Until now, virtually all of the studies done on telecommuting have focused on the benefits for telecommuters and their employers. But new research shows there may be a hidden downside to telecommuting policies: They may cause nontelecommuters to leave their jobs.
That’s the rather startling message from Timothy Golden, an associate professor in the Lally School of& Technology at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who sampled 240 professional employees from an undisclosed midsize company to observe how telecommuting affects employees who stay in the office.
What he found: As the number of telecommuting co-workers grew, office-bound employees took less satisfaction in their jobs and felt less of a relationship and obligation to their company.
In-office employees in the study became disappointed at having fewer and weaker relationships. They also got frustrated with a perceived increase in workload and difficulties that telecommuting can present to finishing projects and building strong working relationships.
Need more proof that a “haves vs. have-nots” mentality exists between the two groups of employees? Another recent study by the Telework Coalition in Washington showed that teleworkers are indeed laid off less frequently than their office-based counterparts, tend to stay with the company longer and generally perform better.
That’s according to analysis of 13 organizations with 77,000 employees that have had well-established telework programs in place for 10 or more years.
Bottom line: The latest research suggests that telecommuting has drawbacks as well as advantages. Plan to deal with the downside as you implement telework programs.
To accommodate the broader impact of telecommuting on others in the office—and stave off any negative effects—experts advise taking a fresh look at your telecommuting efforts. Some guidance:
1. Don’t let in-house staff get dumped on.
The office-bound workers in the Rensselaer study said they end up fielding impromptu requests more often than remote workers. Avoid this tendency by holding telecommuters to the same level of responsiveness and responsibility as nontelecommuters.
2. Give nontelecommuters more job autonomy.
This is an influential factor in, Golden notes. Set productivity objectives and measure achievement against them, trusting all employees (not just those who telework) to best manage their own time.
3. Refresh telecommuting relationships with face-to-face contact if possible.
At least make sure nontelecommuters have an opportunity to do so if they can. And recognize that such contact doesn’t always have to be in the office—encourage nontelecommuters to meet with their telecommuting peers wherever it’s convenient and conducive to work discussions.
4. Let them chat it up.
Consider encouraging, not discouraging, frequent and both on- and off-hours phone, e-mail and IM chat between the two groups.
All are obviously critical to getting the work done, but this kind of contact also helps build relationships and lessens the effects of working remotely from one another.
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