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Telecommuting has become an increasingly popular work mode that has generated significant interest from scholars and practitioners alike. With recent advances in technology that enable mobile connections at ever-affordable rates, working away from the office as a telecommuter has become increasingly available to many workers around the world. Since the term telecommuting was first coined in the 1970s, scholars and practitioners have debated the merits of working away from the office, as it represents a fundamental shift in how organizations have historically done business. Complicating efforts to truly understand the implications of telecommuting have been the widely varying definitions and conceptualizations of telecommuting and the diverse fields in which research has taken place.
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Psychological Science in the
Public Interest
2015, Vol. 16(2) 40 –68
© The Author(s) 2015
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DOI: 10.1177/1529100615593273
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Introduction
Telecommuting has become an increasingly popular
topic in the public interest. A bright spotlight was thrown
593273PSIXXX10.1177/1529100615593273Allen et al.How Effective Is Telecommuting?
research-article2015
Corresponding Author:
Tammy D. Allen, Department of Psychology, University of South
Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., PCD4118G, Tampa, FL 33620
E-mail: tallen@mail.usf.edu
How Effective Is Telecommuting? Assessing
the Status of Our Scientific Findings
Tammy D. Allen1, Timothy D. Golden2, and
Kristen M. Shockley3
1Department of Psychology, University of South Florida; 2Lally School of Management, Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute; and 3Department of Psychology, Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Summary
Telecommuting has become an increasingly popular work mode that has generated significant interest from scholars
and practitioners alike. With recent advances in technology that enable mobile connections at ever-affordable rates,
working away from the office as a telecommuter has become increasingly available to many workers around the
world. Since the term telecommuting was first coined in the 1970s, scholars and practitioners have debated the merits
of working away from the office, as it represents a fundamental shift in how organizations have historically done
business. Complicating efforts to truly understand the implications of telecommuting have been the widely varying
definitions and conceptualizations of telecommuting and the diverse fields in which research has taken place.
Our objective in this article is to review existing research on telecommuting in an effort to better understand what we as a
scientific community know about telecommuting and its implications. In so doing, we aim to bring to the surface some of the
intricacies associated with telecommuting research so that we may shed insights into the debate regarding telecommuting’s
benefits and drawbacks. We attempt to sift through the divergent and at times conflicting literature to develop an overall
sense of the status of our scientific findings, in an effort to identify not only what we know and what we think we know
about telecommuting, but also what we must yet learn to fully understand this increasingly important work mode.
After a brief review of the history of telecommuting and its prevalence, we begin by discussing the definitional
challenges inherent within existing literature and offer a comprehensive definition of telecommuting rooted in existing
research. Our review starts by highlighting the need to interpret existing findings with an understanding of how the
extent of telecommuting practiced by participants in a study is likely to alter conclusions that may be drawn. We then
review telecommuting’s implications for employees’ work-family issues, attitudes, and work outcomes, including job
satisfaction, organizational commitment and identification, stress, performance, wages, withdrawal behaviors, and
firm-level metrics. Our article continues by discussing research findings concerning salient contextual issues that might
influence or alter the impact of telecommuting, including the nature of the work performed while telecommuting,
interpersonal processes such as knowledge sharing and innovation, and additional considerations that include motives
for telecommuting such as family responsibilities. We also cover organizational culture and support that may shape
the telecommuting experience, after which we discuss the community and societal effects of telecommuting, including
its effects on traffic and emissions, business continuity, and work opportunities, as well as the potential impact on
societal ties. Selected examples of telecommuting legislation and policies are also provided in an effort to inform
readers regarding the status of the national debate and its legislative implications. Our synthesis concludes by offering
recommendations for telecommuting research and practice that aim to improve the quality of data on telecommuting
as well as identify areas of research in need of development.
Keywords
telecommuting, telework, remote work, flexible work, flexplace, distributed work
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 41
on the practice in February 2013 when there was media
uproar after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned Yahoo
employees from working from home (Guynn, 2013).
Mayer stated that the ban was necessary in order to foster
a collaborative, inventive environment. Critics referred to
the move as a return to the Stone Age and accused Mayer
of being out of touch (Goudreau, 2013). Not long after,
Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly ended the company’s highly
touted “Results-Only Work Environment” (ROWE) pro-
gram, which permitted employees to work from any
location at any time as long as the work was done. Joly
stated that the program was “fundamentally flawed from
a leadership standpoint” and that there was a need to
mobilize employees in an effort to turn around the trou-
bled company (Schafer, 2013). Revocation of the option
to telecommute within these well-known organizations
ignited a national debate concerning the merits of the
practice.
Controversy over telecommuting is not surprising, in
that the practice represents a fundamental change in how
organizations have historically done business and has
implications for a wide range of issues, such as work-
family balance, greenhouse emissions, and the expan-
sion of work opportunities (e.g., Gajendran & Harrison,
2007; Kitou & Horvath, 2006; West & Anderson, 2005).
Moreover, comprehensively understanding outcomes
associated with telecommuting is challenging in that
research on the topic comes from a variety of fields that
include psychology, management, transportation, com-
munication, and information systems, the results of which
are often conflicting (Allen, Johnson, Kiburz, & Shockley,
2013; Bélanger, Watson-Manheim, & Swan, 2013; Fay &
Kline, 2012; Golden & Veiga, 2005).
Our aim in the current article is to review the science
concerning telecommuting in an effort to separate fact
from fiction. Specifically, we bring to the surface some of
the intricacies associated with telecommuting research
and review the expansive literature concerning the ben-
efits and potential drawbacks associated with telecom-
muting. In addition, we examine relevant legislation and
organizational policies and offer best-practice and policy
recommendations.
Our article unfolds as follows. We begin by providing a
history of telecommuting practices and prevalence statistics.
We next discuss different types of telecommuting arrange-
ments and the definitional challenges found in the literature.
After providing this backdrop, we review findings concern-
ing employee work-family issues, attitudes, and work out-
comes. The next sections cover important contextual issues
such as the nature of work while telecommuting, interper-
sonal processes, and additional individual and organiza-
tional considerations. We next review community and
societal effects associated with telecommuting. Our final
two sections provide a review of telecommuting policies
and legislation, followed by implications and recommenda-
tions for research and practice.
History and Prevalence
History
A myriad of factors have contributed to the increased
interest in and use of telecommuting over the past sev-
eral decades within the United States. Sparked by the oil
crisis, telecommuting first entered the U.S. public ver-
nacular in the 1970s. The term is thought to have been
coined in 1973 by Jack Nilles, who was an engineer
working on projects for the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (Avery & Zabel, 2001). The idea at
the time was to move the work to workers rather than
move workers to the work in an effort to alleviate traffic
problems and reduce energy consumption. Soon after,
federal and state governments began funding demonstra-
tion projects to examine the feasibility and effectiveness
of telecommuting. By 1997, 10,000 federal government
employees were working from home or from other
remote locations (Avery & Zabel, 2001).
Private companies in the 1970s realized that telecom-
muting could also be used to help address workforce
issues. Companies such as Control Data Corporation and
IBM began exploring work-at-home arrangements as a
way to recruit and hire computer programmers who were
in high demand but short supply (Avery & Zabel, 2001;
Caldow, 2009). Additionally, as the number of dual-earner
couples climbed in the 1970s and 1980s, telecommuting
was touted as an option for helping individuals manage
work and family responsibilities.
The evolution and growth of telecommuting is also
linked to advancements in technology and to changes in
the economy. Opportunities for telecommuting increased
along with the capabilities of home computing. Since the
introduction of personal computers in the 1980s and lap-
tops and cell phones in the 1990s, the prices and sizes of
these devices have decreased while the speed and band-
width have increased (Kizza, 2013). As these technolo-
gies have advanced, increasing numbers of office workers
have become able to work from outside the office.
Moreover, the shift from a manufacturing to an informa-
tion economy has expanded the number of jobs that lend
themselves to telecommuting (Kizza, 2013).
In the 1990s, organizations were further motivated to
develop telecommuting work arrangements in response
to The Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act was established in
1970, with major revisions occurring in 1977 and 1990
(Environmental Protection Agency, 2007). It requires
states to develop enforceable plans intended to achieve
and maintain air-quality standards. This includes regulat-
ing pollutants from motor vehicles. The 1990 amendments
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42 Allen et al.
required states to revise their plans to call for employers
to develop employee commute option programs. The
development of telecommuting arrangements was one
way to satisfy the requirement (Goluboff, 2001). Passage
of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 fur-
ther spurred interest in telecommuting as a way to expand
the hiring of disabled workers (Goluboff, 2001). The ADA
requires employers to make reasonable accommodations
for the disabled, and permitting a qualified employee with
a disability to work from home is one form of reasonable
accommodation (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, 2005).
Prevalence
Prevalence rates for telecommuting vary considerably
because of the different ways in which telecommuting
is operationalized (e.g., working from home full-time
vs. part-time), the different samples studied (e.g., inclu-
sion of any type of remote worker), and the use of dif-
ferent sampling strategies (e.g., focus on large vs. small
firms) across studies (Mokhtarian, Salomon, & Choo,
2005). Moreover, two types of data are typically reported:
the number or percentage of firms that offer telecom-
muting, and the number or percentage of employees
who telecommute. We urge readers to take these factors
into consideration when reviewing any data concerning
prevalence rates.
The Society for Human Resources Management
(SHRM) conducts an annual survey of randomly selected
human resource professionals from their approximately
275,000 individual members who work for firms of vari-
ous sizes. Respondents are asked to report on benefits
offered at their organization. Data from these surveys
suggest that in 2014, 59% of U.S. employers allowed for
some form of telecommuting. More specifically, 54% of
respondents indicated that their organizations offered
telecommuting on an ad hoc basis (i.e., intermittently
throughout the year or as a one-time event), 29% on a
part-time basis, and 20% on a full-time basis (Society for
Human Resources Management, 2014). These percent-
ages have not significantly changed from 2010 to 2014.
WorldatWork is another human resources association that
tracks employee benefits around the globe. Their 2013
survey of members indicated that 88% of organizations
offered telecommuting in some form. Telecommuting on
an ad hoc basis was most common (83%), with telework
offered on a full-time basis less prevalent (34%).
In a poll conducted by Ipsos/Reuters in 2011 across
24 countries, about one in five employees reported tele-
commuting frequently, and nearly 10% reported working
from home every day (Reaney, 2012). The study indicated
that telecommuting is especially common in India,
Indonesia, and Mexico. Data from the American Community
Survey showed that 2.6% of the U.S. employee workforce
(3.3 million people, excluding self-employed and unpaid
volunteers) report that their home is their primary place of
work (Global Workplace Analytics, 2015). These data also
suggest that the number of telecommuters is growing. In
2005, estimates indicated that 1,819,355 workers telecom-
muted for at least half of their time spent working. The
number grew to 3,268,525 in 2012 (Global Workplace
Analytics, 2015). Estimates of less frequent telework are
substantially larger, suggesting that as many as 25 million
workers telecommute at least one day per month (Global
Workplace Analytics, 2015). In sum, telecommuting impacts
a significant number of organizations and workers.
Types of Telecommuting and
Definitional Challenges
A significant challenge in reviewing the scientific findings
on telecommuting involves the varied definitions and
conceptualizations of telecommuting employed within
the existing literature. Although the term telecommuting
has been in use for decades, researchers have used vari-
ous terminologies and conceptualizations when report-
ing results of telecommuting studies. The lack of a
commonly accepted definition and conceptualization has
significantly hindered our understanding of this work
mode, since results are often not comparable across stud-
ies. Within this section, we therefore not only offer what
we believe to be an accurate and encompassing yet par-
simonious definition of telecommuting but also take a
brief look at the various terms and definitions that have
been used within the existing literature.
