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Telecommuting Isn't Always a Win-Win Situation

Employees and employers have to plan for potential problems, researchers say

FRIDAY, Oct. 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Many people dream of giving up their daily commute and padding to work in their pajamas and slippers. But telecommuting has to be carefully thought out and implemented to be successful, new research says.

A growing number of companies offer work-from-home options even though there is conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of this approach, the study authors said.

"Our intent is to provide a balanced picture of what we know and do not know based on the scientific findings. This sort of comprehensive view is essential to aiding individuals, organizations, and public policy-makers in shaping telecommuting practices," Tammy Allen, a workplace psychology researcher at the University of South Florida, and colleagues wrote.

Their review of available research showed that telecommuting can offer workers a number of benefits. These include lower job-related stress, improved job performance and greater job satisfaction, the researchers said. But these advantages don't occur for all workers in all situations.

"Telecommuting may be most beneficial when it's practiced to a moderate degree," the researchers said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science. "Face-to-face time may be particularly important at the start of new projects."

The researchers said other important factors include:

  • Whether workers get to decide if they telecommute,
  • How much control employees have over their schedules,
  • The degree to which an employee's work depends on others in the company,
  • Relationships with coworkers and supervisors.

The study authors also identified tradeoffs that come with some of the benefits of telecommuting. Such tradeoffs may include: increased productivity, but also longer work days; greater feelings of independence, but less knowledge sharing with colleagues; more flexibility to manage family and work, but blurred boundaries between the two.

The success of telecommuting depends on personal fit, supportive bosses and clear communication, the researchers concluded.

"Implementing an effective telecommuting plan can help organizations recruit top talent and create a more diverse work force," they wrote. "And it can also give organizations an advantage in emergency situations, allowing employees to work when public transportation or power outages would otherwise prevent commuting."

The study was published recently in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

More information

The Families and Work Institute offers workplace and home resources.

SOURCE: Psychological Science in the Public Interest, news release, Sept. 24, 2015
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