Telecommuting is the act of periodically working out of the main office, one or more days a week either at home, or at a telework center. (Avery and Zabel 2000, 82) The concept of telecommuting was created by Jack Niles as a result of the oil crisis of the 1970’s. Niles felt that telecommuting would be a good way of eliminating the daily commute and preserving energy. Nile eventually found that telecommuting could be beneficial to workers and employees.
The research found that the benefits of telecommuting include increased productivity, improved familial relationships and decreases in absenteeism. Increased productivity is derivative of the fact that workers have fewer distractions and are able to complete tasks on their own time. We also found that telecommuters had increased job satisfaction and increased motivation.
A major hindrance to the implementation of a successful telecommuting strategy is the lack of effective communication technology. In addition, much of the technology that exists is difficult and costly to secure. We also discovered that many telecommuting employees feel isolated and overlooked for promotions.
Lastly, we discussed an action plan for improving work group performance. One of the primary recommendations is that managers receive training on how to manage telecommuters in a work group. We also recommended that the teams communicate through , email, videoconferencing and the telephone.
Telecommuting has become a mainstay in the 21st century workforce. Many employees see telecommuting as a viable alternative to the daily grind of a 9 to 5 job. Employers have also seen the benefits of telecommuting and many companies offer it as an option for employees. The purpose of this discussion is to the role of telecommuting in today’s workforce. This discussion will also include an action plan for improving work group performance.
Review of Literature
According to a book entitled “The Flexible Workplace: A Sourcebook of Information and Research” the concept of telecommuting was created by Jack Niles in the 1970s.
The book explains that Niles has defined telecommuting as “periodic work out of the principal office, one or more days per week either at home, a client’s site, or in a telework center (Avery and Zabel 2000, 82).”
The book explains that telecommuting is a form of telework. (Avery and Zabel 2000) According to the International Telework Association and Council, telework is defined as, much broader term that means using telecommunications to work wherever you need to in order to satisfy client needs; whether it be from a home office, telework center, satellite office, a client’s office, an airport lounge, a hotel room, the local Starbucks, or from your office to a colleague 10 floors down in the same building — wherever (Blackwell et al. 2002).”
Avery and Zabel (2000) explain that there are several other terms that are used to describe telecommute including; distance work, flexplace, electronic homework, dispersed working, telesubstitution, independent work location, home-based work, remote work, alternative officing, virtual office, geographically independent work, and distributed work (Avery and Zabel 2000).
Avery and Zabel (2000) assert that the evolution of telecommuting occurred because of “a strategy to save energy and reduce commuting time…in the 1980s telecommuting was viewed as an option to help workers balance work and home and to recruit employees in areas where there were shortages. Finally, in the 1990s…telecommuting was perceived as an arrangement that could make work time and work space more productive (Avery and Zabel 2000).”
Avery and Zabel (2002) contend that interests in telecommuting began in Europe and quickly became a subject of interest in the United States. The book goes on to explain that the interest in telecommuting in the United States came in the 1970’s because of the oil crisis that occurred. At this time, Jack Niles was working at NASA, and the amount of traffic he encountered on his commute to work upset him (Avery and Zabel 2000). The authors explain that Niles believed that allowing people to work outside of the office would reduce traffic and employee frustration. Niles headed a research team to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting (Avery and Zabel 2000). The book asserts,
The demonstration project that his team conducted during 1973-1974 provided evidence that telecommuting could be an effective strategy for reducing energy consumption. In the 1980s Nilles helped the state of California develop large-scale telecommuting pilots. During this same period, Nilles persuaded a group of Fortune 100 companies to participate in a telecommuting pilot headed by the University of Southern California’s Center for Futures Research. These telecommuting pilots in the public and private sectors were successful. In all of the tests, however, Nilles found that the major barriers to telecommuting were management resistance and inadequate training for managers of telecommuting. These demonstration projects provided the impetus for the governor of California to require state agencies to consider telecommuting as an option for state employees, effective 1990 (Avery and Zabel 2000).”
