Telecommuting: the good, the bad and the unknown

Telecommuters are less productive, more inclined to quit and perform less well than workers at the office, right?  Wrong.

According to a paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology recently, working from home can realise seven positive results.

In The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown About Telecommuting, researchers from the Department of Management and Organisation at Pennsylvania State University outlined their review of 46 teleworking studies featuring 12,883 employees. Their results show that working from home is good for business and for staff.

Increased control
Workers can have maximum control over their work and work environment, including when they take breaks, what they wear to work and the layout of their office space. They can make individualised decor choices, alter the ventilation to their liking, change the lighting or even include their own music. They get to decide when and how they do their job and schedule their time accordingly. As long as the work gets done, staff are free to choose what they do and when.

Increased work/family balance
When staff can decide when they are going to work and what particular tasks they will work on, they can integrate work and family obligations. This means they can make work and family schedules fit together. Staff can plan uninterrupted work time as well as catering to family needs. Some workers find that they have a room set aside for an office and thereby reduce disruptions. Telecommuting reduces time spent in traffic and can increase the number of hours telecommuting staff work. Taking time to take a child to a sport or pick up groceries can be scheduled into the day along with work “to-do’s”. Telecommuting reduces the tension that can exist between doing one’s job and meeting family obligations.

Improved supervisor-staff relationships
The researchers found that telecommuting had a positive effect on supervisor-staff relationships.  Why?  Because both parties make an extra effort to stay in touch when staff work from home. Supervisors who have less opportunity to see home-based staff may contact them more and have longer and better quality conversations. Staff may also seek out the supervisor to update him or her regularly. When supervision occurs in the office environment it may be more casual and on a “catch-as-catch-can” basis. Telecommuting may mean supervisor and subordinate see each other less, but the quality of their contact may increase.

Reduced stress
Not having to rush to work through commuter traffic, spend extra money on lunch and business attire or worry about being late can reduce stress. Coupled with improved supervisor-staff relationships and less tension at home, working from home causes a reduction in common irritants, subtle pressures and concerns that other workers find pervasive.

Increased job satisfaction
Workers who have increased control over their work, who can attend to their familial obligations and experience autonomy are more satisfied and less likely to quit their jobs. Being provided with the means to take charge of their own schedule and having choice is key to ensuring that workers are satisfied. Being given the option to work at home also promotes a sense of loyalty to the organisation. Staff feel cared about and their concerns taken seriously when they are given the option of alternate work arrangements. Increasing staff satisfaction benefits those businesses hoping to attract and retain talent. Job hunters talk to employees and former employees, gleaning important information about the company and its policies. Knowing that a prospective employer is flexible and recognises the needs of its workers is attractive to prospective employees.

Worker retention
Staff who are ready to quit their jobs often cite tensions between work and family, lack of employer flexibility and difficult supervisors as reasons for their desire to leave. Some employers introduce flexible work arrangements to induce overwhelmed or stressed workers to stay. By finding a way for an employee to do their job and lower their stress, companies keep valued, experienced people on the payroll. People stay at jobs where they feel respected, trusted and allowed to complete tasks in ways that get the job done and suit the individual.

Improved productivity and career prospects
Contrary to those who oppose work-at-home arrangements, researchers found productivity increases in these scenarios. Staff are less distracted and when supervisors examine objectively what actually gets done, they note that at-home workers deliver. The researchers debunked the concern that not being seen in the office was considered career limiting. Participants in the studies they reviewed did not consider their work arrangement a liability and when taken with improved supervisor-staff relations and increased productivity, the at-home work arrangement may help those who wish to advance in their careers.

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