequently, receiving feedback. When a worker is not in the office, there is limited information and greater ambiguity, such as in assignments and expectations. Role ambiguity, when situations have unclear expectations as to what the worker is to do, may result in greater conflict, frustration, and exhaustion.
Communication personalized for individual needs is important for feedback interactions. People differ in their need for communication and their level of social connectedness to their environment, partially because of personality and temperament differences. Although the level of communication may decrease for teleworkers, satisfaction with this level of communication can be higher in some samples, like those who are more tenured and have functional instead of social relationships. Feedback and communication can also be affected by a manager's location. The clarity, speed of response, richness of the communication, frequency, and quality of the feedback are often reduced when managers telework.
Skill variety, task identity, and task significance
Three of the five job attributes: skill variety, task identity, and task significance, influence how much employees think their jobs are meaningful. Skill variety is the degree that a job requires a variety of activities and skills to complete the task. An increase in skill variety is thought to increase the challenge of the job. Increasing the challenge of the job increases the individual's experienced meaningfulness, how much the individual cares about work, and finds it worthwhile. Telework may not directly affect skill variety and task meaningfulness for the individual compared to when he or she worked in an office; however, skill variety and meaningfulness of individual tasks can increase when working in a group. If the work done at home is focused on the individual rather than the team, there may be fewer opportunities to use a variety of skills.
Task identity is the degree that the individual sees work from beginning to end or completes an identifiable or whole piece of work rather than only a small piece. Task significance is the degree that the individual feels his or her work has a substantial impact on the lives or work of other people within the organization or outside the organization. Telework may not change the job characteristics of skill variety, task identity, and task significance compared to working in an office; however, the presence of these characteristics will influence teleworkers' work outcomes and attitudes.
Individuals may differ in their reactions to the job characteristics in telecommuting. According to job characteristics theory, the personal need for accomplishment and development (growth need strength) influences how much an individual will react to the job dimensions of telecommuting. For instance, those individuals high in growth need strength will have a more positive reaction to increased autonomy and a more negative reaction to decreased feedback in telecommuting than those individuals low in growth need strength.
Telecommuting is a new work situation with a flexible structure that makes it different from traditional work environments. Various job design theories, in addition to job characteristics theory, can help explain the differences between telecommuting and traditional job settings.
Motivator-hygiene theory differentiates between motivating factors (motivators) and dissatisfying factors (hygienes). Factors that are motivators such as recognition and career advancement may be lessened with telework. When teleworkers are not physically present, they may be "out of sight, out of mind" to other workers in the office. Additionally, telework may not always be seen positively by management due to fear of loss of managerial control. A 2008 study found that more time spent telecommuting decreased the perception of productivity of the teleworker in the eyes of management. Hygiene factors, such as work conditions, may improve when teleworking such that teleworkers have the flexibility to work in a variety of locations. Thus, telework has different work motivating factors and dissatisfying factors than office work.
Social information processing
Social information processing suggests that individuals give meaning to job characteristics. Individuals have the ability to construct their own perception of the environment by interpreting social cues. This social information comes from overt statements from coworkers, cognitive evaluations of the job or task dimensions, and previous behaviors. This social context can affect individuals' beliefs about the nature of the job, the expectations for individual behavior, and the potential consequences of behavior, especially in uncertain situations. In telework, there are fewer social cues because social exchange and personalized communication takes longer to process in computer-mediated communication than face-to-face interactions.
Sociotechnical systems theory
Sociotechnical systems (STS) theory explains the interaction between social and technological factors. STS examines the relationships between people, technology, and the work environment, in order to design work in a way that enhances job satisfaction and increases productivity. Originally developed to explain the paradox of improved technology but decreased productivity, the theory can be applied to the design of telework. One of the principles of STS is minimal critical specification. This principle states that, unless absolutely essential, there should be minimal specification of objectives and how to do tasks in order to avoid closing options or inhibiting effective actions. Telecommuting provides teleworkers with the freedom to decide how and when to do their tasks. Similarly, teleworkers have the responsibility to use their equipment and resources to carry out their responsibilities. This increase in responsibility for their work also increases their power, supporting the idea that teleworking is a privilege and in some companies, considered a promotion.