In the years that followed the initial study of the impact of telecommuting on the workplace, telecommuting has grown in popularity. However, telecommuting has not been as popular as was once expected. According to an article found in Personnel Psychology explains that it was once estimated by the year 2000 that 40% of the American workforce would be telecommuters (Johnson and Venkatesh 2002).
Although there have been some improvements with telecommuting technology with the advent of the internet, there are still many jobs that exclude telecommuting as an option. However, employers and employees still believe that telecommuting is a viable option and desire to incorporate a telecommuting strategy into their organization.
Increases in living expenses have forced many families to earn double incomes. This means that both parents have to work and their can sometimes be a lack of balance in the home. For this reason, many employees want the option to spend part or all of the workweek from their homes.
It seems that telecommuting is not only beneficial for employees and their families, but also employers. Blackwell et al. (2002) reports that “Many employers believe that telecommuting increases morale and productivity, improves retention and recruitment opportunities, and reduces absenteeism (Blackwell et al. 2002, 75).” The authors explain that Merrill Lynch and AT&T both have a large percentage of employees that telecommute (Blackwell et al. 2002). The article asserts that telecommuting has reduced employee turnover rates and decreased spending.
The authors contend that one of the most beneficial aspects of telecommuting is increased productivity. Blackwell et al. (2002) explain that telecommuting computer programmers from Control Data Corporation increased productivity by 15 to 25%. The article also contends that several other large corporations experienced increases in productivity amongst telecommuting workers.
When questioned about the increase in productivity, many telecommuters explained that there were fewer distractions at home and they were able to finish more tasks (Blackwell et al. 2002). In addition, they reported that the flexibility of telecommuting allowed them to work at peak hours (Blackwell et al. 2002).
They also reported that telecommuting made them more satisfied and motivated (Blackwell et al. 2002).
The article also reports that telecommuters are less likely to experience absenteeism. The authors explain that telecommuters take an average of two fewer sick days per year than their in office colleagues (Blackwell et al. 2002).. The article also explains that the flexibility in staffing is also a benefit of telecommuting. The authors assert,
The workforce today often consists of three groups: the core, full-time workers; the part-time or temporary assignment workers; and the support workers. The last group has skills that are outside the main workflow of the company and take on outsourced work functions. Although all of these groups can capitalize on telecommuting, it is in attracting the assignment and support workers that telework opens new doors to employers. Since this work is either temporary or requires very specific skills, employers can quickly seek out virtual workers to fill these voids as the needs arise. Telecommuting in these cases reduces the costs to the company since they do not have the traditional costs of relocating or housing temporary workers. (Crandall & Wallace, 1998; Blackwell et al. 2002, 75)”
Johnson and Venkatesh (2002) explain that one of the major reasons that many employees do not telecommute is because of the lack of quality communications media. The authors report that employers have the desire to implement telecommuting strategies but do not have the resources to do so. The authors explain that much of the telecommuting technology that exists does not allow employees to communicate with employers effectively (Johnson and Venkatesh 2002). The article contends,
The desktop software environment was developed for workers physically residing in a standard office space. The primary purpose of the desktop environment was to represent files, folders, and other informational artifacts (e.g., calendar, planner) typically found on an individual’s physical desktop, for example, the icon for folders looks like a manila folder, the icon to attach a file often looks like a paper clip. However, these workers are able to revert to their “real” desk, walk to meetings, with coworkers, and generally deal with the rest of the work environment in person. The desktop environment was not expected to replace other office activities. In contrast, for the telecommuter, the telecommuting system is likely the only means of interacting with the “central” office. Thus, a telecommuting environment places the burdens of a new and different office environment on the system designer (Johnson and Venkatesh 2002).”
The lack of efficient technology contributes to the lack of communication that occurs between telecommuters and their employers. This lack of communication keeps many employers from adopting telecommuting as an option for employees. In addition, some current telecommuters have a difficult time completing tasks.
