Telecommuting Making Offices A Desolated Place

by CXOtoday News Desk    Jan 05, 2016


Today, telecommuting has become a viable option for a broad spectrum of workers. Many believe their companies have offered it as a tempting perk by allowing them to spend more time with their families, avoid long commuting hours and let them work under a more flexible milieu. While at the same time telecommuting enables businesses to save money on real estate and hire talented people who live in far-flung locations. At the most, managers have had doubts about telecommuting, they have centered on whether people working from home will be as productive as they are in the office and if some form of monitoring is necessary. 

However, a new research shows a completely different side of telecommuting. The research conducted by Professor Kevin W. Rockmann, an associate management professor at George Mason University and Michael G. Pratt, a management professor at Boston College, suggests that who chose to continue working in the office ended up feeling lonely and disconnected.

Here, the researchers mentioned about Yahoo that endured criticism when it curtailed its work-from-home policy in 2013. Marissa Mayer clearly stated that being physically present in the office was a key element of communication and collaboration. The research by professors Rockmann and Pratt indicates, the company may have had a point. Yahoo’s experience “shows that we have only begun to scratch the surface of the far-reaching effects of allowing workers to work outside the office,” they mentioned.

In their study of a Fortune 100 company in Silicon Valley that freely allowed off-site work, the researchers found that many of these people who come to the workplace desired social interaction. However, more telecommuting workers would mean that offices would lack small pleasures like convivial lunches, casual hallway interactions and impromptu office conversations that can be extremely energizing otherwise, said Professor Rockmann. However with more people choosing to work from home, “the office essentially became this isolated wasteland,” he mentioned.

A handful of those who opted to work from home are observed to have needed some kind of flexibility for some genuine reasons. But some chose to do it everyone else was doing it. And so the office became even more desolate than it already was. One manager said that “in some ways, teamwork no longer existed” at the company after the more flexible policy was enacted.

It is true that communication technology like email, instant messaging and Skype can make up for a lack of physical connectedness, Professor Rockmann said, and agreeing on a consistent form of communication across a team is especially important. But interacting in the same physical space builds a level of depth and trust that simply is not available with other methods, he said, partly because people are better able to pick up on nonverbal behavior.

 The researchers however stated that the study was not meant to wholly condemn telecommuting, which, in the end, has made a sizable contribution to work-life balance. Rather, it is a call for companies to consider its effect not just on the people who work from home, but on the whole team. The professors’ work appears in a recent edition of The Academy of Management Discoveries.