Telecommuting has been referred to as telework,
remote work, distributed work, virtual work, flexible
work, flexplace, and distance work, among other labels.
These various terms, while overlapping, often embody
different conceptualizations of telecommuting. Even
across studies that have used the identical label of tele-
commuting, the actual definition offered may vary. This
ultimately impacts the types of study designs and sam-
ples that researchers use to study telecommuting. The
issue is further compounded by a disjointed literature
stemming from multiple disciplines (e.g., transportation,
information systems, management, communication, psy-
chology, real estate, and operations) that have different
emphases and do not always reference each other’s work.
Taken together, divergences in definitions and research
focuses make it difficult to comprehensively synthetize
knowledge of this work mode.
Table 1 provides example alternative terms that have
been used within the existing literature. This summary sug-
gests that different terms also often represent different con-
ceptualizations. Specifically, the term telework is generally
used to connote a broader form of telecommuting that
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 43
involves working from a variety of alternative locations out-
side of the central office (including full-time work from
home but not necessarily limited to home-based work) and
includes work from home-based businesses, telecenters,
and call centers, and even work within an organization’s
central office between individuals who are interacting
through the use of technology. Telework has also tended to
be a term used more frequently in the literature outside of
the United States, often in research published through
European or Australian outlets. Similarly, the term virtual
work is a broader term often used to describe individuals,
groups of individuals, or organizations who do not interact
face-to-face because of geographic dispersion yet who
interact using technology in some fashion. Additionally, the
term flexible-work arrangements as used in the literature
encompasses telecommuting but often includes a broad
array of flexible work programs such as flextime and com-
pressed work weeks, and therefore offers a more general-
ized view of telecommuting than most literature focusing
on the conceptualization considered in this review. Finally,
the terms remote work and distributed work are generally
considered broader than telecommuting and can denote
Table 1. Sample of Telecommuting Definitions Used in the Literature
Term used Definition Publication
Distributed work Employees work over geographical boundaries and to some extent work with
computer-mediated communication in order to achieve a common goal
Bosch-Sijtsema, P. M., &
Sivunen, A. (2013)
Flexible work
arrangements
Alternative work options that allow work to be accomplished outside of the
traditional temporal and/or spatial boundaries of a standard workday
Shockley, K. M., &
Allen,T.D. (2007)
Remote work A work arrangement in which the employee resides and works at a location
beyond the local commuting area of the employing organization’s
worksite; generally includes full-time telework and may result in a
change in duty location to the alternative worksite
U.S. Office of Personnel
Management. (2013)
Telecommuting The use of telecommunications technology to partially or completely replace
the commute to and from work
Mokhtarian, P. L. (1991a)
Working some portion of time away from the conventional workplace, often
from home, and communicating by way of computer-based technology
Golden, T. D. (2006b)
Work conducted from home that is often supported by telecommunications
technology
Kossek, E. E., Lautsch,B.A.,
& Eaton,S. C. (2006)
Work arrangement in which employees perform their regular work at a
site other than the ordinary workplace, supported by technological
connections
Pinsonneault, A., & Boisvert,
M. (2001)
The use of information and communication technologies to replace or
substitute for work environments that require individuals to commute to
a traditional office
Bélanger, F.,
Watson-Manheim, M. B., &
Swan, B. R. (2013)
Systems that enable employees to perform regular, officially assigned duties
at home or at alternative work sites geographically convenient to their
residences
Pearce, J. (2009)
Telework Work performed by (a) those whose remote work is from the home or a
satellite office, (b) those whose telework is primarily in the field, and
(c) those whose work is “networked” in such a way that they regularly
work in a combination of home, work, and field contexts
Morganson, V. J., Major,D.A.,
Oborn,K.L., Verive, J. M.,
& Heelan, M. P. (2010)
A form of work organization in which the work is partially or completely
done outside the conventional company workplace with the aid of
information and telecommunication services
Konradt, U., Schmook, R., &
Malecke, M. (2000)
Work that relies on technology-mediated communication and sophisticated
information-processing capabilities instead of colocation for the
production and delivery of work outputs
Garrett, R. K., &
Danziger,J.N. (2007)
A work arrangement in which employees perform their regular work at
a site other than the ordinary workplace, supported by technological
connections
Fonner, K. L., & Roloff, M. E.
(2010)
Virtual teams Spatially or geographically dispersed work arrangements that are generally
characterized by a relatively short life span, technology-enhanced
communications, and a dearth of face-to-face interaction
Tworoger, L. C., Ruppel, C. P.,
Gong, B., & Pohlman,R.A.
(2013)
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44 Allen et al.
any form of work not conducted in the central office,
including work at branch locations and differing business
units.
Based on the above and a review of the literature, we
therefore offer the following definition of telecommuting;
following this definition, we offer some important clarifi-
cations and distinctions related to this definition in which
we further clarify and differentiate this definition from
others that have been used within this wide body of
research: Telecommuting is a work practice that involves
members of an organization substituting a portion of
their typical work hours (ranging from a few hours per
week to nearly full-time) to work away from a central
workplace—typically principally from home—using tech-
nology to interact with others as needed to conduct work
tasks. This definition of telecommuting is based heavily
on several widely adopted conceptualizations (e.g.,
Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Gajendran & Harrison, 2007;
Golden & Veiga, 2005; Golden, Veiga, & Simsek, 2006;
Konradt, Schmook, & Malecke, 2000; Mokhtarian, 1992;
Pinsonneault & Boisvert, 2001), including the one origi-
nally provided by Jack Nilles (1994), and includes several
key points and distinctions. Specifically, individuals who
telecommute:
a. substitute time typically spent in the central office
with time spent working away from other employ-
ees, rather than working additional overtime hours
that might be carried out after a full day in the
office;
b. do so for a portion of their regular work time, rang-
ing from a few hours per week to nearly full-time,
with hours spent telecommuting tending to follow
a set pattern for individual telecommuters but po-
tentially varying among telecommuters in any one
organization;
c. are part of a larger organization, as opposed to in-
dependent contractors or those who are part of an
outsourced labor pool;
d. work principally within their home during telecom-
muting periods, with an occasional period possibly
spent elsewhere;
e. use some form of information or communication
technology to interact as needed with others both
within and external to their central office during
telecommuting periods.
In our view, telecommuters do not include mobile
workers who do not typically work from a central office
(e.g., employees who do not have an office or whose
work is typically at a customer site, such as an on-site
equipment-repair person). Moreover, in our view, telecom-
muters do not typically include employees who work pri-
marily at telecenters during their periods away from the
office, although there are some who consider this a form
of telecommuting and we acknowledge this possible addi-
tion to what is considered telecommuting. Finally, in our
view, telecommuting practices may involve some degree
of scheduling flexibility, wherein the tasks completed at
home vary in schedule from day to day or are partially car-
ried out during what are considered nonstandard work
hours in the telecommuter’s work organization (e.g., in the
evening), although as noted above in point (a), telecom-
muting does not include time spent working at home after
a full day in the central office.
In offering the above definition of telecommuting
and considering the broad and widely varying concep-
tualizations of work practices that have sometimes been
considered using the term telecommuting, we note that
our definition of telecommuting may not fully specify
all of its possible conditions (or we might end up with
what could be akin to a lengthy legal document!).
Nonetheless, based on our encompassing review of the
literature, we suggest that future researchers utilize the
above definition, or encompass and specify the above-
listed key aspects within their definitions, to ensure
consistency and an understanding of boundary condi-
tions within the literature. At a minimum, our advice to
future researchers is to be clear about the definition of
telecommuting that is being used within a given research
study and to specify as much as possible the above-
noted aspects generally considered within the realm of
telecommuting.
In our review of the telecommuting literature, all defi-
nitions had in common the premise that telecommuting
involves working at a remote location away from a cen-
tral office. In addition to this accepted premise, most
also encompassed the notion of the use of technology to
complete work while working away from the central
office. As shown in the examples provided in Table 1,
beyond these two generally accepted premises, many
definitions lacked an acknowledgment of the variance in
the extent of telecommuting practiced (from a few hours
per week to nearly full-time), the type of employment
relationship (e.g., part of a larger organization, home-
based business, or outsourced independent contractor),
and the location of primary work done outside the cen-
tral office (e.g., home, locations outside of major cities
but near residences, call centers, sales locations, hotels,
airports). This lack of specificity and wide variation in
the definitions of telecommuting used within research
studies has led to differing conclusions being drawn,
with important implications for when researchers attempt
to summarize the state of scientific findings on telecom-
muting in reviews of the literature (as in this review or
as in other reviews). These differing definitions and
ambiguity in the definitions applied within particular
studies have led to the use of widely divergent sample
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 45
characteristics, and thus have added confusion to the
literature. Taken together, this underspecification in tele-
commuting definitions has provided mixed signals to
corporate leaders and policymakers seeking to harness
telecommuting’s advantages.
Despite the variety of definitions and conceptualiza-
tions used in the telecommuting literature, below we
attempt to summarize the scientific findings. We caution,
however, that in order to be encompassing in our review,
we have included studies that may have relied on slightly
different conceptualizations of telecommuting than that
offered above. As in any scientific analysis, the trade-offs
of breadth versus depth may lead to differing conclu-
sions, and we urge readers to account for this in their
interpretation of our summary.
Interpreting How the Extent of an
Individual’s Telecommuting Alters
Scientific Findings
Another key challenge in reviewing the scientific findings
on telecommuting involves considering the extent to
which telecommuting was practiced by participants in
each study. Up until relatively recently, few studies
reported the extent or the frequency (also referred to as
intensity) of individuals’ telecommuting. Telecommuting
is rarely an all-or-nothing work practice, and the fre-
quency with which work is done away from the central
office is likely to make a difference. For example, a per-
son who telecommutes one day per month is likely to
have different experiences than a person who telecom-
mutes four days per week. Therefore, not considering the
extent of telecommuting practiced by study participants
allows for inappropriate conclusions to be drawn from
scientific findings.
Early telecommuting studies advanced the field by
comparing telecommuters with nontelecommuters (e.g.,
Crossan & Burton, 1993; DuBrin, 1991; Fritz, Narasimhan,
& Rhee, 1998; Igbaria & Guimaraes, 1999). Such studies
often reported on telecommuting pilot studies or com-
pared larger groups of in-office employees with smaller
groups of telecommuters. Typically, the amount of tele-
commuting practiced by participants was not measured
or reported. These studies helped shape the field and
provided evidence for practitioners to consider in mana-
gerial decisions, yet they made accurate comparisons
difficult, particularly when results were inconsistent.
Similar to the general notion regarding the appropriate
dosage for medication, finding the right amount of time
to telecommute may be the key to producing desired
outcomes, because too little or too much might not have
the intended effect.
Building on this realization, more recent research has
begun to offer a deeper understanding of telecommuting
by investigating how the extent of telecommuting prac-
ticed by an individual might impact or relate to work
outcomes. This differentiation in the literature, brought
largely to the forefront by a series of studies (Golden,
2006a, 2006b, 2007, 2012; Golden & Raghuram, 2010;
Golden & Veiga, 2005; Golden, Veiga, & Dino, 2008;
Golden, Veiga, & Simsek, 2006; Morganson, Major, Oborn,
Verive, & Heelan, 2010; Virick, DaSilva, & Arrington,
2010), provides a means to understand how variation in
the frequency of telecommuting alters work outcomes.
The chief distinction stems from examining how much
time is spent away from the central office, assessed either
as the amount of time or the proportion of total work
time.