According to Blackwell et al. (2002), some managers are extremely concerned with the decrease in communication that occurs as a result of telecommuting. (Blackwell et al. 2002) The authors assert that many telecommuters experience dissatisfaction with peer relationships. In addition, the lack of communication and the likelihood that telecommuters will be overlooked for promotions (Blackwell et al. 2002)
In addition, some of the telecommuters felt isolated and were forgotten when certain projects became available (Blackwell et al. 2002).
Blackwell et al. (2002) argues that many employees also have difficulty with the cost associated with securing communications between telecommuters and employers. Employers explain, “Employer’s concerns about supervising teleworkers, the security of sensitive information and the effect of telecommuting on profits often prevent private sector companies from implementing or using telecommuting programs (Blackwell et al. 2002).” The authors explain that the current communication methods such as the internet and email require a great deal of security. Hackers, viruses and worms are very real threats that can devastate the infrastructure of a large organization.
The problems associated telecommuting and communications are not new. In 1992, The SAM management Journal reported that one of the major complaints of teleworkers and employers was the lack of effective communications. The article reported that,
In response to an open-ended question that asked what the supervisor or employer could do to increase the telecommuters productivity at home, two general suggestions emerged: better technical support and equipment and more effective communications. Telecommuters expressed the need for more, faster, and better equipment and software as well as more technical support during evening hours. In addition, telecommuters wanted to be kept better informed of happenings at the office and to receive more timely feedback on job performance…the telecommuters’ unique work arrangement may make it more difficult for them to secure information through the indirect and informal network that may be available to their office counterparts.” (Arora, Hartman, and Stoner 1992)
Indeed, there are many benefits and problems associated with telecommuting in the workforce. In many cases, telecommuting is a more efficient way of ensuring productivity. In other cases, the lack of effective communications can discourage employees from implementing a policy for telecommuting. Another issue that arises from telecommuting is the impact that it has upon teams in the workplace environment.
In the following paragraphs we will discuss the impact of telecommuting on workgroup performance and develop an action Plan for improving work group performance.
Action Plan for improving work group performance
Blackwell et al. (2002) explains that many employers are also hesitant to create a telecommuting strategy because it conflicts with the emphasis on teamwork in corporate America. The article explains that telecommuting is not seen as viable option for many corporations because “There’s a certain esprit de corps you develop working together. It’s difficult to celebrate when you get that big order if everyone’s not together (Blackwell et al. 2002).”
Indeed, the teamwork environment is essential to the success of many firms. For this reason, employers must develop ways to improve teamwork amongst employees that choose to telecommute. One of the primary ways to improve the relationship amongst teenagers is to develop a plan whereby telecommuting workers must at least once a week for two hours. This will give team members the chance to discuss their projects and allow them to pickup on nonverbal cues that are not apparent when communicating through email or the phone.
Team members must also communicate using email, the telephone and videoconferencing. All of these forms of communication will assist the team members in accomplishing various goals. In addition, it will allow team members and managers to track the progress of the team. Keeping these lines of communication open will be beneficial to team members.
In addition, teamwork must be very organized. Each member of the team must be aware of his or her role and the appropriate tasks to perform. This will allow for communication that is more effective and reduce the stress associated with teamwork.
Another essential component of improving a work team is effective management. In the spectrum of telecommuting and teamwork a manager must have the skills to communicate with all members of the team. Blackwell et at (2002) explains, “There are differences in managing remote workers, which although are not different in essence, require a different concentration of management skills. In particular a more deliberate approach is necessary to develop relationships and teams (Blackwell et at 2002, 75).”
Once managers recognize the need to develop skills that cater to telecommuting workers, they must be trained so that they can develop these skills. The managers should be required to take a company-sponsored course in effective team management of telecommuters that engage in teamwork. This type of training will equip managers with the skills that they need to improve teamwork.
