Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Trusting Telework in the Federal Government

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Trusting Telework in the Federal Government

Article excerpt

Melissa Mayer's decision in February 2013 to ban telework at Yahoo surprised many. The iconic company was renowned for its non-traditional work practices that helped it earn the reputation as a fun place to work and a place on Forbes 100 Best Companies to Work for 3 years. However, Mayer believes, "To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices" (quoted by Guynn, 2013, para. 7). A week later news that Best Buy had decided to join Yahoo in banning telework was publicized. Since these events, leadership practitioners and thinkers continue to debate the effectiveness of telework. Further, the proportion of teleworkers has not increased significantly from the mid11990's to the mid=2000's (Noonan & Glass, 2012).

The start of telework (also called telecommuting) is generally attributed to advances in telecommunications (Peters, Tijdens, & Wetzels, 2004). However, Mokhtarian (1991) argued telework must meet two criteria: it is conducted remotely from direct supervision and it entails a shorter commute. Hence, the use of telecommunications is not a perquisite. Telecommuting removes boundaries of time and space and puts the focus on activity rather than location (Kurland & Egan, 1999). Telecommuters work away from the office some or all of the time, and Gajendran and Harrison (2007) found most telecommuters work at home part time.

A study conducted by the United States Census Bureau revealed in 2013 20% of wage and salary workers worked from home at least part of the time. Espoused benefits of telework include reduced costs and improved productivity, recruitment, retention, job satisfaction, and work-life balance (Irby, 2014). However, teleworkers have reported challenges including isolation, inability to separate work from home responsibilities (McNaughton, Rackensperger, Dorn, & Wilson, 2014). Although studies on its effectiveness have produced mixed results, telework advocates generally consider it an effective business practice (Dahlstrom, 2013; Kurland & Egan, 1999; McNaughton, Rackensperger, Dorn, & Wilson, 2014). Yet, implementing telework entails a degree of trust (Baker, Avery, & Crawford, 2006; Kowalski & Swanson, 2005).

It appears Mayer lost trust in the ability of Yahooers to enhance their productivity and buoy the declining company while working from home. She believes creativity and innovation have suffered because of teleworking. Yahoo and Best Buy leaders are not alone in their distrust of telework. Although the federal government's use of telework exceeds that of private companies (Caillier, 2011) not all federal managers have embraced this work design (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2013).

Some federal government managers still prohibit employees from teleworking even after President Obama passed the Federal Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. Shoop (2012) reported John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), attributed the federal government's slow adoption of telework to managers' lack of confidence in workers who are not visible. Shoop opined technology issues and inability to nurture creativity and innovation are also limitations to teleworking success. In September 2012 OPM reported 684,589 of the 2 million plus federal government workers were eligible to participate in telework and 168,588 were participating (Billingsley, 2013). Subsequently, in its report to congress on the 2013 status of telework in the federal government, (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2013) reported although many federal agencies were experiencing the benefits of telework some leaders were resistant. Some refused to implement the program and others refused to establish participation goals. While the report indicated the federal government has made significant progress in implementing telework, the data gathered and measures used are not always consistent or valid. …

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