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Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

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Telecommuting Effects Organizational and Behavioral of Working at Home

Introduction

           In a modern company, where an employee chooses to work in the comfort of his home, telecommuting is the latest trend or work culture in recent decades his working hours, takes on projects given by his employer through telephones, internet or other media and completes them at his leisure and at the same time meets the deadline for timely completion and submission of the project. Many multi-national companies have adopted telework arrangements with the essential aim of saving company’s money and employees’ time, and some added benefits like having more competent workforce without geographical boundaries, utilizing specific skills of physically challenged but talented individuals who prefer to work from home comfort than conventional workplace and such other factors. While the new concept has many particular advantages and at the same time certain inherent limitations over typical workplaces and can be implemented only in limited spheres of work, the idea is gaining immense popularity both among employers and employees due to tremendous flexibility available to them while working at home and also sufficiently meeting company deadlines.

Aim

           This paper aims to study and bring out various advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting and their effects on the organizational work culture and certain behavioural aspects in the present era.

Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

Telecommuting: Background

           Hidden within our advance to a new mode of production is a potential for social change, so unprecedented in nature that few of us have been able to address its significance. For we are about to revolutionize our homes as well.

– Alvin Toffler in the book ‘The Third Wave,’ 1980

           Telecommuting is the trend that had grown fast since 1975 when just about 3% of people worked from home, and they were mostly farmers. Today, a much higher number of people are telecommuting and working from home. Telecommuting necessarily implies that employees are using means of computers and telephones for work rather than using normal transportation channels. This has helped them save commuting time wasted on roads or rail, which in many cases can be up to 2-3 hours a day or 25-30% of the time spent outside homes. This work culture saved money for employers in terms of reduced infrastructural requirements for employees and added benefits of improved productivity, better motivation for people in need, and personal satisfaction for the employees who cannot move out of homes but want to work nevertheless. However, this aspect has had a considerable effect on the lasting nature of the prevalent office culture. In succeeding paragraphs, we shall discuss the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting.

Benefits of Telecommuting

  • Saved Time and Effort.  As per recent research, 10 minutes commuting time one-way amounts to two 40 hrs weeks a year. A similar 40 min one-way commuting time consumes eight working weeks every year. (Telework, 2006) For those not understanding the gravity of the situation, this commuting time, which is wasted doing nothing productive, is equivalent to our whole entitlement of leave and holidays every year. Imagine having a double number of off-duty days without any effect on your salary!
  • Improved Productivity.  A direct fallout of telecommuting has been enhanced the productivity of an individual. While working from the office, many good employees have serious reservations owing to their requirements at home. This is especially so in cases of working mothers, single parents, or individuals with similar responsibilities. Despite their excellent employability, such people cannot work and thus choose part-time working or staying at home. Even if they decide to work, they are pre-occupied with their requirements directly or indirectly affecting their work quality and as well as the company’s output. If such people have an opportunity to work from home than commute to an office every day, they can be expected to provide more valuable time for their work, provide services well beyond working hours, and meet deadlines efficiently, thereby significantly improving their productivity. A recent survey has found an average productivity gain of $685 per employee per year due to telecommuting. (ITAC, 1999)
  • Reduction in Office Overheads.   The offices require considerable initial and subsequent maintenance expenditure from the employer in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure and workplace. Further, most companies offer for commuting its employees from home to workplace and back by providing means of transportation or generous allowances. Recreative facilities in the office, canteens, and additional staff to handle such requirements and many other such aspects require considerable overhead expenses. If all this expenditure can be saved, it directly shows positively on the balance sheet in favor of the employer. 
  • Attract Quality Recruits.  The quality of people available for jobs has always been a big problem for an employer. As discussed earlier, many individuals have the capability, talent, qualifications but cannot be employed due to their household requirements. This is especially so in cases of homemakers with small children or elderly parents requiring continuous personal attention. Such people easily loose out 5-10 years of working lives to meet these requirements, and by the time they return to the market, their knowledge is not currently directly requiring additional training and time. If such people can be available for work from home, a convergence of both employers and employees’ requirements can be successfully achieved. 
  • Reduced Absenteeism. One problem any employer finds very difficult to handle is absenteeism. This directly affects the organization’s work output while an employee can get away with minor or no penalty due to safeguards and alternates available to him. As per one survey by International Telework Association and Council (ITAC, 1999), each telecommuter saves $10,006 ($2086 and $7920 for absenteeism and job replacement respectively) per year to his employer in terms of reduced absenteeism and job retention. These figures sufficiently demonstrate the benefits of telecommuting to overcome problems of absenteeism and why more and more companies in the future can be expected to partially outsource tasks like clerical, managerial, and secretarial for telecommuting.
  • Broadens Labor Pool.  Telecommuting option facilitates an opportunity for an employer to choose from a much broader labor pool than what would be available to him under normal circumstances. The geographical boundaries lose their importance here. Individuals needing special attention for physical disabilities can also be gainfully employed, and there is no need to stick to a limited workforce of their own country or limitations of time and space. A classic example is a business process outsourcing to other developing countries where the workforce is available to work at fractional costs. (Fawkner, 2000) 
  • Environmental Benefits.  As per a recent survey on the benefits of telecommuting on the environment, if about 20 percent of employees were to switch to telecommuting in the future, it would reduce regulated pollutants by 1.8 million tons. About 3.5 million gallons of gas would be available for alternate use. Additional free time available for individuals across the spectrum would be about 3.1 billion hours and a massive saving of $500 million in maintenance and infrastructure costs through reduced congestion and vehicle miles traversed. (Telecommute, Fall 2000 as mentioned in Telework, 2006) Environmentalists would leap at every opportunity to keep all employees at home if physically possible.

