Teleworkers can damage main office work environment

Telecommuting may harm workers left behind in the office, says Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor

Much has been made of the impact of teleworking on the careers of those who work outside traditional office environments. But what about the impact on those left behind in the office?

A new study by a management professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, looks at that issue and finds that high numbers of telecommuters in an office can damage traditional workers' job satisfaction and increase the likelihood that they'll leave a company.

Timothy Golden, associate professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology at Rensselaer, studied 240 professional employees from a midsize company. He found the greater the number of teleworkers in an office, the less others in the office are apt to be satisfied with their jobs and remain with the company. In addition, non-teleworkers may have weaker emotional ties to coworkers and generally feel less obligated to the organization.

"While reasons for the adverse impact on non-teleworker's satisfaction are varied, it potentially could be due to coworker's perceptions that they have decreased flexibility and a higher workload, and the ensuing greater frustration that comes with coordinating in an environment with more extensive co-worker telework," Golden said in a statement.

"In addition, it may be that with a greater prevalence of teleworkers in a work unit, non-teleworkers may find it less personally fulfilling to conduct their work due to the increased obstacles to building and maintaining effective and rewarding co-worker relationships."

For managers who want to mitigate some of the damage, Golden's research suggests a few options, including trying to ensure greater face-to-face contact between coworkers when employees are in the office, and giving employees greater job autonomy.

He also recommends companies "take into account the broader impact of telework on others in the office, particularly within team-based work environments, and exercise caution when implementing or expanding this work mode based purely on individual desires to telework."

Industry research, meanwhile, continues to show telework adoption is on the rise. A recent survey of HR managers by outsourcing provider Yoh found that 81% of companies have remote-work policies in place and 67% of respondents said they expect telecommuting will increase in the next two years.

Golden's findings were published in a recent issue of the journal Human Relations.

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