Research investigating how the extent of telecommut-
ing might alter work outcomes has revealed a number of
findings useful to academics and practitioners. For exam-
ple, several studies have found that job satisfaction is
highest among individuals who telecommute a moderate
amount compared to those who telecommute either a
small amount or more extensively (Golden, 2006b;
Golden & Veiga, 2005; Virick etal., 2010). Additionally,
the extent of telecommuting has been positively associ-
ated with organizational commitment and negatively
associated with intent to leave the organization, such that
more extensive telecommuting has been associated with
greater commitment to the organization and lower turn-
over intentions (Golden, 2006a). The extent of telecom-
muting has also been investigated for its effect on
relationships—namely those that exist between telecom-
muters and their supervisors, coworkers, and family—
and their subsequent impact on job satisfaction (Golden,
2006b). This research suggests that these relationships
are differentially impacted as telecommuting becomes
more extensive and change in a nonlinear fashion as a
function of how much telecommuting is carried out.
Specifically, more extensive telecommuting has been
associated with enhanced relationship quality with lead-
ers, decreased relationship quality with coworkers, and
progressively lower work-family conflict. Alterations in
these relationships have in turn been found to be posi-
tively associated with telecommuters’ job satisfaction,
and these changes generally become more pronounced
as telecommuting reaches higher levels.
A number of studies have investigated the extent of or
time spent telecommuting as a moderating variable,
which has yielded additional insights. For example, time
spent telecommuting has been found to play a moderat-
ing role in the relationship between professional isola-
tion and both job performance and turnover intentions
(Golden etal., 2008). Individuals who spent more time
telecommuting exhibited lower job performance as a
result of professional isolation than did those who spent
little time telecommuting. However, those individuals
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46 Allen et al.
who spent more time telecommuting were also less apt
to leave the organization despite their professional isola-
tion. In another study, individuals with high-quality
supervisory relationships who also telecommuted exten-
sively experienced the highest levels of commitment, job
satisfaction, and job performance (Golden & Veiga, 2008).
Thus, as evidenced by the above-reviewed research,
the extent of telecommuting is an important consider-
ation. Although this distinction has been accounted for in
some studies, much of the existing research has over-
looked it. In our further review of areas of research
below, we purposively take into account research—when
it exists—that has considered the extent to which an indi-
vidual telecommutes.
Work and Family/Nonwork
Substantial interest in public policy concerning telecom-
muting and flexibility has been spurred by the notion
that telecommuting can help individuals navigate work
and family challenges. Indeed, public-policy advocates
have called for greater adoption of workplace flexibility
practices as a way to help working families (e.g., Jarrett,
2010; Miller, 2011). Within the work-family literature,
work-family conflict has been a major topic of study
(Allen, 2012). Grounded in theories of role stress and
interrole conflict, work-family conflict is defined as “a
form of interrole conflict in which the role pressures from
the work and family domains are mutually incompatible
in some respect” (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985, p. 77). The
direction of the conflict is commonly distinguished. That
is, work can interfere with family (WIF), and family can
interfere with work (FIW). We use work-family conflict as
an umbrella term to convey work-family conflict in gen-
eral or without direction and the acronyms WIF and FIW
to denote directional work-family conflict.
Although telecommuting and other forms of flexible
work have long been promoted as a means for enabling
individuals to effectively manage their work and non-
work lives, there is little empirical evidence to suggest
that telecommuting is a generally effective way to miti-
gate work-family conflict. Several meta-analytic studies
have been conducted to review the literature on telecom-
muting and work-family conflict. Gajendran and Harrison
(2007) reported an effect size (r) of −.16 for the associa-
tion between telecommuting and WIF (95% CI = [−.19,
−.08]) and an effect size (r) of −.15 for the association
between telecommuting and FIW (95% CI = [−.21, −.07]).
The confidence intervals for both of these effects did not
include zero, supporting an effect that is small but reli-
ably different from zero. In contrast, Allen etal. (2013)
reported a meta-analytic effect size of (r) −.08 for WIF
(95% CI = [−.15, −.01]) and a nonsignificant effect size of
−.01 for FIW (95% CI = [−.07, .05]). Allen et al. took
special care to include only studies that had used clear
directional measures of WIF and/or FIW, which could
account for some of the differences across the two
studies.
Consistent across both meta-analyses was the indica-
tion that there is a great deal of heterogeneity associated
with the relationship between telecommuting and work-
family conflict, suggesting that there are moderators that
impact the strength of the relationship. Gajendran and
Harrison (2007) found that telecommuting intensity was
a moderator, such that the beneficial relationship between
telecommuting and work-family conflict was significant
in high-intensity arrangements (operationalized as tele-
commuting for 2.5 or more days per week; r = −.16, 95%
CI = [−.18, −.13]) but not in low-intensity arrangements
(r= −.05, 95% CI = [−.10, .00]). Primary research that has
examined intensity with directional measures of work-
family conflict suggests that the direction of the conflict
may make a difference. Specifically, Golden etal. (2006)
reported that the extent of telecommuting was negatively
associated with WIF, such that the more individuals tele-
commuted, the less their work interfered with their fam-
ily. Conversely, with more extensive telecommuting,
higher FIW was found.
Gajendran and Harrison (2007) also found that experi-
ence with telecommuting arrangements mattered.
Specifically, telecommuting was associated with a more
beneficial relationship with work-family conflict among
employees who had been telecommuting for over a year
(r = −.22, 95% CI = [−.17, −.27]) relative to those with less
than a year’s experience (r = −.12, 95% CI = [−.21, −.03]),
suggesting that greater experience enables individuals to
better capitalize on telecommuting. Both meta-analyses
tested for the percentage of women in the samples as a
moderator, with null results (Allen etal., 2013; Gajendran
& Harrison, 2007). In addition, Allen etal. (2013) found
no evidence that parental status, marital status, or weekly
work hours acted as moderators of the relationship
between telecommuting and work-family conflict. In
sum, the preponderance of the research evidence sug-
gests an association between telecommuting and WIF
with an effect size that is small in magnitude but reliably
different from zero, but there is little evidence supporting
a nonzero relationship between telecommuting and FIW.
There are several potential explanations for minimal
relationship between telecommuting and work-family
conflict, particularly FIW. Working from home may increase
the amount of family responsibility assumed by the remote
worker (e.g., Hammer, Neal, Newsom, Brockwood, &
Colton, 2005), thereby increasing opportunities for FIW to
occur. For example, the telecommuter may be expected to
be the family member who deals with home-repair work-
ers, daytime appointments, errands, and so on. Thus, to
realize a benefit in terms of management of work and
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 47
family, it may be important for individuals who work from
home to establish clear boundaries and expectations with
family and friends (Hamilton, 2002).
Another factor that can mitigate the potential for tele-
commuting to be beneficial in terms of work-family man-
agement is telecommuting’s blurring of the boundary
between work and family. Creating and maintaining
boundaries has been referred as a fundamental aspect of
human nature (Nippert-Eng, 1996). The management of
work and family boundaries concerns the socially con-
structed lines of demarcation between work and family
roles and the ways in which individuals maintain, negoti-
ate, and transition across these lines (Ashforth, Kreiner, &
Fugate, 2000). Boundaries may be physical, temporal,
emotional, cognitive, and/or relational. Effective bound-
ary management is thought to be important in that it
facilitates performance in both the work and the family
role (Ashforth et al., 2000; Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton,
2006). As telecommuting often involves conducting work
within one’s domestic space, it erases the physical demar-
cation between work and home. Moreover, the availabil-
ity of technological tools that permit individuals to remain
connected to work (e.g., via e-mail) at all times blurs the
temporal work-home boundary (Olson-Buchanan &
Boswell, 2006). The physical and temporal flexibility
associated with telecommuting may enable individuals to
more readily switch between work and family roles, but
it may also increase interrole interruptions and distrac-
tions and, thus, role conflict. Connectivity via technologi-
cal devices also creates the demand to work more hours
and to check e-mail outside of normal working hours
(Madden & Jones, 2008). Noonan and Glass (2012) sug-
gested that telecommuting contributes to the “work devo-
tion schema” in that it is associated with the erosion of
normal working hours. Based on data from the nationally
representative National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and
special supplements from the U.S. Census Current
Population Survey, Noonan and Glass reported that the
probability of working overtime is higher for telecom-
muters than for nontelecommuters.
When evaluating the body of literature concerning
work-family conflict and telecommuting, it is important
to consider the methodological limitations associated
with this literature. The vast majority of the studies have
been based on single-source, cross-sectional designs.
This is important because individuals with a greater
degree of work-family conflict may purposively seek out
telecommuting under the belief that it will help them bet-
ter manage their work and family roles. In the absence of
controlled experimental studies, we cannot say with cer-
tainty whether or not telecommuting reduces work-fam-
ily conflict in either direction. Another consideration is
that many studies use a dichotomous (yes/no) measure
of telecommuting use. Such approaches do not account
for frequency of telecommuting and neglect the diversity
that exists within both the telecommuting and the non-
telecommuting groups. This is important in that Koh,
Allen, and Zafar (2013) found that reasons for not tele-
commuting among nontelecommuters were associated
with meaningful variance in reports of work-life balance.
Specifically, individuals who were not telecommuting by
choice reported the greatest mean level of work-life
balance, followed by telecommuters and then individuals
who were not telecommuting for other reasons, such as
lack of technical support. These findings suggest that
dichotomous comparisons of telecommuters versus non-
telecommuters may mask important differences in work-
family outcomes.
Work-Related Outcomes
A host of work-related outcomes have been investigated in
relation to telecommuting. They include job satisfaction,
organizational commitment and identification, stress, per-
formance, wages and career potential, withdrawal behav-
iors, and firm-level metrics. Each are reviewed below.
Job satisfaction
A topic of considerable interest to organizational schol-
ars is the relationship between telecommuting and
employee attitudes. The attitude that has received the
most empirical attention is job satisfaction. Based on a
meta-analysis of 28 primary studies, Gajendran and
Harrison (2007) reported that telecommuting is posi-
tively associated with satisfaction, although the magni-
tude of this effect was small (r = .09, 95% CI = [.07, .11]).
However, research suggests that not all frequencies of
telecommuting relate similarly to job satisfaction
(Golden, 2006a; Golden & Veiga, 2005). Specifically, the
relationship between the extent of telecommuting and
job satisfaction is curvilinear, such that satisfaction and
amount of telecommuting are positively related at lower
levels of telecommuting, but satisfaction plateaus at
higher levels of telecommuting (around 15.1 hours per
week). The explanation for this curvilinear effect may lie
in the social and professional isolation that telecommut-
ers face when telecommuting frequently. This lack of
social interaction may offset any gains in job satisfaction
afforded by other benefits associated with telecommut-
ing. Moreover, this curvilinear relationship is moderated
by several variables; the curve is flatter for individuals
with jobs higher in discretion and interdependence and
for individuals higher in performance-outcome orienta-
tion (Golden & Veiga, 2005; Virick etal., 2010). These
findings highlight the important role of job and person
context in the attitudinal implications of telecommuting
arrangements.
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48 Allen et al.
In an attempt to understand processes linking tele-
commuting to job satisfaction, several researchers have
tested mediational models. Gajendran and Harrison
(2007) did so meta-analytically, finding evidence that
work-family conflict and coworker relationship quality
both act as partial mediators between telecommuting sta-
tus and job satisfaction. Additionally, Fonner and Roloff
(2010) found a significant mediating effect of decreased
work-life conflict, as well as decreased information-
exchange frequency, stress from interruptions, and
decreased involvement in office politics, based on a split
sample of high-frequency telecommuters and standard
office workers. Finally, Golden (2006a) found evidence
that leader-member exchange, team-member exchange,
and work-family conflict acted as partial mediators of the
curvilinear association between extent of telecommuting
and job satisfaction.
