Communication in the Telecommuting Workforce Term Paper

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Telecommuting is the act of periodically working out of the main office, one or more days a week either at home, or at a telework center. (Avery and Zabel 2000, 82) The concept of telecommuting was created by Jack Niles as a result of the oil crisis of the 1970's. Niles felt that telecommuting would be a good way of eliminating the daily commute and preserving energy. Nile eventually found that telecommuting could be beneficial to workers and employees.

The research found that the benefits of telecommuting include increased productivity, improved familial relationships and decreases in absenteeism. Increased productivity is derivative of the fact that workers have fewer distractions and are able to complete tasks on their own time. We also found that telecommuters had increased job satisfaction and increased motivation.

A major hindrance to the implementation of a successful telecommuting strategy is the lack of effective communication technology. In addition, much of the technology that exists is difficult and costly to secure. We also discovered that many telecommuting employees feel isolated and overlooked for promotions.

Lastly, we discussed an action plan for improving work group performance. One of the primary recommendations is that managers receive training on how to manage telecommuters in a work group. We also recommended that the teams communicate through face-to-face meetings, email, videoconferencing and the telephone.

Introduction

Telecommuting has become a mainstay in the 21st century workforce. Many employees see telecommuting as a viable alternative to the daily grind of a 9 to 5 job. Employers have also seen the benefits of telecommuting and many companies offer it as an option for employees. The purpose of this discussion is to the role of telecommuting in today's workforce. This discussion will also include an action plan for improving work group performance.

Review of Literature

According to a book entitled "The Flexible Workplace: A Sourcebook of Information and Research" the concept of telecommuting was created by Jack Niles in the 1970s.

The book explains that Niles has defined telecommuting as "periodic work out of the principal office, one or more days per week either at home, a client's site, or in a telework center (Avery and Zabel 2000, 82)."

The book explains that telecommuting is a form of telework. (Avery and Zabel 2000) According to the International Telework Association and Council, telework is defined as, much broader term that means using telecommunications to work wherever you need to in order to satisfy client needs; whether it be from a home office, telework center, satellite office, a client's office, an airport lounge, a hotel room, the local Starbucks, or from your office to a colleague 10 floors down in the same building -- wherever (Blackwell et al. 2002)."

Avery and Zabel (2000) explain that there are several other terms that are used to describe telecommute including; distance work, flexplace, electronic homework, dispersed working, telesubstitution, independent work location, home-based work, remote work, alternative officing, virtual office, geographically independent work, and distributed work (Avery and Zabel 2000).

Avery and Zabel (2000) assert that the evolution of telecommuting occurred because of "a strategy to save energy and reduce commuting time...in the 1980s telecommuting was viewed as an option to help workers balance work and home and to recruit employees in areas where there were shortages. Finally, in the 1990s...telecommuting was perceived as an arrangement that could make work time and work space more productive (Avery and Zabel 2000)."

Avery and Zabel (2002) contend that interests in telecommuting began in Europe and quickly became a subject of interest in the United States. The book goes on to explain that the interest in telecommuting in the United States came in the 1970's because of the oil crisis that occurred. At this time, Jack Niles was working at NASA, and the amount of traffic he encountered on his commute to work upset him (Avery and Zabel 2000). The authors explain that Niles believed that allowing people to work outside of the office would reduce traffic and employee frustration. Niles headed a research team to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting (Avery and Zabel 2000). The book asserts,

The demonstration project that his team conducted during 1973-1974 provided evidence that telecommuting could be an effective strategy for reducing energy consumption. In the 1980s Nilles helped the state of California develop large-scale telecommuting pilots. During this same period, Nilles persuaded a group of Fortune 100 companies to participate in a telecommuting pilot headed by the University of Southern California's Center for Futures Research. These telecommuting pilots in the public and private sectors were successful. In all of the tests, however, Nilles found that the major barriers to telecommuting were management resistance and inadequate training for managers of telecommuting. These demonstration projects provided the impetus for the governor of California to require state agencies to consider telecommuting as an option for state employees, effective 1990 (Avery and Zabel 2000)."

In the years that followed the initial study of the impact of telecommuting on the workplace, telecommuting has grown in popularity. However, telecommuting has not been as popular as was once expected. According to an article found in Personnel Psychology explains that it was once estimated by the year 2000 that 40% of the American workforce would be telecommuters (Johnson and Venkatesh 2002).

Benefits

Although there have been some improvements with telecommuting technology with the advent of the internet, there are still many jobs that exclude telecommuting as an option. However, employers and employees still believe that telecommuting is a viable option and desire to incorporate a telecommuting strategy into their organization.

Increases in living expenses have forced many families to earn double incomes. This means that both parents have to work and their can sometimes be a lack of balance in the home. For this reason, many employees want the option to spend part or all of the workweek from their homes.

It seems that telecommuting is not only beneficial for employees and their families, but also employers. Blackwell et al. (2002) reports that "Many employers believe that telecommuting increases morale and productivity, improves retention and recruitment opportunities, and reduces absenteeism (Blackwell et al. 2002, 75)." The authors explain that Merrill Lynch and AT&T both have a large percentage of employees that telecommute (Blackwell et al. 2002). The article asserts that telecommuting has reduced employee turnover rates and decreased spending.

The authors contend that one of the most beneficial aspects of telecommuting is increased productivity. Blackwell et al. (2002) explain that telecommuting computer programmers from Control Data Corporation increased productivity by 15 to 25%. The article also contends that several other large corporations experienced increases in productivity amongst telecommuting workers.

When questioned about the increase in productivity, many telecommuters explained that there were fewer distractions at home and they were able to finish more tasks (Blackwell et al. 2002). In addition, they reported that the flexibility of telecommuting allowed them to work at peak hours (Blackwell et al. 2002).

They also reported that telecommuting made them more satisfied and motivated (Blackwell et al. 2002).

The article also reports that telecommuters are less likely to experience absenteeism. The authors explain that telecommuters take an average of two fewer sick days per year than their in office colleagues (Blackwell et al. 2002).. The article also explains that the flexibility in staffing is also a benefit of telecommuting. The authors assert,

The workforce today often consists of three groups: the core, full-time workers; the part-time or temporary assignment workers; and the support workers. The last group has skills that are outside the main workflow of the company and take on outsourced work functions. Although all of these groups can capitalize on telecommuting, it is in attracting the assignment and support workers that telework opens new doors to employers. Since this work is either temporary or requires very specific skills, employers can quickly seek out virtual workers to fill these voids as the needs arise. Telecommuting in these cases reduces the costs to the company since they do not have the traditional costs of relocating or housing temporary workers. (Crandall & Wallace, 1998; Blackwell et al. 2002, 75)"

Communications

Johnson and Venkatesh (2002) explain that one of the major reasons that many employees do not telecommute is because of the lack of quality communications media. The authors report that employers have the desire to implement telecommuting strategies but do not have the resources to do so. The authors explain that much of the telecommuting technology that exists does not allow employees to communicate with employers effectively (Johnson and Venkatesh 2002). The article contends,

The desktop software environment was developed for workers physically residing in a standard office space. The primary purpose of the desktop environment was to represent files, folders, and other informational artifacts (e.g., calendar, planner) typically found on an individual's physical desktop, for example, the icon for folders looks like a manila folder, the icon to attach a file often looks like a paper clip. However, these workers are able to revert to their "real" desk, walk to…[continue]

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