Adaptive structural theory
Adaptive structuration theory studies variations in organizations as new technologies are introduced Adaptive structural theory proposes that structures (general rules and resources offered by the technology) can differ from structuration (how people actually use these rules and resources). There is an interplay between the intended use of technology and the way that people use the technology. Telecommuting provides a social structure that enables and constrains certain interactions. For instance, in office settings, the norm may be to interact with others face-to-face. To accomplish interpersonal exchange in telecommuting, other forms of interaction need to be used. AST suggests that when technologies are used over time, the rules and resources for social interactions will change. Teleworking may alter traditional work practices, such as switching from primarily face-to-face communication to electronic communication.
- Worker preference – homesourced workers often need or prefer to work from home. They usually appreciate the opportunity.
- Reduced costs for the employer as homesourced workers often provide their own telephone equipment and computer systems. Employer also saves on cost of office space.
- Using homesourced workers that are local to the area where they are calling precludes the prejudice that is sometimes created from regional accents, mannerisms and rates of speech.
- Possible tax advantages for the worker using part of their home for business purposes.
- It provides the employer the ability to provide work to individuals who through disability are unable to travel to a workplace.
Telecommuting benefits society in economic, environmental, and personal ways. The wide application of ICTs provides increasing benefits for employees, especially ones with physical disabilities. It also leads to a more energy-saving society without adversely impacting economic growth. Telecommuting offers benefits to communities, employers, and employees. For communities, telecommuting may offer fuller employment (by increasing the employability of circumstantially marginalized groups such as work at home parents and caregivers, the disabled, retirees, and people living in remote areas), reducing traffic congestion and traffic accidents, relieving pressure on transportation infrastructure, reducing greenhouse gases, reducing energy use, and improving disaster preparedness.
For companies, telecommuting expands the talent pool, reduces the spread of illness, reduces costs including real-estate footprint, increases productivity, reduces their carbon footprint and energy usage, offers a means of complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and possibly earning a tax credit, if they're American, reduces turnover and absenteeism, improves employee morale, enhances continuity-of-operations strategies, improves their ability to handle business across multiple time zones, and augments their cultural adaptability. Some estimates suggest that full-time telework can save companies approximately $20,000 per employee. According to a study by the Consumer Electronics Association, telecommuting saves enough energy to power 1 million US households for a year.
Telecommuting individuals, or more specifically those in "work from home" arrangements, may find that it improves work–life balance, reduces their carbon footprint and fuel usage, frees up the equivalent of 15 to 25 workdays a year (time they would have otherwise spent commuting), and saves thousands of dollars per year in travel and work-related costs. Half-time telecommuting by those with compatible jobs (40%) and a desire to do so (79%) would save companies, communities, and employees over $650 billion a year; the result of increased productivity, reduced office expense, lower absenteeism and turnover, reduced travel, less road repairs, less gas consumption, and other savings.
Telecommuting gained ground in the United States in 1996 after "Clean Air Act amendments were adopted with the expectation of reducing carbon dioxide and ground-level ozone levels by 25 percent." The act required companies with over 100 employees to encourage car pools, public transportation, shortened work weeks, and telecommuting. In 2004, an appropriations bill was enacted by Congress to encourage telecommuting for certain Federal agencies. The bill threatened to withhold money from agencies that failed to provide telecommuting options to all eligible employees.
If the 40% of the U.S. population that holds telework-compatible jobs and wants to work from home did so half of the time:
- The nation would save 280,000,000 barrels (45,000,000 m3) of oil (37% of Gulf oil imports).
- The environment would be saved the equivalent of taking 9 million cars permanently off the road.
- The energy potential from the fuel savings would total more than twice what the U.S. currently produces from all renewable energy sources combined.
In the UK, it has been estimated that increasing the numbers of employees working from home could save over 3 million tonnes of carbon pollution each year, in addition to the economic benefits of cutting costs by GBP 3 billion a year for UK employers and employees.
According to the job characteristic theory, the relationship between characteristics of the job and job satisfaction was moderately strong. Of the five task characteristics, autonomy has a strong relationship with job satisfaction such that greater autonomy leads to greater job satisfaction. Teleworkers may have increased satisfaction due to the flexibility and autonomy their jobs provide. Teleworkers were found to have higher satisfaction than office based workers. It was found that autonomy increased teleworkers' satisfaction by reducing work-family conflicts, especially when workers were allowed to work outside traditional work hours and be more flexible for family purposes. Additionally, autonomy explained an increase in employee engagement when the amount of time spent teleworking increased. Furthermore, a study from FlexJobs that surveyed over 3000 people found that 81 percent of respondents also said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.
