Technology and the Transformation of White-Collar Work

By Robert E. Kraut | Go to book overview

7
Predicting the Use of Technology: The Case of Telework

Robert E. Kraut Bell Communications Research


ABSTRACT

Telework is the use of computers and telecommunications equipment to do office work away from a central, conventional office. Today, a large number of jobs that are currently performed in conventional offices potentially could be performed at home. Both the jobs and the technology exist. Decisionmakers worry about the productivity and supervision of teleworking workers, but the available, sparse research suggests that the productivity of remote workers increases and that supervision can be satisfactory. Currently, however, the same technology that allows people to substitute work at home for work in a conventional office is used to reinforce conventional office work. People use it to supplement a conventional workplace by taking work home in an "electronic briefcase." Corporations use it to export conventional offices from central cities to suburbs and foreign countries with low labor costs. A major reason for this lack of workplace substitution is the potential threat to basic facets of organizational and personal life that work at home poses.

Recently a number of scholarly articles and articles in the popular press have argued that new computer and telecommunication technology is enabling flexibility in work arrangements that was previously unavailable (e.g., Becker & McClintock, 1981; Giuliano, 1981a & 1981b; If home is where the worker is, 1982; McClintock, 1981; Nilles, Carlson, Gray, & Hannerman, 1976; Olson, 1982, 1983; Schiff, 1983; Toffler, 1979). In the extreme, Toffler argues that new technology enables an "electronic cottage" and the radical transformation of work in America. In a more cautious and scholarly tone, Olson ( 1983) argues that the technology enables "space and time independence" of work. Commentators predict by the 1990s that between

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