Saturday, November 10, 2012

The truth about telecommuting

Mary Noonan and Jennifer Glass have published a report on telecommuting that suggests that the flexibility of telecommuting equates to working more hours.

But, as many of those who work at home will tell you, that is the POINT of telecommuting -- getting more work done!  Sometimes that means more hours, and sometimes not, but those additional hours can contribute to performance benefits, as well as a sense of self-efficacy.  And, why wouldn't you trade two hours of sitting in traffic with two hours more productive work?

Work-life balance studies often miss crucial contextual elements around technology use.  In fact, it is just not that simple.  In studies of smart phone use, for example, there are those who make clear and concrete distinctions between 'work' and 'non-work' (e.g., family, friends, hobbies, etc.), and there are also users who blend all communication streams into one big giant pipe of non-stop connective flow. However, many users are 'optimisers,' who use the technology to get stuff done in all realms of their lives, without letting it take over their lives. See MacCormick et al and Dery et al for more on this study.

Work can be meaningful or meaningless, no matter where it takes place.  Collocated work can be professionally and socially engaging, but it can also be trivial tasks and socially superficial.  And, remote, telework can be isolated drudgery, or an opportunity to make things happen on our own terms.

I am reminded of the words of Henry David Thoreau and his justification for living at Walden Pond.

'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness out of it and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience...'

1 comment:

Don Parent said...

Well-put Thoreau - and all of that was written without the "tele" part of "telecommuting"!