Productivity and employee benefits
Telecommuting has long been promoted as a way to substantially increase employee productivity. A working-from-home-related experiment conducted using 242 employees of a large Chinese travel agency by professors at Stanford and Beijing University found that employees randomly assigned to work at home for 9 months increased their output by 13.5% versus the office-based control group. This improvement in output arose from working 9% more hours from saved commuting time and from 3.5% improved efficiency from quieter working conditions. The study also found that home-workers reported significantly higher job-satisfaction scores and their quit rates fell by almost 50%. However, home workers' promotion rates dropped by half due to apparent performance declines, indicating a potential career cost of home-working.
Telework flexibility is a desirable prerequisite for employees. A 2008 Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index, a survey of 1,400 CFOs by recruitment firm Robert Half International, indicated that 13% consider telework the best recruiting incentive today for accounting professionals. In earlier surveys, 33% considered telework the best recruiting incentive, and half considered it second best.
Since work hours are less regulated in telework, employee effort and dedication are far more likely to be measured purely in terms of output or results. Fewer, if any, traces of non-productive work activities (research, self-training, dealing with technical problems or equipment failures) and time lost on unsuccessful attempts (early drafts, fruitless endeavors, abortive innovations) are visible to employers. Piece rate, commissions, or other performance-based compensation also become more likely for telecommuters. Furthermore, major chunks of per-employee expenses are absorbed by the telecommuter himself - from simple coffee, water, electricity, and telecommunications services, to huge capital expenses like office equipment or software licenses. Thus, hours spent on the job tend to be underestimated and expenses under-reported, creating overly optimistic figures of productivity gains and savings, some or all of those in fact coming out of the telecommuter's time and pocket.
International evidence and experience shows that telework can deliver a broad range of benefits to individuals, employers and society as a whole. Telework is a shift in the way business is accomplished which can make a difference overtime. As an example, a recent Australian study revealed that telework enabled by the National Broadband Network is expected to add $8.3 billion to Gross Domestic Product by 2020, creating the equivalent of an additional 25,000 full-time jobs. Around 10,000 of these jobs will be in regional Australia. When it comes to environment, it has been estimated that if 10 per cent of Australian employees were to telework 50 percent of the time, it would save 120 million litres of fuel and 320,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. That rate of telework would also deliver a productivity benefit of between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion a year.
Turnover intention, or the desire to leave the organization, is lower for teleworkers. Those teleworkers who experienced greater professional isolation actually had lower turnover intent. One study found that by increasing feedback and task identity through clear communication of goals, objectives, and expectations, turnover intent decreased in teleworkers and quality of work output increased.
Advantages and disadvantages meta-analysis
A meta-analysis of 46 studies of telecommuting involving 12,833 employees conducted by Ravi Gajendran and David A. Harrison in the Journal of Applied Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), found that telecommuting has largely positive consequences for employees and employers. In their meta-analytic study, Gajendran and Harrison found that telecommuting had modest but beneficial effects on employees' job satisfaction, perceived autonomy, stress levels, manager-rated job performance, and (lower) work-family conflict. Telecommuting also reduces turnover intent, or the intention to quit one's job. Increased job satisfaction, decreased turnover intent and role stress related to telecommuting partly because of a decrease in work-family conflict. Additionally, the increase in autonomy from teleworking in turn increases job satisfaction.
Although a number of scholars and managers had previously expressed fears that employee careers might suffer and workplace relationships might be damaged because of telecommuting, the meta-analysis found that there are no generally detrimental effects on the quality of workplace relationships and career outcomes. Telecommuting actually was found to positively affect employee-supervisor relations and the relationship between job satisfaction and turnover intent was in part due to supervisor relationship quality. Only high-intensity telecommuting (where employees work from home for more than 2.5 days a week) harmed employee relationships with co-workers, even though it did reduce work-family conflict. A factor analysis showed the overall distribution of people's experiences and how the advantages and disadvantages of WFH during the early weeks of the pandemic in Europe can be grouped into six key factors. The results indicated that most people had a more positive rather than negative experience of WFH during lockdown. Three factors represent the main advantages of WFH: (i) work–life balance, (ii) improved work efficiency and (iii) greater work control. The main disadvantages were (iv) home office constraints, (v) work uncertainties and (vi) inadequate tools.