An additional line of research has focused on identify-
ing factors that relate to the job satisfaction of telecom-
muters. Many of the studied variables are similar to
variables linked to job satisfaction in nontelecommuting
populations (cf. Kinicki, Schriesheim, McKee-Ryan, &
Carson, 2002), including feedback (E. Baker, Avery, &
Crawford, 2007) and high-quality relationships with
coworkers and supervisors (Fay & Kline, 2011; Golden,
2006a). Other factors specific to the telecommuting
arrangement that positively relate to job satisfaction
include amount of technical and human resources sup-
port provided by the organization, manager’s trust in the
teleworker, amount of telework training others in the
workplace have received, and minimal distractions from
family members during work time (E. Baker etal., 2007;
Hartman, Stoner, & Arora, 1991). In terms of personality,
teleworkers with a greater tendency to seek order and a
higher need for autonomy report greater job satisfaction
than do teleworkers with lower needs for order and
autonomy (O’Neill, Hambley, Greidanus, MacDonnell, &
Kline, 2009).
Organizational commitment and
identification
Organizational commitment and identification have also
been studied as outcomes associated with teleworking.
In their meta-analysis of eight studies (primarily disserta-
tions), Martin and MacDonnell (2012) reported a small
positive relationship between telecommuting and organi-
zational commitment (r = .10, 95% CI = [.03, .18]). In a
rare experimental study, Hunton and Norman (2010)
observed that compared to workers in a standard arrange-
ment, those who had the option to work at various loca-
tions (home, satellite office, or main office) had higher
levels of organizational commitment, but there were no
differences in commitment between the standard work-
ers and those who were only permitted to work from
home. This reinforces the notion that choice and flexibil-
ity in the telecommuting arrangement itself are critical.
Moreover, focusing on the extent of telecommuting,
Golden (2006b) reported that those who telecommute
more tend to be more committed, but this effect was
small.
As with job satisfaction, studies focused exclusively on
telecommuters have aimed to understand predictors of
commitment—namely, high-quality relationships with
coworkers and supervisors, amount of social support
received, coworker inclusionary and exclusionary behav-
iors, and communication satisfaction and competence
(Fay & Kline, 2011, 2012; Golden & Veiga, 2008; Madlock,
2013). Similar predictors of organizational identification
have been noted, including amount of social support
received, amount of stress from interruptions, coworker
inclusionary and exclusionary behaviors, and quality of
relationships with coworkers (Fay & Kline, 2012; Fonner
& Roloff, 2010; Wiesenfeld, Raghuram, & Garud, 2001).
Additionally, research highlights that the nature of virtual
work seems to be important for teleworkers’ organiza-
tional identification. Those who have a higher social
presence or feel that their communication media enables
a sense of physical presence and involvement during
work interactions report higher organizational identifica-
tion (Fonner & Roloff, 2010). Also, the relationship
between types of communication (phone, electronic)
and organizational identification is moderated by the
extent of the employee’s telecommuting (Wiesenfeld,
Raghuram, & Garud, 1999).
Stress-related outcomes
In addition to favorable job attitudes, telecommuting is
also associated with significantly lower work-role stress
(cf. Gajendran & Harrison, 2007; r = −.11, 95% CI = [−.15,
−.07]) and work exhaustion (Sardeshmukh, Sharma, &
Golden, 2012), although again the magnitude of these
effects is rather small. Further, there is evidence that the
relationships are partially mediated by increased auton-
omy (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007; Sardeshmukh etal.,
2012). Some researchers (e.g., Duxbury & Halinski, 2014)
have argued that the psychological mechanism driving
the reduction in stress is the increased control afforded
by many telecommuting arrangements. Moreover, it
seems that extent of telecommuting and amount of tele-
commuting experience are both negatively related to
work exhaustion (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007; Golden,
2006b).
Performance
Telecommuting has been linked to several metrics of impor-
tance to the organization’s bottom line—namely, worker per-
formance and productivity, wages, absenteeism, turnover,
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 49
and overall firm performance. Beginning with individual
performance and productivity, meta-analytical research
(Gajendran & Harrison, 2007) has suggested that telecom-
muting use is positively associated with supervisor-rated or
objectively measured job performance (r = .18, 95% CI =
[.09, .26]). In addition, recent research showed that supervi-
sor-rated task and contextual performance were evaluated
as higher for telecommuters than for nontelecommuters
(Gajendran, Harrison, & Delaney-Klinger, 2014). In contrast,
the meta-analytic correlation between telecommuting and
self-rated job performance is not significant (r = .01, 95% CI
= [−.01, .03]; Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). Although the
source of this discrepancy in findings is unclear, an abun-
dance of research (e.g., Borman, 1991; Harris & Schaubroeck,
1988; Mabe & West, 1982) has suggested that correlations
between self- and other-reports of performance are often
low, with self-reports generally inflated and less accurate
than other-reports. Thus, it is possible that inflated telecom-
muter self-reports of performance create range restriction,
deflating the correlation coefficient.
Wages and career potential
Research focused on performance in terms of success
measures, such as individual wages and wage growth,
has also produced mixed findings. Specifically, in a study
of 159 women across a 7-year time period (from 1992 to
1999), researchers found that women who used telecom-
muting more frequently had lower wage growth than
those who used it less, controlling for availability of the
policy as well as work commitment and the number of
children the women had during the study. This effect was
strongest among women in professional or managerial
jobs and those who stayed with a single employer over
the course of the study (Glass, 2004). A larger study
based on a nationally representative U.S. sample in 2000
and 2001 suggested the opposite effect, such that when
telecommuting use was examined in relation to current
wages, there was a positive association for both men and
women. However, when wages 1 year later were consid-
ered and wages the prior year were controlled for, the
associations were no longer significant (Weeden, 2005).
The cross-sectional findings may be attributed to the fact
that those with higher incomes and higher-level jobs are
more likely to be able to telecommute than their counter-
parts with lower-paying jobs. Finally, Leslie, Manchester,
Park, and Mehng (2012) examined use of several flexible
work practices, including telecommuting, flextime, part-
time work, and job sharing, in relation to Fortune 500
employees’ current wages. Their results suggested that
using flexibility is positively associated with income,
although the effect size was very small.
Given the different sampling contexts, measurements
of telecommuting, and time lags, it is difficult to decipher
these discrepant findings; clearly, more research is
needed on this important topic. With regard to subjective
career-progression outlooks, a meta-analysis showed no
significant association between telecommuting status and
perceived career prospects (r = .00, 95% CI = [−.06, .07];
Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). Finally, some studies have
suggested that those who request and/or use flexible
work arrangements may be viewed as less committed to
their career by others (e.g., Coltrane, Miller, DeHaan, &
Stewart, 2013), and concerns about negative career con-
sequences have been noted as a reason why individuals
do not take advantage of flexible work arrangements
when available (e.g., Allen, 2001).
Withdrawal behaviors
With regard to withdrawal behaviors, despite numerous
anecdotes (e.g., Computer Economics Report, 2008; Silva,
2007; Smolkin, 2006) suggesting that a key benefit of tele-
commuting is reduced turnover, empirical research on
the topic is very limited. In a study of 2,811 organizations
in 14 European countries, Stavrou (2005) reported that
whether or not an organization offered telecommuting
was not significantly associated with turnover rates.
To our knowledge, there is no quantitative research
linking individual telecommuting use to individual turn-
over. However, quasi-experimental research based on a
concept that involves elements of telecommuting, ROWE,
has suggested that turnover is significantly reduced when
employees are given greater flexibility (Moen, Kelly, &
Hill, 2011). ROWE initiatives involve deemphasizing the
need to be physically present at work for a certain num-
ber of hours each day and instead focusing on measur-
able results. Because ROWE gives employees control
over both the timing and the location of their work,
though use of neither is mandated, the effects of the tele-
commuting aspect of the program cannot be isolated.
Studies examining the relationship between telecom-
muting and turnover intentions are more prevalent. Meta-
analytic estimates suggest a significant but quite small
negative correlation between telecommuting and turn-
over intentions (r = −.08, 95% CI = [−.11, −.06]; Gajendran
& Harrison, 2007). Further, Masuda etal. (2012) found
that geographic region moderated this relationship, such
that there was a significant negative association in Anglo
countries but no effect in Latin countries.
Research focused on the association between telecom-
muting and absenteeism is also scarce. Two studies based
on large databases with objective absenteeism measures
found that telecommuting relates to reduced absenteeism
even when controlling for several firm characteristics
(Dionne & Dostie, 2007; Stavrou, 2005). Indirect evidence
also stems from research examining the relationship
between commute length and absenteeism. Van Ommeren
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50 Allen et al.
and Gutiérrez-i-Puigarnau (2011) estimated that absentee-
ism in a German sample would be reduced by 15% to
20% if commute distance were negligible (as it is when
telecommuting), although VandenHeuvel and Wooden
(1995) found that the relationship between commute time
and absenteeism was present only for women in an
Australian sample.
Firm-level metrics
Firm-level indicators of performance have received less
empirical attention, but the evidence generally suggests
positive benefits. Based on data from 156 Spanish com-
panies, researchers found that firms with larger propor-
tions of telecommuting employees also exhibited the
greatest innovation and financial and relational perfor-
mance (e.g., product and process innovation and labor,
customer, and supplier relations), although perfor-
mance ratings were subjective, based on the company
CEOs’ ratings as opposed to hard data (Martínez-
Sánchez, Pérez-Pérez, de-Luis-Carnicer, & Vela-Jiménez,
2007; Martínez-Sánchez, Pérez-Pérez, Vela-Jiménez, &
de-Luis-Carnicer, 2008). Another study limited to U.S.
companies listed in Working Mother magazine’s “The
100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” found that
the amount of employee participation in work-from-
home programs was positively related to firm profit,
measured as actual operating income (Meyer, Mukerjee,
& Sestero, 2001).
It is important to keep in mind that most telecommut-
ing research has used non-experimental study designs,
precluding inferences of causality. It is conceivable that
only the highest performing or most conscientious indi-
viduals are given the opportunity to telecommute because
they are highly trusted. In such cases, the higher produc-
tivity of telecommuters cannot be attributed to the
arrangement itself. A similar argument could be made for
high-performing firms; it may be that only those that are
performing well can afford to take the “risk” of imple-
menting telecommuting arrangements. The best way to
tease apart issues of causality is through random assign-
ment of participants (or similar organizations) to either a
telecommuting or standard work arrangement.
To our knowledge, only two studies (both unpublished)
have adopted a true experimental methodology in a field
setting, only one of which manipulated actual telecom-
muting use. In a sample of Chinese call-center employees,
Bloom, Liang, Roberts, and Ying (2014) found that those
randomly assigned to telecommute were more productive
based on objective data, more satisfied, and less likely to
leave the organization than those working under standard
arrangements. However, when productivity was held con-
stant, they were less likely to be promoted. This may speak
to the implicit biases held toward remote workers. Hunton
(2005) experimentally manipulated the availability of vari-
ous types of telecommuting work arrangements for medi-
cal coders. Those who were able to work in the home or
satellite office and those who were able to work from any
location (home, satellite office, or main office) were sig-
nificantly more productive (a metric based on quantity and
quality of coding over a 6-month period) than those who
worked in only the main office and those able to work
from home or in the main office. Those working from
home only performed significantly worse than all other
groups. Additionally, one study (Hill, Miller, Weiner, &
Colihan, 1998) has addressed the telecommuting-perfor-
mance question using a quasi-experimental design. IBM
Western arbitrarily (but not randomly) assigned employees
to work partially virtually or entirely in the traditional
office. Post-implementation surveys suggested that those
who worked virtually reported being more productive
than did traditional workers.
