Telecommuting for Future Businesses
A journalist friend of mine telecommutes on a regular basis. Her editor emails her weekly with local stories to cover; she interviews the subjects (often by phone), and then types and transmits the story from her computer, all without setting a foot in the office. Many people think of telecommuting as something reserved for work at home moms or computer programmers, but the truth is that it is the new way in which jobs will be performed in the next ten years.
The term “telecommuting” first came about in the 1970s, when the energy crisis made workers realize that they needed to find more efficient ways to get to their places of employment and do their jobs. “The individuals involved in the information economy began to develop ways to remotely commute and a new work-style resulted.” (Geography Dept., University at Buffalo) The Clean Air Act of 1990 has continued this push; companies are now looking at telecommuting as a way to lessen pollution, as well as to increase efficiency. California’s Bay Area, in particular, has its own mandates designed to abide by the act. According to the Telecommuting Guide from Smart Valley, Inc., “Under the Air District’s new rule, employers with 100 or more employees at a single work site must set up commute incentive programs that encourage employees to…bike, walk or telecommute to work. The new rule will affect about 3,000 employers and roughly half of the Bay Area’s workforce.”
There are many benefits, as well as drawbacks, for telecommuters and their bosses. The subjects of my survey pointed out that maternity and sick leave could be modified, saving the company from having to train (and pay for) a replacement and allowing employees to interact with others while recuperating. In addition, the commute itself is all but eliminated from the equation, saving time, money and gas. Some supervisors and telecommuters may be concerned about regular communication . However, if the telecommuter and supervisor establish requirements and expectations before the telecommute is begun, all of these problems can be easy to fix.
The advent of the personal computer came about in the late 1970’s, and it turned telecommuting into a much more viable option. Computers are still used in most of these positions, along with other types of technology, such as speakerphones, faxes, and scanners. Rothman (no date) notes that her telecommuter utilized many of these, which facilitated her interactions with other staff members. Web teleconferencing was mentioned by many participants in my survey, as a way to remain a full participant at work. In schools, maternity and sick leave could be easier to deal with, since there would be no need for a substitute teacher.
Although many of the people surveyed felt that their particular profession (primary and secondary school teachers) would not be conducive to telecommuting, they were quick to point out that there were a number of other jobs that could benefit greatly from it. Employees that rely heavily on written work or images, such as computer coders, graphic designers, and accountants would do well. But other conditions must be met. The worker must be have a track record of excellence, and the ability to uphold that record without being micromanaged. They must be able to abide by the rules that they and their supervisor have created pertaining to the telecommute, i.e. checking in on certain days, calling in during meetings, being in-house on Mondays, and so on. Many of the jobs that allow for telecommuting have employees that are responsible and trustworthy; the privilege is then much easier to grant.
Security risks are also a consideration for the telecommuter and supervisor. According to Pelgrin (no date), since much of telecommute work is done by computer and an Internet connection, the biggest concern for many employers is cyber security. An employee may have an unsecured wireless connection, or may not have updated trojan or virus protection software, or a family member or friend who downloaded infected material onto the computer. This could make the unit susceptible to malware such as keyloggers, which can record user IDs and passwords. It could also install adware or spyware, which could then be transmitted across the network. Lastly, removable methods of storage, such as flash drives, CDs or DVDs (and in some cases, laptops) could be stolen. There are many ways to deal with this, and all of them involve company policy. The employer must decide if the employee will be given a computer to work with, or if they will use a home computer. An agreement must be reached on the type of security software that will be used, and support personnel should be available to help with setup and installation. If the user notices any suspicious activity, they should have a point person to communicate with. Ideally, all transmissions will be encrypted, as well as any data that might be stored on removable media. And the operating system and all software should be up-to-date. An employee whose company utilizes all of these methods stands a much better chance of successfully telecommuting.
The future of telecommuting is a positive one. Survey takers noted a number of positive ramifications: trainers can train other employees while working at home. Sales reps can meet their prospects online. And of course, programmers can continue to work from the comfort of their homes.