Potential drawbacks and concerns
Skill variety has the strongest relationship with internal work motivation. Jobs that allow workers to use a variety of skills increase workers' internal work motivation. If teleworkers are limited in teamwork opportunities and have fewer opportunities to use a variety of skills, they may have lower internal motivation towards their work. Also, perceived social isolation can lead to less motivation. It can be argued that without a work climate or manager nearby, the ability to motivate oneself is even more important when telecommuting than when working in an office. Though working in an office has its distractions, it is often argued that telecommuting involves even greater distractions. According to one study, children are ranked as the number one distractions, followed by spouses, pets, neighbors, and solicitors. The lack of proper tools and facilities also serves as a major distraction, though this can be mitigated by using short-term coworking rental facilities. Also, some countries such as Romania have tasked the national labour inspectorate the burden of carrying out checks at teleworkers’ residences to see if the work environment meets the requirements.
Face-to-face interactions increase interpersonal contact, connectedness, and trust Therefore, 54% of teleworkers thought they lost out on social interaction and 52.5% felt they lost out on professional interaction in a 2012 study. Teleworking can hurt working relationships between the teleworker and their coworkers, especially if their coworkers do not telework. Coworkers who do not telework can feel resentful and jealous because they may consider it unfair if they are not allowed to telework as well. However, despite fewer interpersonal actions and professional isolation, a meta-analysis of telecommuting did not find support for negative telecommuter-coworker relationships or telecommuter-supervisor relationships. Employers' largest concerns about telecommuting are fear of loss of control; 75% of managers say they trust their employees, but a third say they would like to be able to see them, "just to be sure".
Employees who telework may feel pressure to produce more output in order to be seen as valuable, and reduce the idea that they are doing less work than others. This pressure to produce output, as well as a lack of social support from limited coworker relationships and feelings of isolation, leads to lower job engagement in teleworkers. Additionally, higher-quality relationships with teammates decreased job satisfaction of teleworkers, potentially because of frustrations with exchanging interactions via technology. However, coworker support and virtual social groups for team building had a direct influence on increasing job satisfaction, perhaps due to an increase in skill variety from teamwork and an increase in task significance from more working relationships.
The inconsistent findings regarding telework and satisfaction may be explained by a more complicated relationship. Presumably because of the effects of autonomy, initial job satisfaction increases as the amount of telecommuting increases; however, as the individual telecommutes more, declines in feedback and task significance lead job satisfaction to level off and decrease slightly. Thus, the amount of time teleworking influences the relationship between telework and job satisfaction. Barriers to continued growth of telecommuting include distrust from employers and personal disconnectedness for employees. Communication and getting to know other teammates happen naturally when everyone works in the same space, so in the telework circumstance, employees and supervisors have to work harder to maintain relationships with co-workers. This is especially important for new employees so that they learn organizational habits even when working remotely. Being remote can also distance people from each other and transfer important conversations to chat and email. An isolation from daily activities arise of the company and may be less aware of other things going on to the company and a possible hatred from other employees arises from other employees who do not telecommute. Telecommuting has come to be viewed by some as more of a "complement rather than a substitute for work in the workplace".
Sharing information within an organization and teams can become more challenging when working remotely. While in the office, teams naturally share information and knowledge when they meet each other, for example, during coffee breaks. Sharing information requires more effort and proactive action when random-encounters do not happen. The sharing of tacit information also often takes place in unplanned situations where employees follow the activities of more experienced team members. When teams are working remotely, it may also be difficult to obtain timely information, unless the regular sharing of information is taken care of separately. The situation where team members don't know enough about what others are doing can lead them to make worse decisions or slow down decision-making.
Security must be addressed for teleworkers and non-teleworkers as well. In 2006, a United States Department of Veterans Affairs employee's stolen laptop represented what was described as "potentially the largest loss of Social Security numbers to date". While he was not a telecommuter, this incident brought attention to the risks inherent in working off-site. Ninety percent of executives charged with security in large organizations feel that telework is not a security concern. They are more concerned with the occasional work that's taken out of the office by non-teleworkers because they lack the training, tools, and technologies that teleworkers receive. In other studies regarding Job Characteristics Theory, job feedback seemed to have the strongest relationship with overall job satisfaction compared to other job characteristics. While teleworking, communication is not as immediate or rich as face-to-face interactions. Less feedback when teleworking is associated with lower job engagement. Thus, when perceived supervisor support and relationship quality between leaders and teleworkers decreases, job satisfaction of the teleworker decreases. The importance of manager communication with teleworkers is made clear in a study that found that individuals have lower job satisfaction when their managers telework.
