Telecommuting Not Great for Workers Left in the Office

By Reuters  |  Posted 01-14-2008

Telecommuting may boost morale, and cut stress, but it can have the opposite effect on those left behind in the office, according to a new study.

When a number of their co-workers toil away from the office by using computers, cell-phones or other electronic equipment, those who do not telecommute are more likely to be dissatisfied with their job and leave the company, said Timothy Golden, a management professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Telecommuting has been a growing trend in the United States since about 2000. About 37 percent of U.S.-based and international companies now offer flexible work arrangements, with the number of those programs growing at a rate of 11 percent per year, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.

Several studies have touted the health and morale benefits for flexible workers, but Golden's research suggests that their co-workers tend to find the workplace less enjoyable, have fewer emotional ties to co-workers and generally feel less obligated to the organization.

"While reasons for the adverse impact on non-teleworkers are varied, it possibly is due to co-worker's perceptions that they have decreased flexibility and a higher workload and the greater frustration that comes with coordinating in an environment with more extensive telework," Golden said.

With a greater prevalence of telecommuters in a work unit, he said, non-telecommuters find it less personally fulfilling to do their work.

But by ensuring greater face-to-face contact between co-workers when all employees are in the office and granting greater job autonomy, employers may be able to counter these problems, according to the study published in the journal Human Relations. "There's little doubt that work life impacts one's role in the family. However, organizational decision makers need to take into account the broader impact of telework on others in the office," Golden said.

He studied a sample of 240 professional employees from a medium-sized company.