Thus, these results based on studies with more rigor-
ous designs seem to support cross-sectional research, but
additional research with more diverse samples is certainly
merited before drawing firm causal conclusions. Moreover,
given the difficulty of conducting random-assignment
experimental studies on a large scale, it would be useful
to consider other analytic models (e.g., Rubin analytic
model, regression-discontinuity approaches) to help sup-
port or refute causation in telecommuting studies (Hanges
& Wang, 2012).
Nature of Work While Telecommuting
While there are a number of job-attitude and productivity
benefits associated with telecommuting, clearly not all
jobs or all tasks are suitable for this type of work arrange-
ment. Consider operating a forklift, caring for a critically
ill patient, or preparing and serving meals for restaurant
customers. The nature of the work makes a difference.
Work that is physically portable and/or can be done
online is most amenable to being performed remotely.
Relative to the total employed population, a dispropor-
tionate number of telecommuters can be found in profes-
sional, scientific, and management-related sectors and in
industries that involve information, finance and insur-
ance, and services (Lister & Harnish, 2011). It has been
noted that the ability to work from home is tied to author-
ity and status in that managerial and professional workers
are more likely than others to engage in the types of
tasks that can be performed remotely (Noonan & Glass,
2012). Jobs that involve measurable work output also
lend themselves to telecommuting. Such quantification
provides concrete information on telecommuter perfor-
mance, which can offset managerial concerns with regard
to lack of observation (Turetken, Jain, Quesenberry, &
Ngwenyama, 2011).
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 51
A number of specific work characteristics have been
examined as predictors, mediators, and moderators of
various telecommuting outcomes, including autonomy,
schedule control, and task interdependency. This is based
on the notion that the effectiveness of telecommuting
may be associated with the way in which individuals per-
form their work activities (Golden & Veiga, 2005).
Autonomy
Autonomy reflects the extent to which a job allows the
freedom, independence, and discretion to make deci-
sions and to choose the method by which job-related
tasks should be completed (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).
Autonomy has been found to moderate the relationship
between the extent of telecommuting and WIF (Golden
etal., 2006). Specifically, more extensive telecommuting
has been found to be associated with lower WIF, and this
relationship becomes more negative for telecommuters
with lower job autonomy—that is, while telecommuters
with high autonomy may experience a decrease in WIF,
the drop in WIF is even greater for telecommuters in jobs
with lower autonomy (Golden etal., 2006). Moderation
has also been found when considering job satisfaction as
the outcome (Golden & Veiga, 2005). Telecommuters
with higher autonomy report greater job satisfaction rela-
tive to those with less autonomy. Thus, it seems that
while telecommuting arrangements may be beneficial,
the degree of benefit may be influenced by the amount
of autonomy in the telecommuter’s job as well as the
outcome variable of interest.
Autonomy has also been examined as a mediator of
the relationship between telecommuting and work-
related outcomes, based on the notion that telecommut-
ing enhances perceptions of autonomy and that stronger
perceptions of autonomy in turn drive positive outcomes
(Gajendran et al., 2014). Indeed, telecommuters report
greater perceived autonomy than do nontelecommuters
(Gajendran & Harrison, 2007; Gajendran etal., 2014). In
their meta-analytic study, Gajendran and Harrison (2007)
found that autonomy fully mediated the relationship
between telecommuting and job satisfaction and partially
mediated the relationships between telecommuting and
supervisor-rated performance, turnover intent, and role
stress. More recent research has also indicated that the
greater the telecommuting intensity, the greater the per-
ceived autonomy (Gajendran etal., 2014).
Schedule control
Telecommuting provides workers with location flexibility.
Another form of flexibility is temporal flexibility. Temporal
flexibility is captured by terms including work-scheduling
latitude, flextime, flexible work schedule, and schedule
control. All of these terms refer to the ability to adjust the
scheduling of work tasks to suit the needs of the worker.
Meta-analytic research has demonstrated that temporal
flexibility is associated with a variety of positive out-
comes such as employee productivity, job satisfaction,
and low absenteeism (Baltes, Briggs, Huff, Wright, &
Neuman, 1999).
Those who telecommute may or may not have control
over the temporal aspect of their work. For example,
some telecommuters may be required to log in to com-
puter terminals during a fixed schedule, and their work
may be continuously monitored. The extent to which
telecommuting is associated with beneficial outcomes
may depend on the level of scheduling flexibility. Some
research has indicated that telecommuting and flextime
interact in relating to outcomes. Golden et al. (2006)
reported that schedule flexibility moderated the relation-
ship between telecommuting and WIF, such that the rela-
tionship between the extent of telecommuting and WIF
was stronger for telecommuters with greater schedule
flexibility than for those with less schedule flexibility.
Similar to autonomy, schedule control enables individu-
als to more effectively manage resources such as time
and allocate them in a way that enhances telecommuting
outcomes (Golden, 2006a).
Task interdependence
Task interdependence refers to the degree to which orga-
nizational members rely on one another to effectively
perform their tasks (Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006). Jobs
that involve a high level of interdependence also require
a high level of coordination and interaction with others.
A concern is that distributed physical work locations can
make such coordination difficult and thus may temper
positive outcomes from telecommuting (Golden & Veiga,
2005). Research has suggested that these concerns may
be merited, as task interdependence has been found to
have both main and interactive effects. Turetken etal.
(2011) reported a negative relationship between task
interdependence and productivity among a sample of
telecommuters, such that telecommuters who reported
that their job tasks were more interdependent also
reported lower productivity. Golden and Veiga (2005)
investigated task interdependence as a moderator of a
curvilinear relationship expected between the extent of
telecommuting and job satisfaction. They found that tele-
commuters with higher task interdependence reported a
smaller increase in job satisfaction relative to those with
lower task interdependence, with the impact most promi-
nent when telecommuting was extensive.
Interpersonal Processes
Interpersonal relationships are an essential aspect of
organizational life (Allen & Eby, 2012). Work itself is a
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52 Allen et al.
relational act, and interpersonal processes within the
workplace shape employee attitudes and behaviors.
Working at a location removed from regular face-to-
face interactions with coworkers and supervisors alters
the dynamics of work-related interpersonal processes.
Moreover, resources and knowledge within the organi-
zation flow through relationship networks (W. Baker &
Dutton, 2007). The disruption to social proximity repre-
sented by telecommuting may have profound effects,
then, on social and professional isolation, communica-
tion, relationships with coworkers and supervisors,
knowledge sharing, and innovation.
Social and professional isolation
Given that telecommuters are by definition away from
the workplace, it is no surprise that social isolation has
been identified as a key challenge faced by teleworkers
(Feldman & Gainey, 1997). In an online poll of 11,383
workers across 24 countries, 62% of the respondents said
that they found telecommuting socially isolating, and
50% feared that telecommuting could harm their chances
of a promotion (Reaney, 2012). Moreover, physical
absence from the workplace and subsequent reduced
social participation with coworkers can result in social
stigmatization.
Based on qualitative interview research, Cooper and
Kurland (2002) reported that the extent to which tele-
commuters experience professional isolation depends on
the extent to which developmental activities are valued
in the workplace and the extent to which telecommuters
miss those opportunities. Telecommuters mentioned that
they missed the idle conversations in the hallway and
other informal conversations that result in learning and
knowledge sharing. Research investigating the outcomes
associated with feelings of professional isolation among
telecommuters is sparse, but extant work suggests that it
is linked with poorer job performance and greater intent
to leave one’s organization (Golden et al., 2008). In a
comparison of main-office and remote workers, main-
office employees reported feeling a greater sense of
inclusion than did home, satellite-office, and client-based
workers (Morganson etal., 2010). Moreover, out of a vari-
ety of communication methods (e.g., telephone, e-mail,
instant messaging, etc), employees reported that face-to-
face interaction is most important for maintaining work-
place friendships (Sia, Pedersen, Gallagher, & Kopaneva,
2014).
Workplace relationships
Meta-analytic research has investigated the relationship
between telecommuting and workplace relationship
quality. Gajendran and Harrison (2007) reported an
association between coworker relationship quality and
telecommuting status with a mean effect size (r) of .00
(95% CI = [−.03, .03]), indicating that telecommuting did
not harm coworker relationships. However, telecommut-
ing intensity was a significant moderator. Specifically,
telecommuting was not related to coworker relationship
quality under low-intensity telecommuting arrangements
(r = .03, 95% CI = [.01, .07]), but it had a negative effect
under high-intensity arrangements (r = −.19, 95% CI =
[−.30, −.08]). Thus, the frequency with which an individ-
ual telecommutes appears to make a difference with
regard to the impact of telecommuting on coworker rela-
tionships. Another consideration is the impact of tele-
commuting policies on the satisfaction of those who do
not telecommute. Golden (2007) found that a higher
prevalence of teleworkers in an organization was associ-
ated with less satisfaction with coworkers among employ-
ees who did not telecommute.
Relationships with supervisors may be the most impor-
tant workplace relationship formed by employees
(Dienesch & Liden, 1986). Bono and Yoon (2012) suggest
that high-quality supervisor relationships (a) create phys-
ical, cognitive, social, and psychological resources; (b)
nurture reciprocity; and (c) help satisfy the basic need to
belong. Frequent face-to-face interaction is thought to
facilitate the development of such relationships (Barry &
Crant, 2000). Because telecommuting alters communica-
tion, there is the potential for harm to the quality of the
relationships between telecommuters and their supervi-
sors. Meta-analytic research, however, suggests that this
concern may be unfounded. Specifically, Gajendran and
Harrison (2007) reported a positive relationship between
telecommuting and supervisor relationship quality (r =
.12; 95% CI = [.05, .15]). They also tested if this relation-
ship was moderated by telecommuting intensity and
found that intensity did not make a difference (high-
intensity condition: r = .13; low-intensity condition: r =
.14). Caution is needed when evaluating the causal direc-
tion of this relationship. Given that the research was pri-
marily based on cross-sectional work, it is possible that
supervisors are more likely to grant telecommuting
arrangements to employees with whom they have a high-
quality relationship.
An interesting but less studied consideration is how
managers who telecommute impact the work outcomes
of their employees. Spatial distance may slow the speed
of feedback and information exchanges between super-
visors and employees. At least one study has found that
work experiences and outcomes are less positive for
employees whose managers telecommute (Golden &
Fromen, 2011). However, another study based on 137
subordinates and their 41 leaders employed in various
organizations found that the leaders’ telecommuting
status did not relate to subordinates’ perceptions of their
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 53
communication effectiveness or performance (Neufeld,
Wan, & Fang, 2010).
Overall, the research suggests that the quality of rela-
tionships, particularly relationships with coworkers, may
be impacted by the extent of telecommuting practiced by
the individual, and care must therefore be taken to ensure
that any decrements in relationships are carefully man-
aged. Moreover, it is important to recognize the impact
that telecommuting policies can have on those who do
not telecommute.
Knowledge sharing
Knowledge transfer refers to the process by which knowl-
edge diffuses from one individual to other individuals
within organizations (Taskin & Bridoux, 2010). As the
workplace is a complex social community, the effective
transfer of knowledge among employees is critical to the
development of social capital and to organizational effec-
tiveness (Cascio & Aguinis, 2008). Accomplishing tasks
involves the exchange of information and interactions
with coworkers (P. M. A. Baker, Moon, & Ward, 2006).
Physical separation may impede such interactions.
Moreover, knowledge transfer hinges on trust among
coworkers (Alexopoulos & Buckley, 2013), and trust is
more likely to occur via face-to-face over electronic com-
munication (Rocco, 1998). Thus, telecommuting may
endanger knowledge transfer within organizations
(Taskin & Bridoux, 2010).