Managers may view the teleworker as experiencing a drop in productivity during the first few months. This drop occurs as "the employee, his peers, and the manager adjust to the new work regimen". The drop could also be due to inadequate office setup. Additionally, a 1999 study claimed that "70 minutes of each day in a regular office are wasted by interruptions, yakking around the photocopier, and other distractions". Over the long term, though, surveys found that productivity of the teleworker will climb; over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among telecommuters, according to a 2008 survey. Traditional line managers are accustomed to managing by observation and not necessarily by results. This causes a serious obstacle in organizations attempting to adopt telecommuting. Liability and workers' compensation can become serious issues as well. Weaker relationships between job dimensions and job outcomes, such as job performance and absenteeism, may explain why the results regarding performance and telework are conflicting. Some studies have found that telework increases productivity in workers and leads to higher supervisor ratings of performance and higher performance appraisals. However, another study found that professional isolation in teleworkers led to a decrease in job performance, especially for those who spent more time teleworking and engaged in fewer face-to-face interactions. Thus, similar to job attitudes, the amount of time spent teleworking may also influence the relationship between telework and job performance.
Teleworking can negatively affect a person's career. A recent survey of 1,300 executives from 71 countries indicated that respondents believe that people who telework were less likely to get promoted. Companies rarely promote people into leadership roles who haven't been consistently seen and measured. A decrease in productivity due to continual procrastination with a lack of supervision will result to a poor performance in the quality of work of the employee. These factors are part of the negative influence that telework may have on a person's career.
From an anthropological perspective, it has been reported that teleworking can interfere with the process of sensemaking (the forging of consensus or of a common worldview).
Work-at-home and telecommuting scams are very common; many of these job offers are scams claiming that people can "get rich quick" while working from home. In fact, these scams require an investment up front with no pay-off at the end. The problem is so pervasive that in 2006 the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established 'Project False Hopes', a Federal and state law enforcement sweep that targeted bogus business opportunity and work-at-home scams. The crackdown involved more than 100 law enforcement actions by the FTC, the Department of Justice, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and law enforcement agencies in 11 states. In four of the new FTC cases alone, consumers have lost more than $30 million. "Bogus business opportunities trample on Americans' dreams of financial independence", said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. "If a business opportunity promises no risk, little effort, and big profits, it almost certainly is a scam. These scams offer only a money pit, where no matter how much time and money is invested, consumers never achieve the riches or financial freedom that they were promised." The FBI warned of such scams in February 2009, as well.
Of the more than three million web entries resulting from a search on the phrase "work at home", more than 95% of the results were scams, links to scams, or other dead ends. Work at home scams earn their perpetrators more than $500 million per year, and home business scams account for another $250 million per year. Even the sites that claim to be scam-free often feature ads that link to scams. According to Christine Durst, CEO of Staffcentrix, there is a 48-to-1 ratio of scams to legitimate offerings among work-at-home job leads on the Internet.
According to a 2021 report by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization the expansion of teleworking, if it increases working time to over 55 hours per week, could potentially increase health loss among workers. At the release of the report, the Director General of the World Health Organization warned that an increase in teleworking in response to the Covid-19 pandemic could increase burden of disease from exposure to long working hours, and called for effective action by governments to ensure healthy working time limits were established by law and enforced worldwide.
Businesses often provide teleworkers access to corporate in-house applications, accessible by a remote device such as a tablet or laptop. These devices are gaining popularity in the workforce but come with different underlying operating systems and therefore a variety of compatibility issues. However, with the use of desktop virtualization, specifically remote desktop virtualization, any legacy application or operating system can be accessed from a mobile device, as this device is primary used as a display unit while the processing is performed on the company's internal server.
U.S. federal government
Since 2000, US federal law (Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act) requires each Executive agency to establish a telecommuting policy allowing eligible employees to participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible, so long as the employee's performance is not diminished. Notably, telework is not an employee right, i.e., Federal law mandates that agencies must establish telework programs, but does not give individual employees a legal right to telework.
