With the dawn of the technological age upon use, telecommuters are employees who are able to work in remote locations, such as home, outside of the traditional work setting. Rather than commute into work every day, technology enables people to work virtually and perform tasks while physically apart from their colleagues and supervisors.
One of the challenges with this flexible work arrangement is that companies cannot be assured that their remote workers, or telecommuters, are performing tasks or contributing positively to the work environment compared to workers that are in the office. In fact, managerial concerns about telecommuting include the lack of face time, which might be perceived as a lack of commitment, and perceptions that employees will shirk their duties without supervision. Given that some companies—such as Yahoo—are banning telecommuting arrangements, it is critical to examine whether virtual work is actually harmful to employee performance and the general work environment.
A new study conducted with employees and their supervisors (Gajendran, Harrison, & Delaney-Klinger, 2015) provides evidence for the performance benefits of telecommuters compared to office workers. The authors found that telecommuting is associated with an increase in two types of performance: task performance and contextual performance. Task performance includes how well employees complete their job requirements and tasks, and is typically measured by supervisor ratings. Contextual performance, or organizational citizenship behaviors, are activities that contribute to the social and psychological environment of the organization and can include both interpersonal facilitation (considerate and helpful acts that benefit colleagues) and job dedication (such as working hard, taking initiative, and self-discipline).
WHY IS TELECOMMUTING AN ADVANTAGE?
The authors theorized that telecommuting enhances autonomy, a psychological resource that counteracts the difficult demands or strains of the job. Through perceptions of autonomy, telecommuters can reinvest their surplus resources into their work performance. In addition, several psychological theories state that the feeling of autonomy can increase intrinsic motivation and job engagement.
The authors also used various psychological theories to explain that there are negotiated agreements between employees and employers that are mutually beneficial, known as idiosyncratic deals (also called “i-deals”). From these i-deals, telecommuters feel obligated towards the person that approved their flexible work arrangement, or their supervisors, and would be motivated to work harder or more cooperatively for their supervisor. Likewise, telecommuters may feel obligated to reciprocate for the additional responsibilities that the in-office workers must assume when their colleague works remotely. In order to reduce the resentment that office coworkers may feel, telecommuters will make extra effort and go above and beyond to prove that they are assets to the office.
QUALITY OF EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIP
In addition, the authors found that the quality of the employer-employee relationship influenced the task and contextual performance of telecommuters. Employees who had a relationship of trust and professional respect with their managers did not have as great of a performance boost when telecommuting. On the other hand, employees that had a low quality relationship with their manager, which is characterized by distrust and close monitoring, revealed a greater positive change in performance when telecommuting.
The authors also found that the difference in task performance between in-office and telecommuting employees is greater when telecommuting is less of an office norm. In other words, when telecommuting is a common practice in the office, it is seen as less special and workers are not as motivated to perform. But when telecommuting is only approved for a select few in the office, then it is viewed as more of a privilege.
BOTTOM LINE FOR ORGANIZATIONS
In conclusion, telecommuting did not result in worse task performance or contextual performance. In fact overall, telecommuting is associated with better performance. In some scenarios, such as when employee-employer relationships are poor, or when telecommuting is not considered the workplace norm, telecommuting may increase job performance even more. Overall, the specialness and freedom of telecommuting can motivate employees to be better workers.