Surprisingly little research has actually assessed the
impact of telecommuting on knowledge sharing. An
exception is a study by Golden and Raghuram (2010),
who studied teleworkers over a 6-month period.
Telecommuters who reported more trusting relationships
within their work unit, stronger interpersonal bonds with
coworkers, and greater organizational commitment also
reported greater knowledge sharing 6 months later. In
addition, Golden and Raghuram tested for moderators
and found that technological support and frequency of
face-to-face interactions moderated the relationship
between trust and knowledge sharing, such that the rela-
tionship was stronger with both higher technological
support and greater frequency of face-to-face interac-
tions. This is not surprising, given that people who are
colocated communicate more frequently with one
another (Fonner & Roloff, 2010). Even among employees
who are colocated, the farther the distance between their
desks, the less communication that occurs (Waber, 2013).
Organizations should also be concerned about the
impact of telecommuting on the development of mentoring
relationships, as they are a key mechanism for learning and
knowledge transfer within organizations (Allen, Smith,
Mael, O’Shea, & Eby, 2009). As reported by Cooper and
Kurland (2002), professional isolation is inextricably linked
to telecommuter development activities (e.g., informal
networking, mentoring). By being away from the organiza-
tion, telecommuters may have limited opportunities to net-
work and to develop mentoring relationships.
Innovation
Knowledge sharing can be particularly critical for innova-
tion. Firms such as Google that rely on innovative prod-
uct and service creation eschew telecommuting among
employees in favor of colocating employees in order to
promote frequent coworker interactions (Schmidt &
Rosenberg, 2014). Several studies using sociometric data,
based on wearable sensor technology, have shown that
frequency in face-to-face interactions is associated with
creativity (Tripathi & Burleson, 2012) and with fewer
dependencies (which are undesirable) on software code
created by programmers (Waber, 2013).
Coenen and Kok (2014) looked at five case-study
teams to better understand the consequences of telework
for new-product performance projects. Knowledge shar-
ing was important to the process. Findings also indicated
that a base level of face-to-face contact was important to
the quality of the knowledge sharing and that the need
for face-to-face contact decreases as the development
process progresses. This is consistent with previous work
that showed that face-to-face teams performed best but
were closely followed by virtual teams that had met face-
to-face initially but then worked remotely. Teams that
worked completely remotely had the lowest performance
(Rocco, 1998).
In sum, work is a major source of connection with
others and a way by which individuals fulfill the need to
belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Coworkers are a
source of social support and help reinforce work-role
identity (Ammons & Markham, 2004). Special efforts may
need to be made to sustain work-role identities with
coworkers and supervisors, particularly among individu-
als who telecommute extensively (Thatcher & Zhu, 2006).
However, it is also important to consider that those who
self-select to work from home may prefer working alone.
Individuals may find ways to cope through identifying
other means of social connection (Ammons & Markham,
2004). For example, needs for affiliation can be fulfilled
by family members and through engagement with the
community. Such issues have received little research
attention. Individual and family considerations are dis-
cussed in the next section.
Additional Individual and Family
Considerations
There are a variety of individual- and family-related con-
siderations that come into play when considering the
option to telecommute and the benefits that may be real-
ized. Motivations for telecommuting, the impact of gender
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54 Allen et al.
and family status, and individual differences have been
the subject of study.
Individuals have different motivations for wanting to
telecommute (Bailey & Kurland, 2002). Two primary
motives appear to underlie this desire: productivity and
personal life (Shockley & Allen, 2012; Sullivan & Lewis,
2001; other motives—e.g., the desire to reduce commut-
ing costs and to help the environment by driving less—
have also been discussed; see Mokhtarian, Bagley, &
Salomon, 1998). Productivity motives involve the desire
to telecommute in order to increase efficiency and work
performance (e.g., to avoid office politics and/or inter-
ruptions). Personal-life motives involve the desire accom-
modate nonwork needs (e.g., to attend to dependent
care issues).
Gender differences in motives for telecommuting have
been a topic of research. In one study, 30% of men com-
pared to 18% of women reported the ability to “get more
work done” as the most important advantage of telecom-
muting (Mokhtarian et al., 1998). Shockley and Allen
(2012) investigated motives for using flexible work-loca-
tion arrangements and variation in gender and family
responsibility. Contrary to expectations, they found no
gender differences with regard to the life-management
motive (i.e., personal-life motive), but women were more
likely than men to espouse work-related motives for
using flexible work-location arrangements. Shockley and
Allen (2012) also reported that individuals with greater
family responsibility were more likely to endorse life-
management motives than were individuals with less
family responsibility. Some telecommuters try to work
from home while also engaging in dependent care, and
research suggests that women are more likely to do so
than men (Olson & Primps, 1984; Sullivan & Lewis, 2001).
Due to the high cost and low availability of childcare,
such arrangements may be viewed as the only option for
combining paid work and childcare. Childcare and home
responsibilities can be a major distraction when home-
based telecommuters blend them with their paid employ-
ment (Kraut, 1989). Moreover, such arrangements can
bind the worker to the home setting both physically and
psychologically (Olson & Primps, 1984).
One identified family-related disadvantage that may
result from working from home is that the telecommuter
may be expected to shoulder greater household responsi-
bility because that person “is home all day.” Domestic
partners may fail to appreciate the boundary between
work and home. This may be especially true for female
telecommuters. Hammer etal. (2005) found that use of
flexible work arrangements (a composite measure that
included both location and timing flexibility) was not
related to husbands’ reports of WIF or to FIW but was
positively reported to wives’ reports of FIW 1 year later.
Thus, telecommuting on the part of women may reinforce
the gendered division of labor (Sullivan & Lewis, 2001).
Gender differences in telecommuting use have also
been investigated. Research focused on high-potential
employees who had graduated from prestigious MBA
programs indicated that women were more likely to use
telecommuting than were men (39% vs. 29%, respec-
tively; Beninger & Carter, 2013). Moreover, men were
more likely to report that they had never telecommuted
across the course of their career than were women (20%
vs. 11%, respectively). Research has also found that
women are less likely than men to have the option to
telecommute, but they are more likely than men to
choose to telecommute when they do have the option
(Singh, Paleti, Jenkins, & Bhat, 2013). There is little evi-
dence that gender shapes the relationship between tele-
commuting and outcomes. Out of 10 relationships tested
in their meta-analysis, Gajendran and Harrison found that
gender significantly moderated only two. The positive
relationship between telecommuting and supervisor-
rated performance was stronger among samples with a
higher percentage of women. Similarly, the relationship
between telecommuting and perceived favorable career
prospects was more strongly positive among samples
with a higher percentage of women. In their meta-
analysis, Allen etal. (2013) also tested gender as a mod-
erator of telecommuting (i.e., flexplace) use and its rela-
tionship with WIF/FIW, with null results.
Other individual differences may relate to the use and
effectiveness of telecommuting. An individual-difference
variable that has been investigated primarily in the work-
family literature is the preference for integration versus
segmentation of work and family roles. This preference is
thought to fall along a continuum, with the preference
for complete separation (i.e., segmentation) on one end
and the preference for complete integration on the other
(Ashforth etal., 2000; Kreiner, 2006). Most individuals fall
somewhere between these two extremes. Because work-
ing from home is associated with role blurring, it might
be expected that individuals with a stronger preference
for segmentation would be less likely to telecommute
than those who prefer integration. Findings to date have
been mixed. Kossek etal. (2006) found that integration
preferences were associated with less telecommuting
among a sample of professionals employed by informa-
tion- and financial-services organizations. In contrast,
Shockley and Allen (2010) reported that integration pref-
erences were associated with greater telecommuting
intensity among a sample of university professors.
The ability to effectively work from home may be
dependent on other individual differences. Planning
behavior and other self-regulatory skills may enable indi-
viduals to effectively function in an environment that
provides them with a great deal of control—such as
when working from home (Lapierre & Allen, 2012).
Specifically, individual characteristics that promote self-
regulation enable individuals to focus on work tasks and
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 55
to ignore conflicting demands and cues (e.g., a pile of
laundry). Raghuram and Wiesenfeld (2004) investigated
structuring behavior as an important individual character-
istic within a sample of telecommuters. Structuring
behavior involves proactive strategies that are aimed at
planning and organizing the workday. This may include
creating a work environment that minimizes distractions,
having a daily task schedule, and setting performance
goals for the day. They found that extent of telework was
positively associated with structuring behavior. In addi-
tion, those who reported using more structuring behavior
also reported less job stress and less WIF and FIW.
Another individual difference that may be important
to telecommuting effectiveness and is associated with
self-regulation failure is procrastination. The tendency
to procrastinate may be particularly relevant for produc-
tivity-related outcomes. O’Neill, Hambley, and Bercovich
(2014) reported that greater procrastination was associ-
ated with greater cyberslacking and lower self-reported
perception of performance while working remotely.
Interviews with telecommuters have suggested that the
ability to avoid distractions is important to being effec-
tive as a remote worker (Grant, Wallace, & Spurgeon,
2013).
In sum, it should not be assumed that employees are
similarly desirous of, or are equally effective at managing,
a telecommuting work arrangement. Research to date
suggests that there are individual differences that pro-
mote effective telecommuting, such as planning behav-
ior, and individual characteristics that may prohibit
effective telecommuting, such as procrastination. There
may be trainable skills (e.g., planning skills) that enable
effective telecommuting; organizations may consider
such training for employees who will spend a consider-
able amount of time working remotely.
Organizational Culture and Support
Notably, organizations such as Google and Apple that
create products and platforms that make virtual work
easier refrain from encouraging telecommuting, prefer-
ring instead to develop workplace cultures in which
there is maximal social interaction (Schmidt & Rosenberg,
2014; Wasserman, 2014). Other companies have scaled
back on telecommuting arrangements, citing the desire to
contribute to a stronger and more innovative company
culture (Hsieh, 2013). Both Hsieh (2013) and Waber
(2013) have noted that our human biology, which is used
to dealing with people face-to-face, has evolved more
slowly than our technology.
For organizations that do offer telecommuting, as with
any organizational practice, support from the organization
is needed for it to be effective. Some research has shown
that perceptions concerning how family-supportive the
organization is relate to telecommuting use (e.g., Allen,
2001; Shockley, Thompson, & Andreassi, 2013; Thompson,
Beauvais, & Lyness, 1999). Support from supervisors also
plays a key role in the acceptance and administration of
telecommuting work arrangements (Lautsch, Kossek, &
Eaton, 2009). This is important in that in most organiza-
tions, employees have the right to ask to telecommute but
supervisors can exercise the right to refuse the request
(Kelly & Kalev, 2006). Supervisors have their own set of
concerns associated with the administration and manage-
ment of telecommuting arrangements. For example, coor-
dination of interdependent tasks may be more challenging
when team members are disbursed physically (Greer &
Payne, 2014). Moreover, managers may be reluctant to
permit employees to work from home because of the fear
that if they cannot see employees, they cannot be sure
that they are working. Depending on the nature of the
work, monitoring of employee behavior may be more
challenging.
In addition to support, effective management is criti-
cal. Telecommuting made the news in August 2014 when
it was revealed that whistle-blower complaints had insti-
gated an investigation by the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office. The investigators alleged that patent examiners
working from home were repeatedly lying about the
number of hours that they were working (Rein, 2014).
The report suggested a culture of fraud in which senior
leaders overlooked the systematic abuses occurring
within the telecommuting program. Some have com-
mented that the bad publicity associated with flexible
work options has more to do with management than
with actual remote-work arrangements (Lavey-Heaton,
2014).