If all Federal employees who are eligible to telework full-time were to do so, the Federal Government could realize $13.9 billion savings in commuting costs annually and eliminate 21.5 billion pounds (9,800,000 t; 9,600,000 long tons) of pollutants from the environment each year. Events in 2007 have pushed telework to the forefront as a critical measurement for the U.S. federal government. Telework relates to continuity of operations (COOP) and national pandemic preparedness planning, reducing dependence on foreign oil and the burden of rising gas prices, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), and a focus on recruitment and retention. During a keynote address at the September 12, 2007 Telework Exchange Town Hall Meeting, Lurita Doan, at that time the Administrator for the General Services Administration, announced an aggressive commitment goal to increase agency telework participation. Her challenge would enable 50 percent of eligible agency employees to telework one or more days per week by 2010. As of 2007[update], 10 percent of eligible GSA employees telework, compared to 4.2 percent for the overall Federal workforce. Her goals were to increase participation to 20 percent by the end of 2008, 40 percent by the end of 2009, and finally 50 percent by 2010.
A 2007 study of National Science Foundation employees indicated that approximately one-third participated in telework regularly, characterized staff satisfaction with the program, and noted savings in employee time and greenhouse-gas emissions as a result of telework. Rep. Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced the Telework Improvements Act of 2009 in March 2009. Co-sponsors of the bill included Reps. Connolly (D-VA), Wolf (R-VA), and Capito (R-WV). The bill requires each executive agency to establish a policy under which employees may be authorized to telework to the maximum extent possible without diminishing employee performance or agency operations. At the same time in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Akaka (D-HI) introduced the companion bill, along with Sens. Landrieu (D-LA) and Voinovich (R-OH).
On May 24, 2010, the Senate passed the Telework Enhancement Act (S. 707) sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio). The bill grants Federal employees eligibility to telework and requires Federal agencies to establish telework policies and identify telework managers. On July 14, 2010, the House passed the Telework Improvements Act of 2010 (H.R. 1722) with a vote of 290–131. The U.S. Senate passed the final version of the legislation by unanimous consent on September 29, 2010 and the House passed it with a bipartisan vote of 254–152 on November 18, 2010. On December 9, 2010 President Obama signed H.R. 1722, the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, into law. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2012 provided a framework for U.S. agencies to offer teleworking as a viable option to employees. By increasing the number of employees who telework, the Telework Enhancement Act has three main objectives. (1) Improve continuity of operations, (2) Promote management Effectiveness and (3) Enhance work–life balance.
The 2012 Status Telework in the Federal Government features teleworking highlights from the past 18 months as well as goals for improving teleworking in the future. Reports finding that all 87 agencies participating in the Data Cell had established telework policies and 73 percent of the policies met the Telework Act Requirements. More than 684,000 federal employees were deemed eligible to telework, this represents approximately 32 percent of all federal employees. More than 144,000 federal employees had written teleworking agreements with their agencies. 27 percent of teleworkers worked remotely three or more days per week. In addition to the findings, the reports examine teleworking at the Department of Defense. According to the report, there are more than 793,000 employees in the DoD and of those employees, 134,477 were deemed eligible for teleworking. Overall, the federal government seems to have embraced teleworking and is attempting to create more remote working opportunities for employees. In closing, the report listed several ways that the government could make more jobs available through telework. Suggestions include using telework as a tool to retain employees at or near retirement age and using telework to expand hiring of highly trained disabled veterans.
Telework centers are offices that are generally set up close to a majority of people who might otherwise drive or take public transit. They usually feature the full complement of office equipment and a high-speed Internet connection for maximum productivity. Some feature support staff, including receptionists or administrators. For example, a number of telework centers have been set up around the Washington Metropolitan Area: 7 in Maryland, 8 in Virginia, 3 in Washington, D.C. and 1 in West Virginia. Telework centers allow people to reduce their commute yet still work in a traditional office setting. Some telework centers are set up by individual companies while others are established by independent organizations for use by many organizations. Telework centers are attractive to people who do not have the space or inclination to work from home. They offer employers the ability to maintain a more formal structure for their workforce.
