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Arpan Darivemula


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									The Future of Telecommuting
Arpan Darivemula
CS 306, Prof. Udoh, E. Paper-like Report April 10, 2003

Table of Contents

Abstract What is telecommuting? Why isn’t everyone telecommuting? Factors influencing telecommuting Impacts of telecommuting The future of telecommuting Conclusion References

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The Future of Telecommuting

The interest in telecommuting is steadily growing among all levels of every industry. Currently, more than 27 million people telecommute to work, and it is estimated that by 2030, 51 million workers will do so [8]. This report finds that telecommuting employees are more satisfied, view their employer more favorably, are more committed to their company, and believe their employer is more committed to them. Although not all jobs are amenable to telecommuting, this trend provides a strategy that can meet the workplace flexibility needs of many employees, increase retention of valuable employees and improve productivity. The future of telecommuting depends on whether employers provide the opportunity to telecommute and whether workers take advantage of this opportunity. This paper addresses that future by outlining and evaluating important trends in a variety of factors and explores the need for further research on telecommuting trends and impacts.


What is Telecommuting? With the advancements in telecommunication and computer technologies and services presented to us in the latter part of the 20 th century, the sky’s now the limit. The concept of teleworking, more commonly referred to as telecommuting, took hold in the 1980s as a way to reduce gasoline consumption. It continued to be accepted as it proved to ease traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, lessen the amount of office space needed and provide companies with talented, skilled employees they otherwise may not have been able to hire. Telecommuting is the use of telecommunication to work outside the traditional office or workplace, usually at home or in a mobile situation [1]. The employee works from a home office for either a portion of or all of the work week. He maintains a presence in the office electronically via phone, fax, pager and e-mail and is usually, at a minimum, required to participate in some quarterly, monthly or weekly meetings at the work location [1].

Why isn’t everyone telecommuting? A good question now would be, if telecommuting is such a revolutionary idea, why isn’t everyone telecommuting by now. After all, since they heard about telecommuting, and since it seems to be a good idea, everyone should have caught on by now and started to do it, right? No, it’s not quite that simple. Telecommuting is a good idea; even a great idea for many people at least some of the time. It’s not so great for others. More importantly, in terms of its practical implications, it is a way of working that most people in developed countries haven’t known for more than a hundred years. Most people have office jobs. Most offices are, in effect, information factories. As


everyone knows, the information workers all have to report to the information factory in order to do their work. That's the way we've always done it. It is very difficult to get managers of organizations to think about working in other ways. As a consequence, the freeways are clogged every day around the world, mostly with people driving (alone) between their homes and the information factories [8]. Twenty-five years ago it was demonstrated that telecommuting works, using a real company as a guinea pig. It works not only for the telecommuters, but for their bosses and the companies they work for [7]. There were significant and positive bottom-line results even in those days, with what is now considered primitive technology. But it seems that at the time those positive bottomline results weren't enough. A crucial extra ingredient to make telecommuting work is an attitude shift [6].

Specifically, the all too common adversarial relationship between manager and managed has to change. A relationship of trust has to exist between the two. It must be developed on the basis of mutual respect and quality communication [6]. This takes some work. It also takes some discipline on the part of both parties. Consequently, there is often significant resistance to the prospect of performing this change. Nevertheless, when people finally take that step, it usually turns out quite well indeed for all parties concerned. Still, this resistance to change, to uncertainty, to a relationship of trust, is the primary barrier to the expansion of telecommuting. With ever-improving technology, increased workplace flexibility benefits both employees and employers. Employees see work-at-home as a means by which to balance work and family responsibilities, while


employers see it as a way to meet employee needs, improve morale, retain valuable employees, and improve productivity.

Factors influencing telecommuting Although a number of factors will influence the future if telecommuting, technology may be the most important, because of its direct link to telecommuting and because it underlies trends in many other factors also affecting telecommuting [3]. Technology is related to telecommuting in two ways: it provides the means by which telecommuters communicate with and stay linked to the office, and it may provide the means by which telecommuters get their work done while at home. Technology has always been important in fulfilling the first function and is increasingly fulfilling the second function as well. The technology used depends on the nature of work that is done at home. Cost is a critical issue, however, in that it determines how widely available the new technologies will be [3]. If technological improvements are not affordable to the employer or employee, they will have little impact on telecommuting. For the most part, the cost of telecommunications and computer equipment has been declining, but telecommunications charges, which are based on volume, have not. Who will pay these costs – the employer or the employee? Employers may be reluctant to pay for computing equipment for employees who telecommute only one or two days per week, since they are already supplying such equipment in the office. If costs decline, this issue will have less of an impact. In the meantime, if the employer chooses not to pay for needed equipment, the employee may not have the choice to telecommute, particularly if the employee is on the low end of the wage scale. Computer and peripheral manufacturers


and software developers are now developing products specifically targeted to home workers [4]. Products such as Shiva’s LAN Rover, a remote network server, facilitates telecommuting by allowing multiple users to dial in and connect to a central network over standard phone lines, and then work exactly as if they were in the office [4]. This technology also improves network security, another issue that may affect telecommuting. The industry is now pushing a high-technology definition of telecommuting.