Technology also plays a supporting role in facilitating
effective telecommuting. Since the advent of telecom-
muting, the technology that supports it has continued to
evolve. To optimize the success of remote work, com-
munication tools that can best simulate face-to-face
interactions and that inject social context are needed
(Waber, 2013). According to media richness theory,
communication media vary in their ability to enable
users to transmit social cues, change understanding, and
resolve equivocality (Daft & Lengel, 1986). For example,
commonly used tools such as e-mail lack social richness
in that gestures and emotion are difficult to transmit.
Video tools are richer in that they convey some social
cues, but the effectiveness of video tools such as Skype
is hindered by a lack of eye contact due to the inability
to look at the computer screen and the camera at the
same time. Because we tend to look at the person on
the screen rather than at the camera, it becomes impos-
sible to maintain mutual eye contact, rendering commu-
nication unnatural (Giger, Bazin, Kuster, Popa, & Gross,
2014).
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56 Allen et al.
Developing telepresence systems provide an immer-
sive experience that more closely mimics that of coloca-
tion. Telepresence refers to the sense of being physically
present in a remote or simulated environment (Loomis,
1992). This is important, in that research shows that
higher social richness and higher telepresence result in
greater telecommuter motivation and greater sustained
use of the system (Venkatesh & Johnson, 2002).
Telepresence systems such as those developed by Cisco
(e.g., IX5000 Series) create a lifelike meeting experience
by capturing an entire room with high-definition video,
theater-quality sound, and multiple shared content
sources, but these are expensive. Although enhancing
the social richness of communication systems can
increase the effectiveness of planned interactions, they
do not remedy the loss of the random “watercooler” con-
versations that occur among workers who are colocated.
Use of applications such as Google Hangouts can foster
the more serendipitous and informal interactions and
socializing that can be missed when working remotely
(Waber, 2013). In the future, virtual-reality and hologra-
phy technologies may further recreate the office environ-
ment (Waber, 2013). Organizations such as IBM are
experimenting with virtual technologies like Second Life
(secondlife.com) as a tool for unified online communica-
tion and collaboration (Mueller, Hutter, Fueller, & Matzler,
2011). As technological advancements continue to be
made, it should become easier for individuals to work
remotely and to do so in a way that mitigates some of the
disadvantages associated with telecommuting, such as
social isolation.
Community and Societal Effects
Thus far, we have focused on variables associated with
telecommuting that primarily reside at the individual and
at the organizational level, but benefits to communities
and society at large have also been a target of research.
These potential benefits involve positive effects on traffic
congestion and management, carbon emissions, business
continuity, and work opportunities.
Traffic and emissions
Reducing the number of individuals commuting by auto-
mobile has the promise of reducing greenhouse emis-
sions and taking pressure off transportation infrastructures
by creating an alternative to increasing the capacity of
streets and highways. Estimates indicate that traffic jams
cost the U.S. economy $78 billion a year in lost produc-
tivity (Global Workplace Analytics, 2015). Gridlock is
especially prevalent during morning and evening rush
hours as workers make their way to and from city centers
for work. Over the last several decades, urban planners
and policymakers have suggested that telecommuting be
used to reduce the number of automobiles on the road,
especially at peak drive times (Zhu, 2012).
To understand the extent to which telecommuting
helps reduce traffic and emissions, comparisons of tele-
commuters versus nontelecommuters concerning total
vehicle miles traveled have been conducted. Using data
spanning 1966 to 1999, Choo, Mokhtarian, and Salomon
(2005) reported modeled data evidence suggesting that
telecommuting across the United States reduced the
annual national number of passenger vehicle miles trav-
eled by 0.8% or less. This value was significant when
using a 90% confidence interval, but not when a 95%
confidence interval was applied. In contrast, based on
repeated cross-sectional data from the 2001 and 2009
National Household Travel Surveys, Zhu and Mason
(2014) reported that telecommuters travel a greater num-
ber of vehicle miles than do nontelecommuters. The
authors estimated that relative to nontelecommuters, tele-
commuters on average traveled 38 vehicle miles more
per day in 2001 and 45 more in 2009. Zhu (2012) found,
after holding multiple factors constant, that telecommut-
ers consistently had longer and more frequent daily total
nonwork trips than did nontelecommuters, although the
differences between the two groups diminished slightly
over the 8-year period of the study. It is thought that the
mileage saved by not traveling to a work location is offset
by errands or other trips that would typically be chained
with a commute to the office (e.g., stopping by the gro-
cery store on the way home from work). In sum, research
on this issue is inconclusive, but there does not appear to
be robust evidence to suggest that telecommuting signifi-
cantly reduces the number of vehicle miles traveled.
From an urban-planning perspective, research has also
been conducted to determine if telecommuters live in
more remote locations and might therefore contribute to
urban sprawl. Based on a sample of Californian telecom-
muters, Ory and Mokhtarian (2005) found that telecom-
muters lived farther from work than did nontelecommuters;
however, further analyses determined that telecommuting
more often follows rather than precedes a relocation that
lengthens commute distance. That is, the ability to tele-
commute allows rather than motivates individuals to live
in a more distant location.
As noted by Kitou and Horvath (2003) the environ-
mental benefits of telework depend on a complex array
of factors that include commuting patterns, induced
energy usage, and characteristics of the office and home
space and equipment use. In their Monte Carlo simula-
tion, they found that for a typical case reflective of U.S.
telework patterns, telework may decrease some emis-
sions (e.g., carbon dioxide) but have no effect on others
(e.g., nitrous oxide). However, these impacts could be
offset by an increase in home-related impacts (e.g.,
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 57
increased household energy usage). Shafizadeh, Niemeier,
Mokhtarian, and Salomon (2007) summarized another
Monte Carlo simulation by stating,
While public sector benefits are conceivable, they
remain insignificant in most situations because the
impacts on the transportation network are probably
not concentrated enough over a specific transportation
corridor to realize infrastructure benefits and not
quantified or valued enough within a regional air
district to realize significant air quality benefits.
Further, the public sector loses fuel tax revenue.
(p. 12)
Business continuity
Another way in which telecommuting may offer societal
benefits is by providing business continuity in the face of
weather events, influenza outbreaks, and other emergen-
cies that can disrupt business and government opera-
tions. Telecommuting can be part of a risk-mitigation
strategy that enables organizations to ensure the continu-
ation of vital services during disasters (Heng, Hooi, Liang,
Othma, & San, 2012). For example, many organizations
in California developed satellite work centers and tele-
commuting policies following the series of earthquakes
in the late 1980s and early 1990s that damaged transpor-
tation systems (Avery & Zabel, 2001). The U.S. Federal
Government requires telework arrangements as part of
all emergency planning (Telework Enhancement Act of
2010). When Federal Government offices in the
Washington, DC, area were closed for two days as a result
of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, about one-third of
government workers were able to work remotely (Fritze,
2012).
Expanded work opportunities
Telecommuting can help provide expanded work oppor-
tunities in several ways. One is through increasing oppor-
tunities for disabled individuals to participate in the
workforce. The rate of unemployment (defined as not
having a job, available for work, and having been actively
looking for a job for the prior 4 weeks) among those with
disabilities was 13.2% in 2013, whereas the rate for those
with no disability was 7.1% for the same time period
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). Working from home
may be a viable option for those who have environmen-
tal sensitivities, episodic symptoms, mobility impair-
ments, and/or chronic pain or fatigue conditions.
Telework can act as a form of reasonable accommoda-
tion under the ADA (P. M. A. Baker etal., 2006; West &
Anderson, 2005), which requires employers with 15 or
more employees to provide accommodation for
applicants who are qualified and who have disabilities
(U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2005).
A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work
environment or in the way work is customarily executed
that enables a disabled individual to apply, perform, or
gain equal access to the benefits and privileges of a job.
Changing the location of where work is performed may
fall under the ADA reasonable-accommodation require-
ment even if non-disabled employees are not permitted
to telecommute (West & Anderson, 2005). Although tele-
work is cited as a tool for aiding the disabled, there is
little research on the ramifications of telework as an
accommodation. Moreover, there are concerns that tele-
commuting may exacerbate the social isolation often
experienced by the disabled, who are already stigmatized
by society (P. M. A. Baker etal., 2006).
Telecommuting can also boost opportunities for
workers who live in rural areas. Job losses in rural man-
ufacturing, changes in technology, and increased global
competition have all contributed to a decline in the
rural population in the United States over the past
decade (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2014).
Broadband projects intended to increase Internet con-
nectivity in rural communities are being conducted in
states such as Minnesota to help make it feasible for
people to live and work in rural areas (Executive Office
of the President, 2009). Similar initiatives are occurring
across Europe and Australia (Simpson, Daws, Pini, &
Wood, 2003). Within the United States, telecommuting
arrangements can be used to reverse the trend of out-
sourcing jobs overseas (Ruth & Chaudhry, 2008). Rural
outsourcing sends jobs from high-wage urban areas to
rural areas in which salaries are lower, enabling indi-
viduals to remain in geographic locations that provide a
low cost of living (Smith, 2010). For many, the ability to
remain a long-term resident of a rural community while
engaged in paid work opens up new horizons (Simpson
etal., 2003).
Societal ties
Pundits have offered different opinions concerning the
impact teleworking may have on societal ties. On one
hand, an increase in telecommuting may result in a
decrease in societal ties as individuals become more iso-
lated from one another and from public institutions
(Harpaz, 2002). The workplace serves as a stabilizing
societal institution that anchors informal interaction out-
side of the workplace (Potter, 2003). Telecommuting may
individualize society to a great extent, contributing to a
breakdown in social norms. On the other hand, stronger
ties to family and neighbors may replace workplace ties.
Futurists have predicted the end of the traditional city
and a rebirth of family-centered communities. For
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58 Allen et al.
instance, in his book The Third Wave, Toffler (1980) pre-
dicted that an information-based production system
would move millions of workers out of factories and
offices and back into the home.
Examples of Telecommuting
Legislation and Policies
Telecommuting legislation
The value of telecommuting has been noticed on a
national level. In the United States, the Telework
Enhancement Act of 2010 requires all federal executive
agencies to establish a policy under which eligible
employees are allowed to telework. Under the law, a
written agreement between the employee and agency
manager is required that outlines the specifics of the tele-
commuting arrangement. On the agency level, the law
directs each agency to designate a telework managing
officer, who is responsible for policy development and
the implementation of a teleworking program designed
to “maximize” use of the policy, and requires that agen-
cies offer an interactive telecommuting training program
for all telecommuters and their managers (http://www.
gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr1722enr/pdf/BILLS-
111hr1722enr.pdf). Interpretations of the legislation state
that it is at the discretion of each individual agency to
determine eligibility standards.
The stated goals of the program are to aid in the
recruitment and retention of talent; to improve the ability
of the government to operate during security incidents,
national disasters, or other emergencies; and to help
employees better manage work and family roles (http://
www.telework.gov/Telework_Enhancement_Act/). While
the impact of the telecommuting initiative on longer-term
outcomes has yet to be measured, a report produced by
the Office of Personnel Management provides insight on
the impact of the legislation on telecommuting use (U.S.
Office of Personnel Management, 2013). Telecommuting
use increased from 2011 to 2012, although participation
rates were still modest at 8% and 10% of all federal
employees, respectively. The number of employees
deemed eligible to participate increased more substan-
tially, from 31.6% in 2011 to 47.3% in 2012. Thus, the
legislation does seem to have had an impact on telecom-
muting in the federal workforce, but there is considerable
room for improvement.