These work arrangements are more likely to become more popular with current trends towards greater customization of services and virtual organizing. Distributed work offers great potential for firms to reduce costs, enhance competitive advantage and agility, access a greater variety of scarce talents, and improve employee flexibility, effectiveness and productivity. It has gained in popularity in the West, particularly in Europe. While increasing in importance, distributed work has not yet gained widespread acceptance in Asia.
Remote office centers
Remote office centers (ROCs) are distributed centers for leasing offices to individuals from multiple companies. A remote office center provides professional grade network access, phone system, security system, mail stop and optional services for additional costs. ROCs are generally located in areas near to where people live throughout population centers, so that workers do not have to commute more than a couple of miles. The telecommuter works in a real office but accesses the company network across the internet using a VPN just as in traditional telecommuting.
This type of arrangement does not share fully in the benefits of home-based telecommuting, but can address the needs of employees who are unable or unwilling to work from home.
Information Security for Teleworkers
"To hackers who make a living stealing information from unsecured computers and network connections, the teleworker could be an open the door to the organization's most sensitive data. Security and privacy have become increasingly rare commodities these days thanks to the ability of hackers to stay one step ahead of just about every security measure that technicians can create. Security breaches are a significant enough threat in a standard office environment; however, when an organization has employees working from home or on the go, these risks become even greater.
It is vital for organizations to convey to teleworkers that data protection and information security are important to an organization, and employees' actions make a difference in achieving the overall goal of protection of sensitive data. Despite increased awareness and training on security issues, many employees do not take the necessary precautions for deterring security risks.
Real security begins with security policy. The Information Security professional must ensure that the security policy covers telecommuting/teleworking and who may telework, services available to teleworkers, information restrictions, identification/authentication/authorization, equipment and software specifications, integrity and confidentiality, maintenance guidelines, and robust user education."
In 2021, Vermont, South Carolina, South Dakota, Alabama, and Nebraska were named the top 5 safest states for telecommuters based on data breaches, stolen records, privacy laws, victim count, and victim loss.
According to an article from the New York Times, telecommuting now takes about 2.6 percent of the American workforce not including remote works like drivers. The article also mentions an experiment done by Nicholas Bloom. Nicholas Bloom is an economics professor from Stanford University. During this experiment, 250 workers were picked randomly from Ctrip to work either at home or at an office. Ctrip is a large China travel agency. The result showed that those who telecommuted worked longer hours than those who worked at an office. The telecommuters were also more productive and happier. Ctrip saved around 2K from telecommuting. Although the quitting rate decreased for telecommuters, the promotion rate also decreased. Many telecommuters asked to be back in the office at the end with reasoning like loneliness and desire for promotion. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, came to the conclusion that most workers prefer telecommuting and office work combined. Telecommuting increases efficiency and workers' flexibility.
America has an increasing trend of using teleworking due to its strong economics and multimedia services. Among the top 10 telecommuter countries, U.S is ranked number one; however, developing countries like China is also catching up to the trend. An article from money.163.com states that the number of telecommuters in the Asia pacific region exceeds region like America, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Asia Pacific region has about 37% telecommuters while the others have about 23-4%.[dubious ] Chinese citizens also favor the combination of telecommuting and office work due to reason like disturbance at work and increase in flexibility. Not all workers have the chance to telecommute. One of the ethical issues behind telecommuting is who should have the chance to telecommute? One may have more chance to work at home because he/she has young children. The other one may argue he/she also has personal problems. It is favored by most workers to combine telecommuting and office work. Many think that telecommuting once or twice a week is a reasonable schedule. Businesses also favor this suggestion because workers are more satisfied and companies save money from it.
In 2019, 5.4% of employed persons in the European Union who were aged 15–64, usually worked from home. In 2019, a slightly higher share of women reported that they usually worked from home than men (5.7% compared with 5.2%). There are different trends reflected according to the age and sex of workers, when it comes to home-working. The Finland and Netherlands topped the list of EU Member States for remote-working, with 14.1% of employed people usually working from home in 2019. The lowest rates of home-workers were reported in Bulgaria (0.5%), Romania (0.8%), Hungary (1.2%), Cyprus (1.3%), Croatia and Greece (both 1.9%).