Disadvantages of Telecommuting

  • Technology and Security Issues. A significant reason which goes against telecommuting is the expenditure involved in setting up the required infrastructure like a computer with accessories and software, telecommunication equipment, internet connection, etc. While these can still be overlooked, the aspect of the security of information being breached by vested interests through interrupting messages or sabotage through planting viruses to cause business difficulties to the company cannot be overlooked. Such data loss in present-day companies would be catastrophic and would require to be prevented at all costs.
  • Isolation.   While efficiency achieved due to fewer interruptions during work can be expected to be better, it also means that no coffee breaks and gossip during short intervals or at the loo will also be missed. None will disagree that these distractions are also great stress busters and keep you in good humor. Sitting at home and working can be incredibly dull, especially with no such entertainment in between. Most people don’t work only for money, but also for that high one gets working for an excellent organization, mixing around with friendly people and being an extraordinary social animal. Given a choice, I am not going to sit at home and work. We all need a break from home, after all.
  • Social Interaction.   Extension of the same argument above, telecommuting can cause tremendous loss of face to face communication. Imagine a day when you work hard and achieve something good for your organization, and have no one but four walls of your room to share the fun with. It would indeed be a dull life. This is one aspect not in favor of individuals who work not just for money but also motivation and applause.
  • Decreased Identification.  One needs to be identified with his work. When a builder builds a building, he is not satisfied with the work unless he sees his or his company’s name associated with it and takes pride in it. When a military man does his job, he wants his country to appreciate it. A pilot expects applause for a good landing. However, at least not immediately nor overtly, one who works from home gets hardly any recognition for his work. This decreased identification with one’s work cannot be accepted by everyone and is also a cause of great dissatisfaction to most normal humans. 
  • Decreased Participation.   Imagine not coming to know of the latest goings-on in the office, no updates, no participation in office activities. Being out of the loop is not suitable for everyone. So unless one is tied up at home due to unavoidable responsibilities, it is unlikely that an individual would be willing to stay at home and work without a team, and yet be happy.
  • Remote Control.  A remote is controlling a worker sitting at home. He is still being controlled for output, and he is expected to deliver, and for ensuring his profitability to the employer. This aspect, in contrast with direct supervision, is a kind of a paradox where the boss is controlling you in every way, but he is invisible too. It is a reason to rejoice and displeasure at the same time. In this area, direct interaction is still conventionally considered psychologically more beneficial than indirect but total control.
  • The propensity to Overwork.  It strikes five, and you are up from your chair and moving to catch your metro back home. However, when working at home, there is no work off time. It has been seen that telecommuters spend more off-duty hours or days doing their job than commuters. While this might bring in more revenue, the fact remains that if you are overworked, then the purpose is defeated. This aspect has also been known to adversely affect the balance between work and personal lives, the very factor which forced you to choose to telecommute over the conventional workplace.
  • Invisibility Factor.  Out of sight is definitely out of mind. When it comes to rewards, those having face to face or direct and unobstructed communication with their boss can be expected to reap more benefits than those sitting at home, but yet doing their bit. Most people also prefer to think that since you are working from home, you are already benefited. Now, when small opportunities to enjoy or learn new tasks arise, the priority should be given to those physically present and working more. Therefore, when telecommuting, it is imperative that one ensure that his work is visible even if it is not.
  • Communication.It is widely accepted that direct contact is hampered for workers opting to telecommute. All the horizontal and the vertical lines of contact dilute adversely. It is known to raise specific spatial-physical barriers, significantly reducing the confidence and ability of telecommuters to ask questions, communicate with co-workers effectively, and even job interdependence in the long term. 
  • Alienation.  It is a kind of paradox. One is part of a system, and at the same time, he is not a part of the system. (Anderson Page 251). Ever thought of the feeling when one goes back to the work after a long illness, where much has happened since. You know you missed the show, yet you were part of it. With telecommuting, this becomes an everyday experience. It could be psychologically devastating if a person telecommuting does not accept alienation as a passing phase and not a permanent situation. Being an alien is not a good feeling, especially when you are very much part of a system in all possible ways.

Conclusion

           Telecommuting can only be implemented in specific areas of an organization’s work spheres like some clerical, managerial, or secretarial posts. Further, telecommuting can only be expected to complement a healthy workplace; it cannot ever hope to replace it. While the infrastructural costs to achieve this would be too prohibitive, security costs are beyond imagination. It can only be a temporary and mutually beneficial arrangement between an employer and an employee to tide over a critical phase in an employee’s life, such as being in a remote location, or indispensability from home due to commitments. Once the critical period is over, it can be expected that most employees would try to come back to a workplace rather than work from home forever.

           While the benefits of telecommuting cannot be denied, telecommuting should be management strategies with specific aims of widening the labor force, accommodating a good worker’s immediate commitments at home, reduce infrastructure costs when necessary, and make some contribution to the environment. In the long term, it is required for organizational and individual health and well being that telecommuting should take up only a smaller part of the corporate workforce rather than make real the big hopes being projected about the future of telecommuting.

References;
  • Anderson, Ralph E, 5th Edition, Human Behavior in the Social Environment: A Social Systems Page 251.
  • Colin, 2008. Pros and Cons of Telecommuting Retrieved on April 14 from http://www.dailywritingtips.com/pros-and-cons-of-telecommuting/.
  • Employers Save $10,000 Per Teleworker In Reduced Absenteeism And Retention Costs. October 27, 1999. Retrieved on April 15 08 from  http://www.telework-mirti.org/dbdocs/16121999.htm…
  • Elena Fawkner, 2000, The Telecommuting Alternative. Retrieved on April 14 08 from http://www.ahbbo.com/telecomalternative.html.
  • Telework: Facts and Quotes, 2006. Retrieved on April 15 08 from http://www.bouldercolorado.gov/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=835.

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