What Is Telework?
Telework is a broader concept of telecommuting Opens in new window that enables employees to work at any time or place to complete their assigned tasks or responsibilities.
Telework is the next level of telecommuting and compose the use of virtual or mobile offices; technology use in hotels, onshore or offshore, in satellite offices, and telework centers; or even locating the office in the customer’s place of business.
Telework allows for the use of technology to change the standard approach to work, where employees report to a specific company officer or location with other employees and complete the tasks assigned.
More specifically, telework—with the help of information technology—allows for the movement of the work to wherever the worker chooses rather than moving the workers to the work (Nilles 1998). As such, the composition of the telework pool, as well as the various categories of teleworkers, is rather broad.
The employed teleworker, like the traditional worker, is one who has a contract of employment that specifies the home as his or her worksite alone or in addition to the location of the organization.
Mary Barton is an example of the employee with a telework agreement in her contract. She works from home and the office. She feels that working from her home office saves her time and provides a more relaxed work environment.
Mary also feels a greater sense of flexibility since she can spend time with her husband and children in a stress-free environment where she can work at the times when she is most productive. She is confident in her ability to multitask her work in conjunction with household tasks.
Unlike the unofficial teleworker, who just takes extra work home for which he or she is assigned, is not paid. Employed teleworkers, in contrast, earn their salary for the time they spend working from home or elsewhere as required.
Many companies like AT&T, IBM, and Sun Microsystems provide multiple options for employees to telework. Forty-six percent of Sun Microsystems’ workforce chooses what they call open work practice, which allows employees to choose whether they work from home, satellite offices, or a telecenter, or the option of hoteling based on the type of work they do (Richer and Rush 2006).
A satellite office is a completely equipped office that the company strategically locates in settings closer to employees’ homes that employees can easily reach, and at which they can reserve space to work one or more days a week. These offices reduce employee commute times and help reduce traffic congestion.
A telecenter Opens in new window is similar to a satellite office, but employees from more than one company share the space. These centers are usually owned and operated independently; companies utilizing the space and services pay a fee for daily use by their employees.
Hoteling is a unique concept that allows employees to come to the company location but share office space on a stop-in basis with other employees.
Employees can provide an advanced reservation for the space or just stop in to use a cubicle equipped with the standard office technology they need to do their jobs on an as-needed basis or a predetermined day of the week. In contrast to the formal or employed teleworker is the informal or the freelance teleworker.
Informal teleworkers are individuals who might have an agreement with their supervisors to work from home for reasons they deem compelling without a formal contract or approval of the company.
This may occur if the employee needs to care for a sick child or avoid a major traffic holdup or does not want to spread flu germs to the other employees, or for other reasons. This informal practice is more common than one would think.
The concept of the freelance teleworker is one that has been around for decades. A contract teleworker such as a freelance writer is an informal teleworker who normally works at home but will go to the contract organization if requested.
The entrepreneurial teleworker is one who runs his or her own business but without the brick and mortar. In his book Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, Daniel Pink discusses the swift movement toward self-employment in the United States and across the world.
Pink states that over 20 million Americans are now self-employed, while around one in ten works for a large well-known corporation. He supports the notion of the entrepreneurial teleworker, as he contends a new definition of employment has developed as millions of individuals become “free agents” with skills to offer to those who have opportunities or needs. They work out of their homes or have virtual offices employing the technology needed for success (Pink 2002).
In April 2006, a group of five acquaintances convened to discuss starting their own business. The consulting business they wished to develop, Global Strategies and Solutions, would provide services in the areas of business strategy, marketing, and information technology.
The members of this newly formed company, who were spread over the East Coast and Midwest, faced the dilemma of where to locate the business, as they did not want to limit their customer base geographically.
After some research and discussion, the partners determined that a physical location was not immediately necessary or financially feasible, although they wanted to have one address for the company letterhead and business cards. To solve the problem, Global Strategies and Solutions fond a virtual office space, provided for them at a limited cost in a large metropolitan area on the East Coast.
Additionally, the team of partners identified a Web-based technology that would allow them to communicate with each other, share schedules and files online, and conduct virtual meetings.
In the first two months of business, the group has collaboratively obtained a significant number of projects and clients with all partners working at their home offices and growing the business on a networked basis. This is an example of the entrepreneurial teleworker.
Benefits of Telework to Employees, Employees & the Society
Telework offers numerous and significant returns to three different groups who have varying perspectives on the advantages. The employee, the employer, and the economic society as a whole experience both positive and negative affects.
Most research to date emphasizes the positive returns. There are numerous benefits to the employee teleworker, such as more time with families, less time spent traveling to and from the office, less stress.
However, the benefits to organizations are also rich. These benefits translate to significant cost savings, competitive advantage, and retention plans.
Organizations implementing telework programs are finding new ways to accomplish their objectives and experience success for their organization in a global economy.
The continuous growth in the availability and reduced cost of technology supports the organization’s ability to implement a telework program, while changes in society connected to the emergence of the global market and the cost of transportation, as well as societal and family constraints, demonstrate the fact that telework is here to stay.
Disadvantage of Telework: Perspective on Employees
Regardless of the numerous benefits available to employees, telework creates a sense of distance or disconnect between employees within a company (Laguerre 2005).
They are missing the personal interaction and communication with co-workers, the ability to quickly get an answer to a question or work through a problem with the help of others with needed expertise.
Teleworkers also miss promotional opportunities and even the personal milestones of other employees. Employees need to have a sense that they are of value to the organization and other employees. A social disconnect among team members who are working on the same project can reduce productivity and cause employees to feel less creative.
The benefit of telework to the employer may mean some additional cost to the employee. The transfer of costs to the worker includes the additional use of utilities.
Research shows that although telecommuters saved money on the reduced cost of gas, food, clothing, and the like, the savings were offset by the increased costs for energy in their homes. That is, the cost of heat, air conditioning, running the computer, and phone use increased.