Researchers Rachel Gould and M. Kate Gallagher attempt to tackle the question of how Covid-19 has altered Israeli life, specifically when considering working from home (WFH). In the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Gould and Gallagher lay out the advantages and disadvantages of WFH. In Israeli society specifically, they state, Israeli work periods are much more focused on hours, rather than completing tasks. In order to see if this hours-based approach carries to attitudes in working from home, Gould and Gallagher set up an experimental-research approach and found that two-thirds of Israelis felt that WFH was just as effective as working in an office. This WFH phenomena did not only “increase productivity and satisfaction”, but it changed the rigidity of the Israeli work schedule and adapted the system to have more flexibility. This change has great implications when considering Israeli’s innovation and increasing “global clout”, which Gould and Gallagher predict will continue to grow as the work system changes. However, they caution that in order to keep increasing innovation and efficiency, Israel’s work force must prioritize climate change and investment to clean energy.
Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
Analysts have suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic could be a "tipping point" for telecommuting. Telecommuting is now addressed as 'remote working' and 'future of work'. Many companies have mandated employees work from home. Some companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have since allowed workers to telecommute through the rest of the year[when?], while companies such as Twitter have allowed their employees to do so on a permanent basis. Google has offered reimbursement for employees to improve their home offices.
Regarding Eurofound close to 40% of those who currently working in the EU began to telework full time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the proportions of remote workers vary widely between countries inside the EU. Others have suggested that an increase in telecommuting as a result of the outbreak could result in an expanded right to Internet access in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected all forms of education, transforming schools and universities into online learning.
Webcams are considered an essential accessory for working from home, mainly to compensate for lower quality video processing with the built-in camera of the average laptop. As a result of the pandemic, webcams initially sold out, or their prices were being marked up by third party sellers. Most laptops before and during the pandemic were made with cameras capping out at 720p recording quality at best, compared to the industry standard of 1080p or 4K seen in smartphones and televisions from the same period. The backlog on new developments for built-in webcams is the result of a design flaw with laptops being too thin to support the 7mm camera modules to fit inside, instead resorting to ~2.5mm. Also the camera components are more expensive and not a high level of demand for this feature, companies like Apple have not updated their webcams since 2012. Smartphones started to be used as a backup option or webcam replacement, with kits including lighting and tripods or downloadable apps.
Related terms and concepts
Coworking is a social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share a common working area as well as the synergy that can happen from working with people in the same space. Coworking facilities can range from shared space in formal offices to social areas such as a coffee shop. Entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs often cowork in shared office and workshop facilities provided by business incubators and business accelerator organizations. In entrepreneurship, coworking allows creative start-up founders, researchers and knowledge workers to meet and share ideas, collaborate, share new research, and find potential partners.
Distributed work entails the conduct of organizational tasks in places that extend beyond the confines of traditional offices or workspaces. It can refer to organizational arrangements that permit or require workers to perform work more effectively at any appropriate location—such as their homes or customers' sites—through the application of information and communication technology. An example is financial planners who meet clients during the client's lunchtime at the client's workplace; even though this is an out-of-the-office, meeting, the Internet enables the planner to present financial planning tools and presentations on their mobile computers. Another example is a publishing executives who recommends books and places orders for the latest book offerings to libraries and university professors from the executive's home using e-mail or an online system. If this type of distributed work replaces the worker's commute, it would be considered telecommuting. If not, it would be telework (see §1. Definition).
Some companies, particularly those where employees spend a great deal of time on the road and at remote locations, offer a hotdesking or hoteling arrangement where employees can reserve the use of a temporary traditional office, cubicle or meeting room at the company headquarters, a remote office center, or other shared office facility.
A digital nomad is someone that can work remote whilst also travelling from location to location. This has become popular for younger generations who travel to countries with lower tax rates, cheaper living costs, and improved lifestyles.
- Canadian Telework Association (CTA)
- Comparison of office suites
- Comparison of FTP client software
- Comparison of file hosting services
- Comparison of cross-platform instant messaging clients
- Comparison of web conferencing software
- Company lease vehicle
- Coronavirus disease 2019
- Corporate wiki
- Distance learning
- Digital divide
- Environmental impact of transport
- Home Work Convention, 1996
- Hot desking
- Job characteristic theory
- Labour market flexibility
- Media richness theory
- Putting-out system
- Small office/home office
- Smart city
- Study (room)
- Virtual assistant
- Virtual team
- Virtual volunteering
- Virtual workplace
- Webcam model
- Work at home scheme
- Work–family conflict
- Zoom town
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