The negative societal effects of telecommuting on society mostly revolve around commuters, or those left behind in the office. According to Chartier (n.d.) “Timothy Golden, associate professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute…found that…[commuters] got frustrated at a perceived increase in workload and difficulties that telecommuting can present to finishing projects and building strong working relationships…in-office employees in his study became disappointed at having fewer and weaker relationships.” According to another study, telecommuters can suffer from effects as well. According to Brauss (1993), “Home workers miss office socializing, according to Home Office Computing research.” She also notes that “People with children under age 6 lose an additional three-quarters of a day per week.” This is worthy of note, since many people choose to telecommute due to child care concerns. Huws (1991) notes that telecommuters start to suffer from ‘stuck housewife syndrome’, “a less satisfactory period which was accompanied by feelings of loneliness, isolation and a growing desire to escape ‘the same four walls’.
However, the positive results will continute to impact society as well: according to Houy (1999), in a pilot program done by Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, “The 107 participants indicated that they avoided 2,006 trips to the office, totaling 40,516 miles in a six-month period from January to June 1997. This suggests telework arrangements may have major societal impacts.” Based on this result, the social ramifications for energy conservation alone are impressive. In a study done by AT&T on their telecommuting program, Zelinsky (1994) notes that “Blue Cross telecommuters reportedly boosted their productivity levels by 50%, Pacific Bell by 57%, J.C. Penney by 25%, and The Travelers by 33%. AT&T’s own fleet of 6,000 field salespeople report an increase in productivity of 45% when they work out of the office whether it be at their clients’ offices or at home.” Also, AT&T’s investment of $4,000 to provide each employee with the equipment to telecommute “will drive down its current $88 million staffing and real estate costs by 50%.”
The state of today’s economy is forcing businesses to find new ways to save money. The savings and productivity increases from telecommuting are something that they are taking notice of, and many are researching ways to implement it in their own offices.
Businesses and companies all over the world are using telecommunications to improve productivity. There are disadvantages as well as advantages to this new way of doing business, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Are you ready for the future?
Chartier, D. (n.d.). Study: Telecommuting makes work worse for non-telecommuters. Ars Technica.
Retrieved August 27, 2011, from http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2008/01/study-telecommuting-makes-work-worse-for-non-telecommuters.ars
Hawkins, M., Soe, L., & Preiser-Houy, L. (1999). The Effectiveness of Telecommuting for the Employee, Employer, and Society. Cal Poly Pomona Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, n.v.,
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Making Telecommuting Work by Johanna Rothman. (n.d.). Johanna Rothman, Management
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Pelgrin, W. (n.d.). MS-ISAC Cyber Tips Newsletter Telecommuting Security Risks. Center for Internet
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Premise: Telecommuting will be the new way that jobs are performed in the next ten years.
Smaller arguments: Potential benefits for employee and employer include changes in maternity and sick leave, elimination of commute. Valid Potential Drawbacks for employee and employer include lack of communication. Valid Technology Requirements needed may include speakerphone, fax machine and computer. Valid Job requirements and responsibilities needed are good work record, dependability. Valid Security Risks include unsecured connection, very little/no cyber protection software, possible infection. These can be easily fixed by creating company policies for security software, assigning a company computer, encrypting information, and having a point person. Valid Future Potential includes trainers training other employees from home, Sales reps meeting their prospects online, programmers working from home. Valid Societal advantages/disadvantages include energy conservation, increased efficiency, commuters’ disappointment in weakened relationships, telecommuters’ missing office socializing, losing time to child care. Valid In doing my research, I first looked for formal fallacies in my arguments. In particular, I looked for appeal to authority. I do use quotes from authoritative figures in this paper, but the quotes do not merely reflect authority’s influence; each one was chosen to reinforce either my subordinate claim or my overall claim.
I also looked for informal fallacies in my paper, especially false attribution. I had to edit down some of the quotes due to their length, but I tried to avoid changing their meaning. I do not see any other potential fallacies in my arguments. To be sure that my arguments are valid in the future, I will look for additional information for each argument and use them to boost each one.