Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Developing a Model of Leadership in the Teleworking Environment: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Developing a Model of Leadership in the Teleworking Environment: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The study of leadership, leader's roles, and subordinate roles has evolved over time from focusing on traits and then behaviors and further into contingency and neocharismatic paradigms. This evolution was driven by both the advancement of knowledge and by changes in environmental factors such as personal values, laws, politics, economics, and technology. In the last fifteen years leadership paradigms have been especially influenced by technology advances in telecommunications and personal computing. These two technologies enable alternative work arrangement options such as teleworking. The role of the leader is seriously impacted by removing the physical contact between leader and the lead. This paper developes a model of leadership in this environment based on reviewing the existing research then tests that model with a case study of teleworkers and managers from four organizations.

INTRODUCTION

Leadership is one of the world's oldest preoccupations (Bass, 1990). The study of history has been the study of leaders--what they did and why they did it. Historians, philosophers and, more recently, social scientists have developed and explored paradigms of leadership that have evolved through time as organizational environments have changed. Yet the overall importance of leadership has remained unchanged. Napoleon has been widely quoted as saying he would rather have an army of rabbits led by a lion that an army of lions led by a rabbit.

In the last fifteen years, though, there has been a trend towards leaderless organizations. Group decision making, empowered teams, computer aided instruction, distance learning, virtual office, teleworking, etc. have all emerged to wage war against the heretofore accepted leadership roles. The drive towards these changes is influenced by the globalization of businesses, competition, employee unrest, and the need to operate efficiently. The enablers are primarily technological. Since 1980 inexpensive personal computing has become a reality. Telecommunications capabilities have allowed for high speed transmission of data to and from virtually every home, office, or other work location. Client/server computer hardware architecture along with the software to drive it allows access to all company information from anywhere around the world. In this new environment, students are studying and employees are working out of the sight of their teachers or managers. This can be uncomfortable to managers and teachers who have been managing attendance and now must manage outputs. Subordinates must deal with new methods of self-discipline and communication. Other family members also play a role in the success of the alternative work arrangement environment.

This paper will focus on teleworking (or telecommuting as some prefer) as it relates to the leadership role. The following section will discuss the nature and extent of teleworking in the US along with some of the research conducted in the field. Then a model will be developed reflecting the constructs uncovered in the literature review. These constructs are then related to current leadership theories. The next section will test the model through a case study involving four companies and 15 teleworkers and teleworker managers. The last section will present some conclusions and propose areas for further research.

TELEWORKING: AN OVERVIEW

Although the International Telework Association and Council (1998) can trace the history of teleworking to the National Science Foundation in 1973, it has only been since the decade of the 90's that teleworking has gain significance as an alternative work arrangement. Teleworking is more than just working out of the home. It also includes working out of satellite offices, telework centers, on-the-road or some other alternate worksite. Telework is any work arrangement in which employees work at any time or place that allows them to accomplish their work in an effective and efficient manner. …

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