The Increasing Significance of Telecommuting
The profile of the U.S. workforce is changing dramatically (Fierman, 1994). Employees who ordinarily commute to the office each morning and spend eight hours behind a desk are being transformed into more technologically savvy, flexible workers who are no longer bound by the confines of office walls (Mason, 1993). In fact, estimates project that the number of remote workers, or telecommuters, will increase at a rate of 20% each year and that by 2000 more than 25 million employees will have joined the telecommuting ranks (Bames, 1994).
Telecommuting is the practice of working from one's home, or at a satellite location near one's home, where employees use communication and computer technology to interface with internal and external stakeholders (Cooper, 1996). Most reports on telecommuting suggest that this alternative has been positively received by both employees and managers (McNemey, 1995). Employees view telecommuting as a way to better balance the demands of work and family (Boyett & Boyett, 1995), and managers regard it as an opportunity to gain a number of benefits for their organization (Cooper, 1996). For example, telecommuting has been found to dramatically increase productivity (McNemey, 1995). Studies have shown that employees can be expected to produce 20% to 30% more when they telecommute (Weiss, 1994).
Telecommuting also provides an avenue for companies to respond to the 1990 Clean Air Act (Baig, 1995). This act requires organizations employing more than 100 individuals, in one location, to reduce their employees' commute time by 25% (Walker, 1995). Presently, this Act requires compliance from only 11 states. However, many organizations not covered under the Clean Air Act are promoting telecommuting as a way to improve environmental conditions by reducing smog and pollution (Cooper, 1996).
Additionally, telecommuting can significantly reduce facility costs (Bames, 1994). Pacific Bell realized $400,000 savings in office space by allowing 400 of its sales force to telecommute (Weiss, 1994). Also, Northern Telecom estimates a minimum savings of $2,000 annually for each individual involved in its telecommuting program (Cooper, 1996).
Finally, telecommuting can greatly enhance employee recruitment and retention (Evans, 1993). Not only does telecommuting allow a company to offer its present workforce attractive, flexible work arrangements, it also opens up a much larger recruitment pool (Roberts, 1994). For instance, parents of young children, who may not have been considered in the past, are now viable candidates for job openings because many times they can remain at home and perform assigned duties around their children's schedules.
Because of the attractive mutual benefits, it is hardly surprising that telecommuting is often considered an integral part of many companies' strategic plans (Farrah & Dagen, 1993). Indeed, with increasingly affordable technology and numerous potential benefits, managers are quickly moving to institute telecommuting programs (LaPlante, 1995; McNemey, 1995). However, there is concern that advantages attributed to telecommuting may lure company leaders to rapidly adapt this alternative without adequately considering the long-term implications of isolating workers from the traditional office setting (Hamilton, 1987; Connelly, 1995).
Karl Weick (1979), in his classic book The Social Psychology of Organizing, argues that decision-makers in organizations often encounter problems implementing new programs because they simply neglect to consider potential consequences of their actions. For example, they may consider the obvious, short-term implications, but fail to examine direct or indirect effects on other organizational factors. Such short-sightedness may be occurring with respect to telecommuting.
Is it possible that organizational decisionmakers are …