Virtual Workplaces and Telework
Updated: Aug 24
I saw an article on Time magazine’s website today called, “The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday?” (Schawbel, 2011). The article maintained that companies need to embrace workplace-flexibility programs. The author of the article stated that “between new technology and global workplace dynamics, companies are implementing flexible work arrangements for everyone.” The article also quoted a flexibility-strategy leader who said: “This notion of an eight-hour day is rapidly disappearing, simply because we work so virtually and globally.”
While this all sounds great, several important caveats were left out of the article. In this post, I’ll delve into the many terms that cover virtual work. I’ll also discuss trends (there’s an interesting change for 2010). Finally, I’ll talk about some important things to consider for both the employees who telework or who might consider telework, as well as for the organizations that currently have telework or might be considering it in the near future.
According to WorldatWork (2009), there are several different, but related terms to describe virtual work. These include:
Telecommute: To either periodically or regularly perform work for one’s employer from home or another remote location.
Telework: To perform all of one’s work either from home or another remote location, either for an employer or through self-employment.
Employee Telecommuter: A regular employee (full or part time) who works at home or another remote location at least one day per month during normal business hours.
Contract Telecommuter: An individual who works on a contract basis for an employer or is self-employed, and who works at home or at a remote location at least one day per month during normal business hours.
Employed Telecommuters: Individuals (either employees or contractors) working at home or remotely at least one day per month during normal business hours; the sum of “employee telecommuters” and “contract telecommuters.”
STATISTICS AND TRENDS
According to WorldatWork’s Telework Trendlines (2009):
More Americans, and a higher percentage of Americans, telecommuted in 2008.
Occasional telecommuting is on the rise.
The most common locations for remote work are home, car and a customer’s place of business.
Today’s telecommuters are most often 40-year-old male college graduates.
The number of Americans who telecommute or work remotely at least once per month increased between 2006 and 2008. In 2006, approximately 8 percent of Americans telecommuted at least one day per month; in 2008, that number increased to just over 11 percent. In the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, as many as one in 10 workers are part-time telecommuters. In the Greater Washington Area, more than 450,000 employees telecommuted at least one day a week in 2007, 42.5 percent more than in 2004, according to a survey by Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The percentage of employees who telework surged to 19 percent from 13 percent during that time period (Kotkin, 2008). In the five years from 2003 to 2008, the total number of teleworkers rose 43% to 33.7 million Americans, most just part-time (WorldatWork, 2009).
WHY IS TELECOMMUTING INCREASING?
This trend toward more telecommuting is due to a combination of factors, including:
The increase in number of high-speed and wireless Internet access making it less costly and more productive to work remotely
Improvements in virtual workspace technologies (Vickers, 2007)
Rising fuel and commuting costs
The trend by employers to embrace work-life balance concepts (WorldatWork, 2009)
Government policies influencing the trend. In 2000, the U.S. Congress ordered federal agencies to allow employees to work from home “to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance” (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford).
TELECOMMUTING DECLINED IN 2010
It is quite interesting to note that, according to WorldatWork (2011), telework in 2010 declined.
“For the first time since WorldatWork began studying the telework phenomenon in 2003, the number of teleworkers has dropped. The total number of people who worked from home or remotely for an entire day at least once a month in 2010 was 26.2 million, down from 33.7 million in 2008.”
The Telework 2011 Special Report (WorldatWork, 2011) stated that the decline is likely due a combination of factors: fewer Americans in the workforce over all due to high unemployment, higher anxiety surrounding job security, and lack of awareness of telework options.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Six crucial aspects of the next level of development for teleworking are:
(1) Overcoming the teleworking stigma of no face-to-face time. A Futurestep poll of 1,320 global executives in 71 countries found that 61% of senior managers think telecommuters are not as likely as conventional office workers to be promoted, despite the fact that over three-quarters also think teleworkers are equally productive as (42%) or more productive than (36%) their office-dwelling colleagues (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford). Managers might recognize that teleworkers are productive, but they are still accustomed toward face-to-face interactions. Therefore adapting to the world of telework requires both managerial and organizational adjustments.
(2) Employment screening and training of teleworkers (Vickers, 2007).
(3) Equipping management with the teleworking mindset and management skill sets to properly and effectively lead virtual teams and teleworkers (Vickers, 2007; Cagle, 2008).
(4) Teleworker’s own initiative, responsibilities, and accountability (Cagle, 2008). Interestingly though, Cagle discovered that, “a number of studies, including one performed by Sun in 2007 showed that one of the older stereotypes of teleworkers as people who would tend to do a little work then skip to some other activity, watch TV or surf the web actually proved to be something of a myth – for the most part most teleworkers actually tend to put in longer days working than they would in the office.”
(5) Safeguarding business, customer, and personal information and ensuring a high level of protection from theft or loss – from computer viruses to stolen laptops (Cagle, 2008).
(6) The last factor to consider is legal regulation. For example, where does a teleworker work? The answer will have implications for states with income taxes (Cagle, 2008).
Suggestion: With regards to organizational climate and culture, it behooves organizations to create both a climate (perception/feeling/affect) as well as culture (what’s written down/effective/values) to clearly outline support for and understanding of face-to-face and teleworkers (Landy & Conte, 2007).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Cagel, K. (2008). Is Telework the New Face of the Agile Workforce? O’Reilly. Retrieved from http://news.oreilly.com/2008/08/is-telework-the-face-of-the-ag.html.
Kotkin, J. (2008). Skipping the Drive: Energy Costs May Fuel the Growing Telecommuting Trend. The Washington Independent. Retrieved from http://washingtonindependent.com/100/skipping-the-drive.
Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Schawbel, D. (December, 2011). The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday? Time Moneyland. Retrieved from http://moneyland.time.com/2011/12/21/the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-9-to-5-workday/
Vickers, M. (2007). Adapting to Teleworker Trends. American Management Association’s Moving Ahead Newsletter, 2(10). Retrieved from http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Adapting-to-Teleworker-Trends.aspx
WorldatWork (2009). Telework Trendlines 2009. Retrieved from http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/news/Trendlines_2009.pdf
WorldatWork (2011). Telework 2011: A WorldatWork Special Report. Retrieved from http://www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=53034