Telecommuting is a work arrangement in which an employee works outside the traditional office or workplace — typically at home or while traveling. Transmission of data, documents, and communication occurs via telecommunications or network technology. One of the key aspects of telecommuting is the flexibility that it offers both the employee and the employer. Telecommuting options range from lone employees working from home to telecommuting centers to virtual organizations without a physical central office. Despite the many touted potential advantages of telecommuting, however, there are many potential disadvantages as well. It is important to create a barrier between work and personal life if one wants to be able to successfully telecommute. There are a number of ways to do this and make telecommuting a viable option. As technology continues to advance and globalization requires new business models, telecommuting will continue to be an attractive option for employee and employer alike.
Keywords Globalization; Network; Personal Computer; Postindustrial; Telecommuting; Theory X; Workstation
In today's postindustrial societies, the economy is no longer dependent on the manufacture of goods (i.e., industrial), but is increasingly based on the processing and control of information and the provision of services. Particularly in those organizations that specialize in information services, many workers no longer need to be physically present with customers, clients, or vendors in order to conduct business. In fact, most office employees today use a personal computer to input data and information, create and manipulate documents, or perform other tasks. Further, the advanced technologies that ushered in the era of postindustrialization also ushered in the era of globalization. This means that one's customers and vendors are not only across the city or even the nation, but may literally be located on the other side of the globe. Although an occasional international trip may be appropriate, globalization means that most businesses that operate in the global marketplace need to rethink their communication strategies. Because of the dual factors of technology and globalization, dealings with clients often occur either over the phone, by e-mail, or in face-to-face contact outside the company's offices.
Fortunately, part of the array of advanced technologies available today includes communications technologies. The location where many tasks of postindustrial organizations are accomplished is transparent to the person on the other end of the communication. Therefore, these tasks can frequently be done just as well from a home office as from a centralized office workplace. This is true not only for personal communication, but for larger meetings as well. The Internet can be used to send voice and email messages not only to individuals, but also to large groups of people. In addition, audio and videoconferencing capabilities combined with electronic document exchange capabilities often can obviate the need for local or long-distance travel to meetings. Similarly, video teleconferencing capabilities can allow all participants to be both heard and seen at remote locations. When combined with electronic bulletin boards that allow users to post documents electronically, off-site or remote group members tend to participate fully, sharing not only audio and visual communications in real time, but documents as well.
With little more than a computer and Internet access, workers in one country can communicate nearly instantaneously with workers in another country. Orders can be placed, documents can be shared, and questions can be answered easily without face to face interactions. Although there are organizations that require their employees to come into a centralized office and do their e-mailing, etc. from a common venue, others have realized that many employees can actually do the same work from home, thereby saving the organization the cost of rent, utilities, and other expenses associated with a large physical building. Work performed in this way is often referred to as telecommuting (or teleworking): a situation in which an employee works outside the traditional office or workplace — typically at home or on travel. Telecommuters have little face-to-face contact with coworkers. Most communications take place electronically through e-mail, messaging, data sharing, telephone, teleconferencing, or other communication media. Transmission of data, documents, and communication occurs via telecommunications or network technology. Most telecommuting situations require a personal computer and modem by which the telecommuter can connect to the company's network or via the Internet. Telecommuting is readily adaptable both for full time and part time employees.
There are a number of potential benefits of telecommuting that are often touted in the popular literature. First, telecommuting is seen as a way to increase one's scheduling flexibility. Telecommuters are often free to sleep in and work late, start and end early, work 40 hours in four days, or use whatever schedule allows them to meet their personal responsibilities while still getting their work done in a timely manner. For example, by working from home, telecommuters also do not have to take a day off from work in order to sit home and wait for the plumber or other repair or delivery person. Similarly, personal appointments (e.g., physician, dentist, hairdresser) can be scheduled during the day and work completed later in the evening without having to worry about using precious personal or vacation days. Second, telecommuters are able to save both time and money by dispensing with the commute to the office. This allows one to have more free time, spend more time with family, or pursue other interests. Third, parents with younger children can also save money by not having to pay for afterschool programs. Similarly, organizations do not have to be concerned about setting up in-house day care for the children of their workers if the workers work from home. Further, telecommuters can more easily care for sick children or elders without having to take time off from work. This is also advantageous to the employer because the telecommuter can still put in a full day's work on his or her schedule. Telecommuting may also have a positive impact on the individual's or family's budget. Costs for parking, gas, or other transportation; meals; expensive professional wardrobes can also be significantly reduced. In addition, many telecommuters are also able to take a deduction on their income tax for their home office. Exposing children to their parents' working can not only help children better understand what their parent does all day as well as help build a better parent/child relationship, but also help them to get better understanding about what it means to be a responsible, professional, working adult.
Telecommuting is gaining popularity as the number of knowledge workers continues to rise. According to a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute, telecommuting is on the rise, from 34 percent of companies allowing telecommuting in 2005 to 63 percent in 2012 (Hazard, 2013). From 1997 to 2010 the number of Americans who worked from home increased by four million (Mateyka, & Rapino, 2012). Telecommuting is attractive to many employees, particularly with traffic congestion and increasing commute times in many metropolitan areas. Further, telecommuting can decrease the number of distractions faced by the employee in a common office setting. For example, when working from a remote home office, there are fewer distractions such as a coworker dropping by to chat and unnecessary meetings.
Hoteling, Hot Desking, and Work-Share Spaces
Telecommuting is not limited to a single employee working from a home office. "Hoteling" is the use of workstations and meeting rooms in nearby hotels. This arrangement — which has successfully been used by Ernst & Young in Washington, DC — allows employees to focus less on the needs of the office and more on the needs of the customer. "Hot desking" is another form of telecommuting. In this approach, the employer provides a permanent work place such as a desk or workstation that is available to multiple workers if and when it is needed. This approach is successfully used by thousands of IBM employees, each of whom — along with three fellow workers — has access to a work space when it is needed. Another organization that successfully uses hot desking is Cisco Systems, which uses this approach to telecommuting to allow several thousand people to share a variety of work spaces...
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