This discussion was conducted through primary research into the topic of telecommuting. The research was acquired through a combination of books and scholarly journals that provided insight into the history, benefits and problems associated with telecommuting. Various experts and researchers in the field of telecommuting were cited to provide for specific evidence. The research process also involved the gathering of information about the impact that teamwork has on telecommuting. This information allowed for the formation of an action plan for improving teamwork amongst telecommuters.
Analysis and Findings
The research suggests that telecommuting is a form of work that is promising but also problematic. The findings insist that telecommuting was derivative of the oil crisis that took place in the 1970’s. Initially telecommuting was viewed as a way to reduce the use of energy and reduce traffic. In addition, many of the initial studies suggested that telecommuting was a viable alternative. Our investigation found that there are many benefits associated with telecommuting including; improvements in family life, increases in productivity, and decreases in absenteeism.
The initial excitement over telecommuting was dwarfed by the realization that it presented certain obstacles that are difficult to overcome. The research asserts that the main problem is the decrease in communication that occurs when employees are not a part of the everyday office environment. Employers soon discovered that the modes of communication that existed were not efficient enough to meet the needs of telecommuting employees and managers.
It seems that the advent of the internet and videoconferencing aided in bridging the gap between telecommuters and their ability to communicate with the office. However, these advents also created another problem, security. Employers reported that ensuring that vital information about the business is secure from hackers and computer viruses are costly and an ongoing struggle.
Our research also found that the current emphasis on teamwork in the workplace presents certain problems for telecommuters. For this reason, an action plain was created to confront these issues. One of the main issues is the inability of telecommuting team members to develop relationships. To address this we suggest that team members must meet face-to-face once a week to discuss the progress of the project and to notice any nonverbal cues. In addition, we suggested that workers should be required to communicate through other means including email, videoconferencing and the telephone.
In addition, we recommended that a plan of action should include training for managers. This training will allow managers to ask specific questions and find solutions to some of the problems that may already exist. Our research suggests that managers need to acquire special training so that they can adequately deal with telecommuters that are involved in teamwork.
An analysis of the research indicates that telecommuting can be a viable alternative for many companies if they carefully formulate a telecommuting strategy. It is also evident that having a telecommuting strategy is important because it allows for increased productivity and reduction in costs. It is also evident that a lack pf planning and training can be detrimental to the implementation of a successful telecommuting program.
Summary and Conclusion
The purpose of this discussion was to research the role of telecommuting in today’s workforce. We begin our discussion by defining telecommuting. We found that telecommuting as a periodic work out of the main office, one or more days a week either at home, or at a telework center. We also found that telecommuting was created by Jack Niles because of the oil crisis of the 1970’s. Niles felt that telecommuting would be a good way to eliminate the daily commute. Nile eventually found that telecommuting could be beneficial to workers and employees.
Our research also found that the benefits of telecommuting include increased productivity, improved familial relationships and decreases in absenteeism. We found that increased productivity is derivative of the fact that workers have fewer distractions and are able to complete tasks on their own time. In addition, we also found that telecommuters had increased job satisfaction and increased motivation.
The investigation also found that a major impediment to the implementation of a successful telecommuting strategy is the lack of effective communication technology. We also found that much of the technology that exists is difficult and costly to secure. We discovered that many telecommuting employees feel isolated and overlooked for promotions.
Finally, we discussed an action plan for improving work group performance. We suggested that mangers receive training on how to manage telecommuters in a work group. We also suggested that the teams communicate through face-to-face meetings, email, videoconferencing and the telephone.
Avery C. And Zabel D. (2000) The Flexible Workplace: A Sourcebook of Information and Research. Quorum Books: Westport, CT.
Burn, T. (2000, January 31). Telecommuting Fits Right at Home. The Washington Times, p. 10.
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Arora, R., Hartman, R.I., & Stoner, C.R. (1992). Developing Successful Organizational Telecommuting Arrangements: Worker Perceptions and Managerial Prescriptions. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 57(3), 35+.
Johnson, P & Venkatesh, V. (2002). Telecommuting Technology Implementations: A Within- and Between-Subjects Longitudinal Field Study. Personnel Psychology, 55(3), 661.