Impacts of telecommuting The business environment is changing in ways that may help to support telecommuting. One obvious concern is with costs. Although businesses may recognize the social and environmental benefits of telecommuting, the potential of telecommuting to reduce costs and even increase productivity is the key to increased interest in telecommuting [5]. Links between the use of a contingent workforce and telecommunications technology also have important implications. Telecommunications technology is facilitating the creation of armies of intellectual mercenaries, that is, consultants who make their living doing short-term projects for companies via the computer network. As companies become accustomed to a dispersed and relatively autonomous workforce, they may become more comfortable with telecommuting. Technology is clearly driving many changes within the corporation. With computer networks, information becomes widely available at all levels of the organization. This works to increase both decentralization, because lower level employees can know more than before, and centralization, because managers can more easily keep tabs on employees. Research has revealed that telecommuting can improve productivity and


decrease absenteeism. For example, studies by the Gartner Group, global information technology consultants, have shown that telecommuting improves employee productivity by 10 to 40 percent [6]. Reduced absenteeism is an important source of improved productivity reported in studies of telecommuting workers. Thus, technology may play an indirect, as well as direct, role in facilitating telecommuting, by increasing the level of trust and flexibility within corporations.

The future of telecommuting The first tests of telecommuting, in 1973 and '74, involved perhaps two dozen people. Now there are probably 27 million telecommuters in the United States alone [7], with about half that many in the rest of the world. There are several reasons for this:  First, because of vast changes in information technology, the idea of people working cooperatively via telecommunications networks has become fairly commonplace.  Second, although the population has increased in the last 25 years, the capacity of our roads has not followed suit. Hence, traffic congestion is causing ever greater economic burdens, as well as air pollution.  Third, most young families have two earners and considerable stress between job and family demands.  Fourth, the growth of the US economy has been such that there are often more jobs available than skilled workers to fill them.


All of these pressures act to increase the acceptance of telework, and particularly telecommuting, by management. While much of the growth of telecommuting over the past decade has been in small to medium-sized companies, it is only natural that the Fortune 500 companies will experience significant growth in the number of their telecommuting employees over the next decade [3]. Furthermore, the very information technology that enables telecommuting also allows new kinds of organizations to form. Among these are small to medium-sized companies with global reach.

Conclusion In conclusion, the future of telecommuting depends on the willingness and desire of employers and employees. Trends in a variety of factors suggest that the willingness and desire on the part of both groups will increase, although telecommuting is clearly not for everyone. To begin with, it is only appropriate for certain types of businesses and certain types of occupations. Second, not every business that could in theory allow its employees to telecommute will choose to do so; and not every worker who has the opportunity to telecommute will choose to do so at all times or, in some cases, at any time. The future of telecommuting also depends on government policies to facilitate and encourage telecommuting, by providing education, incentives and successful examples, and by eliminating barriers. Such policies may directly and indirectly increase the willingness and desire of employers and employees. For the most part, existing policies tend to support telecommuting, although some indirectly hinder it. In any event, government could do substantially more to encourage telecommuting.


Thus, although we cannot say how quickly telecommuting will increase or to what ultimate level, we may be reasonable certain that telecommuting will increase. We can be much less certain about the nature of telecommuting in the future. One issue is the frequency of telecommuting, more specifically, whether workers will telecommute occasionally, all the time, or something in between. A related issue is the duration of telecommuting for a given individual: is telecommuting sustained over a period of several months or years? Another issue is the use of technology, the extent to which telecommuting will involve sophisticated computer and telecommunications technologies. But the distribution of telecommuters, by the nature of their telecommuting, will have important implications for the social, economic, transportation and environmental impacts of telecommuting.



1. L. Bailyn, Toward the perfect workplace?, Communications of the ACM, v.32 n.4, p.460-471, April 1989 2. Babcock, C. "Telecommuting: The future is now", Computerworld, March 13, 1995. 3. Broadwell, L."Long-distance Employees", Small Business R~ (18:8), 1993, pp. 44-48 4. Bui, X.T., Higa, K., Sivakumar,V., and Yen, J. "BeyondTelecommuting: Organizational Suitability of Different Modes of Telework", Proceedings of the 29th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Maui, Hawaii, January 1996. 5. Nakamura, K., Tsuboi, J., "The Report on Teleworking," PTC'90 Proceedine. s, 1990. 6. Olson, M.H. "Organizational Barriers to Telework," pp. 77-100 in Telework: Present Situation and Future Development of a New Form of Work Organization, ed. W.B. Korte, S. Robinson, and W.J. Steinle, Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., 1988. 7. Romei, L.K. "Telecommuting: A workstyle Revolution?," Modern Office Technology, May 1992. 8. Khalifa, M., & Etezadi, J. "Telecommuting: A study of employees' beliefs." Journal of Computer Information Systems, 38:1, pp. 78-85, 1997.


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