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Impact of Telecommuting on Office Workers

Lally School of Management & Technology

Impact of Telecommuting on Office Workers

As telecommuting and other forms of virtual work become increasingly popular, what happens to the workers who are left behind in the office? A new study by a Rensselaer management professor suggests that the prevalence of telecommuters in an office can adversely impact job satisfaction among their colleagues in the workplace.

Telework, also known as telecommuting, is a form of virtual work that entails working some portion of the week away from the conventional workplace — typically from home — and communicating via computer-based technology. Today, about 37 percent of U.S.-based and foreign companies offer flexible work arrangements such as telework and telecommuting, and the programs are growing at 11 percent per year, according to a report by the Society of Human Resource Management.

“The complex interplay between work and family life has been a topic of immense research,” says Timothy Golden, assistant professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology. “Interest and research in telework as a work modality to ease conflicts between work and family domains has grown tremendously. Studies to date, however, have investigated telework’s impacts on the teleworkers themselves, rather than on those who remain in the office.”

Golden studied a sample of 240 professional employees from a medium-size company. He found that the greater the prevalence of teleworkers in an office, the less others in the office are apt to be satisfied with their jobs, with a corresponding decrease in the probability that they will remain with the company.

Golden cautions that while these results are scientifically measurable, they may be influenced by a variety of other important factors. His study indicates that other factors may increase or decrease the impact on job satisfaction and intentions to leave the company, such as the amount of time co-workers telework, the extent of face-to-face interactions, and the amount of job autonomy given to employees.

“While reasons for the adverse impact on non-teleworkers’ satisfaction are varied, it could be due to co-workers’ perceptions that they have decreased flexibility and a higher workload, and the ensuing frustration that comes with coordinating in an environment with more extensive co-worker telework,” suggests Golden.

The results of the study suggest that managers may be able to help mitigate some of the adverse impact by ensuring greater face-to-face contact between co-workers when employees are in the office, and granting greater job autonomy to accomplish work activities.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.