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Improved Productivity By Telecommuting

Working away from company premises via computer and phone links is a rapidly developing trend. Business Week reports 200 U.S. firms experimenting with the process, and more than thirty already operating formal programs. The University of Southern California’s Center for Future Research predicts that five million people will work this way within ten years. An “Association of Electronic Cottagers” has already been formed.

More specific examples can also be found. A partner in a Chicago law firm, for instance, after having worked there twenty-six years, has moved from the eighty-fifth floor of the Sears Tower to an Indiana village of 175 people. Relocating to a main street, he even persuaded his long-time secretary to give up her two-hour daily commute and rent another house nearby. Reviewing food and drug law applications for clients, he finds going to Chicago a few days every other week sufficient, and no business has been lost because of the move. The firm’s president considers his situation unique so far but others think many professionals will be attracted to the life-style.

Possibly the ultimate development so far is the bona fide e-commuting village being built near Foresthill, California. Within easy distance of a substantial-sized industrial park, “Eaglecrest” is a two-square mile site eventually to contain 360 0,000 homes on four-acre lots. Computer-run home management and entertainment centers will be featured, together with a data link facilitating electronic bulletin boards and garage sales. Terminals will connect local schools as well as with other computers worldwide via phones lines. Significantly, perhaps, the center will also have a community meeting facility to enhance human contact.

Possible Pitfalls

Regardless of the advantages, the hype over high tech should trigger caution. Thinking that everything new is automatically progress is a trap to be avoided. Pitfalls exists for both employees as well as employers.

Concerning employees, for instance, does danger lurk in location homogenization? Is the workplace unintentionally becoming home for many American workers? Some companies are providing advanced child care facilities for their employees benefit. Companies are seeing it as a lesser evil compared with losing an employee for an extended period?
Not only is the workplace becoming a home away from home, e-commuting is turning home into the workplace. Will there be any long-run psychological effects of mixing the two locations that had been separate for so many years, with clearly defined places in employees’ lives? Home has traditionally been a refuge for physically and mentally exhausting work, a place to recharge one’s batteries. The change of pace involved by alternating between the two sites has been desirable in its own right, often stimulating creativity.

Precedents have existed, one being the traditional family farm. For decades it served as both home and workplace. People didn’t have to “go to work,” it was right there. Perhaps this farm situation can serve as a model for more organizations that want to provide their employees with flexible, less stressful work environments.

With e-commuting, there is a strong temptation to want to work all the time. It’s difficult not to take the office home with you when the office is home. Will working at home create a new burgeoning new corps of workaholics? Will there be a diminishing returns on productivity as the novelty of this type of working arrangement wears off? Further research is needed to answer these two questions.

Employee Burnout

Another potential danger might be creating more job-related stress, adding to a potential burnout problem. One could ask whether a burnout at home is possible, since, as usually defined, the two concepts don’t seem to go together. Housework burnout as forced many women to enter the workforce outside the home. With the coming of the Information Age, many women are returning via e-commuting and are finding a new kind of burnout. E-commuting is likely to be attractive to those who are self-disciplined, conscientious workers.

Employer Concerns

Lower overhead costs and increased productivity are two of the main advantages of e-commuting. However, the decentralization of intelligence paves the way to loss of confidentiality. Delegation of authority becomes necessary as organizations grow, however, as information becomes remotely available to many, becomes a new fear of managers. Some even think that middle management will no longer be needed as information becomes shared in the organization.

This paper is meant to provide a broad overview of e-commuting as an alternative to working in an office. My purpose is to help teach business people how to get out of the “traditional” hierarchal mindset. In future papers, I will delve into each of the issues as they relate to the employee and employer and how they can be overcome to provide a much more stimulating, innovative, and relaxed work environment.

About the Author: Nick Roy is an HR Researcher, Consultant, and freelance business writer. He currently holds a Master of Business Administration and Master of Arts in Human Resources Management from Hawaii Pacific University, and a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management from Florida Metropolitan University, Fort Lauderdale. He is also currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Organizational Change from Hawaii Pacific University, with theses research on “The Impact of Technology on Human Resources and Organization Effectiveness.”

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