Lawmakers have put forth additional bills aimed at
increasing the prevalence of telecommuting. Many of
these have died in committee (e.g., H.R. 3080: Parents’
Tax Relief Act of 2005, H.R. 4468: Enhancing America’s
Guard and Reserve Act), but one bill with direct rele-
vance is still active as of this writing. The Multi-State
Worker Tax Fairness Act (H.R. 4085/S. 2347) was sent to
congressional committee in early 2014. This bill elimi-
nates a double-taxation burden that telecommuters who
live and work in different states may incur. Specifically,
some states currently maintain the “convenience of the
employer” rule, which requires that taxes be paid to the
employer’s state based on the employee’s entire salary,
not just the work done when he or she is physically pres-
ent in that state. The rule also requires that taxes be paid
to the home state on the part earned when telecommut-
ing, resulting in double taxation. The intended result of
the law is to reduce tax burdens and associated compli-
cations for payroll departments who currently must deal
with complex tax withholding for multistate workers.
Beyond federal legislation, a few states have statutes
or executive orders related to telecommuting. As of 2014,
16 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut,
Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, New
Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South
Carolina, Virginia, Washington) have statutes or executive
orders encouraging telecommuting for state-agency
employees. Additional states have telecommuting poli-
cies within various state departments that are not based
on legislation but are nonetheless intended to increase
the use of remote work. Finally, a few states, including
Georgia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia,
offer tax incentives for agencies based on their percent-
age of telecommuters or for telecommuting conversion
costs.
Telecommuting policies and
procedures
As with all organizational phenomena, telecommuting
policies and procedures vary across organizations in
terms of allowable practices and specificity. However,
case studies, government policies, and research-based
best-practice recommendations shed some light on com-
mon practices. The first issue of consideration is whether
or not to adopt a formal telecommuting policy. Many
companies (e.g., Booz Allen Hamilton, Cisco Systems,
Sun Microsystems) cite bottom-line reasons for offering
telecommuting, such as cost savings on office space and
energy and attraction and retention of desirable workers
(T. Brennan, 2007; Jackson, 2008; U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency Office of Air and Radiation, 2005).
Beyond case studies of specific organizations, only
two known studies have empirically examined factors
that relate to telecommuting adoption decisions on the
firm level. Karnowski and White (2002) examined spe-
cific motivations of organizations to adopt or not adopt
telecommuting. Among 87 organizations with telecom-
muting policies, they found that the top decision factors
were that telecommuting “responds to human resource-
related needs,” “improves productivity or quality,
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 59
“improves central office space,” and “is compatibility with
company growth or shrinkage.” Moreover, 92% of organi-
zations said that they had initiated the telecommuting
policy to meet the needs of particular employees.
Regarding motivations to not adopt telecommuting poli-
cies, 52% of the 464 nontelecommuting organizations
included in the study indicated that the job types were
not suitable to remote work, 34% expressed concerns
about the management of telecommuters, 19% cited
administrative difficulties, and 16% reported security or
liability reasons. Given that this data is now relatively
dated in light of rapid shifts in technology, it is unclear to
which extent these motivations are contemporarily
relevant.
Pérez-Pérez, Sánchez, de Luis Carnicer, and Vela
Jiménez (2005) examined resource-based predictors of
479 Spanish firms’ adoption (or lack of adoption) of tele-
commuting policies. With regard to human resources,
they found that organizations with a higher percentage of
knowledge workers (e.g., software programmers, design-
ers, researchers) and salespeople were more likely to
adopt telecommuting polices than those with fewer
workers of this nature. Not surprisingly, organizations
with and without teleworking policies also differed in
terms of technological resources. Those who had adopted
telecommuting offered significantly more training related
to information and communication technologies to
employees across levels of the organization; indicated a
greater use of a wide variety of information and commu-
nication technologies; and invested more in research and
development, new technology, and other forms of inno-
vation. Finally, in terms of organizational resources, tele-
working firms outsource more, have greater employee
involvement in job design, and have a wider geographi-
cal market than firms without teleworking policies. Also
using a sample of Spanish organizations, Mayo, Pastor,
Gomez-Mejia, and Cruz (2009) examined organizational
characteristics as predictors of teleworking adoption.
They found that being in a service sector and having a
larger percentage of international employees increased
firms’ likelihood of adopting telecommuting, whereas
firm size was negatively related to adoption.
Once a formal policy is implemented, it is recom-
mended that clear criteria be established for determining
telecommuting eligibility. Often, supervisors serve as the
decision makers (Lautsch et al., 2009). Lautsch and
Kossek (2011) described common supervisor consider-
ations in making teleworking decisions. Work-related
considerations, which focus on whether the job can actu-
ally be accomplished remotely without face-to-face inter-
action, seem to be the most important. These decisions
are often difficult and can be subjective, particularly in
organizations that have deeply engrained face-time-ori-
ented cultures (Shockley & Allen, 2010). Other manager
considerations are related to technology (i.e., does the
employee have the necessary technology at a home
office to complete the work?) and personal and house-
hold characteristics (i.e., the employee’s ability to work
independently and whether children or other dependents
will be present in the work space). Lautsch and Kossek
(2011) also advised supervisors to allow all employees,
whether they desire to telecommute or not, to offer input
into determining telecommuting criteria as a means to
enhance fairness perceptions.
Numerous researchers (e.g., Allen, 2001; Golden &
Veiga, 2008; Thompson et al., 1999) and firms (e.g.,
Grensing-Pophal, 1998) have highlighted the critical role
of supervisor support in the success of a telecommuting
policy. Several practices have also been highlighted by
researchers and by organizations as ways to cultivate
such support. Clear expression of top management’s sup-
port of telework has a trickle-down effect on managers at
lower levels and demonstrates that telecommuting is
viewed as a strategic goal within the broader company
(B. Harrington & James, 2006). For example, Booz Allen
Hamilton garnered support from their executive team by
creating a proposal that listed the strategic outcomes of
the program and benchmarking data from other similar
companies (Jackson, 2008). Other companies (e.g.,
AstraZeneca, LexisNexis) provide in-depth training to
both telecommuters and their managers, with the latter
focusing on how to manage remote workers (U.S.
Environment Protection Agency Office of Air and
Radiation, 2005). As noted above, offering such training
programs is a requirement within the Telework
Enhancement Act, and several states have also embedded
this within their legislation.
Monitoring and evaluation of employees is another
important component of telecommuting programs (Lautsch
& Kossek, 2011). This process is facilitated if a formal con-
tract is established in which the conditions of the policy
are outlined (e.g., number of days per week telecommut-
ing is allowed, whether telecommuters must work during
core hours, whether telecommuters must attend certain
work functions in person, etc.) and specific criteria for per-
formance evaluation are stated. KPMG, for example,
requires that at least one of the following success metrics
be included in the contract as a means to evaluate tele-
commuter performance: work volume/productivity, tele-
commuter satisfaction, client satisfaction, coworker/team
satisfaction, effect on coworkers or team, work quality,
work-process redesign, senior-management perception/
buy-in, individual and/or team performance, chargeability,
attendance/punctuality, morale/loyalty, turnover/retention,
recruitment (attraction), public relations, and career devel-
opment (Piersol, 2006). The contract should also state con-
ditions under which telework arrangements will be
terminated (i.e., failure to meet performance standards).
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60 Allen et al.
Moreover, in terms of actual supervisor monitoring prac-
tices, research suggests that managers should do their best
to treat telecommuters and nontelecommuters in the same
manner (Lautsch et al., 2009). In particular, supervisors
should aim to communicate as frequently with telecom-
muters as they do with office workers. This relates to bet-
ter organizational outcomes and helps reduce feelings of
professional isolation among telecommuters (Greer &
Payne, 2014; Golden etal., 2008; Lautsch etal., 2009; Van
Dyne, Kossek, & Lobel, 2007).
Implications and Recommendations for
Telecommuting Research and Practice
The advent of new ways of working and the growing
desire for flexibility underscores our need to continue to
understand the impact of telecommuting. In the follow-
ing sections, we offer implications for practice and public
policy and close with suggestions for future research.
Implications for practice and public
policy
As indicated in our review, the complex and multifaceted
literature concerning telecommuting cuts across multiple
areas of study and has implications for a variety of stake-
holders. Based on our review, we offer several conclu-
sions regarding the state of the literature.
Extent of telecommuting matters. As we detailed
throughout this article, there is an impressive array of
evidence that the extent to which an individual works
away from a central office makes a difference in deter-
mining outcomes. Although telecommuting has often
been studied as a dichotomous variable, it is rarely an
all-or-nothing practice. As noted by Golden and Veiga
(2005), there may be a crucial threshold in the amount of
time an individual can telecommute, beyond which there
are diminishing returns. The research overall suggests
that telecommuting may be most beneficial in terms of
organizational outcomes when it is practiced to a moder-
ate degree. That is, a balance of face-to-face and virtual
contact may be optimal. In work that involves projects
with certain lifecycles, face-to-face interaction may be
particularly important during the projects’ early phases
(Coenen & Kok, 2014).
Trade-offs should be acknowledged and consid-
ered. The multivariate impact of telecommuting is com-
plex, with the potential for simultaneous benefits and
drawbacks. Organizations and policymakers must weigh
the desire of individuals to work more flexibly while also
keeping in mind the benefits of face-to-face communication
for knowledge sharing and innovation (Coenen & Kok,
2014). Telecommuting may be beneficial for some outcomes
but detrimental to others. For example, telecommuting may
increase individual employees’ productivity but hamper the
development and maintenance of coworker relationship
quality. Also, efforts aimed at reducing automobile emis-
sions by encouraging organizations to implement telecom-
muting programs may be offset by an increase in household
energy usage (Kitou & Horvath, 2003).
A multifaceted approach is needed. The success of
any telecommuting program will depend on aspects of
the person (e.g., self-regulation skills), the job (e.g.,
degree of task interdependence), and the organization
(e.g., support from supervisors). For example, the extent
to which the job is interdependent and depends on col-
laboration with others is an important consideration.
“External-facing” jobs (e.g., sales) may be well suited for
extensive telecommuting, while those that require close
collaboration internally with others may be less so. Tele-
commuters should be provided with quality technology,
and social richness can be incorporated into communica-
tion mechanisms to reduce social isolation. It cannot be
assumed that every individual has the skills or the self-
efficacy needed to effectively telecommute (Raghuram,
Wiesenfeld, & Garud, 2003). Support and training from
supervisors can facilitate the adjustment to a telecommut-
ing work arrangement (Montreuil & Lippel, 2003).
Public policy can play a role in using telework as
a tool to expand opportunities. As noted above, the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recognized
telework as a reasonable accommodation under the
ADA. Public policy can be used to facilitate work oppor-
tunities for those with disabilities and increase the civil
rights of disabled workers (P. M. A. Baker etal., 2006). In
addition, the ability to telecommute can be a key source
of support for the parents of children with special needs
(E. M. Brennan, Rosenzweig, Jivanjee, & Stewart, in
press). Individuals with disabilities and those associated
with them (e.g., parents) often face stigmatization (E. M.
Brennan etal., in press). Moreover, those who seek flex-
ible work options may also be stigmatized (Vandello,
Hettinger, Bosson, & Siddiqi, 2013). The normalization
of telecommuting through policy and practice can help
reduce such stigmas.
Future research
The ability to make sound policy recommendations
regarding telecommuting is dependent on the quality
and scope of the data gathered. Below, we offer sugges-
tions for researchers intended to improve the quality of
the data on telecommuting as well as identify areas of
research in need of development.
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How Effective Is Telecommuting? 61
Contextual information. In order to better under-
stand when telecommuting is most effective, more
comprehensive information concerning the nature of
the telecommuting and the context is needed in
research studies (Feldman & Gainey, 1997). First, it is
important to provide a clear definition of telecommut-
ing to participants so that comparisons across studies
can be more readily made. For example, researchers
should clearly specify if the telecommuters work part
of their time out of their home, as we suggested in our
definition above, or if another type of work arrange-
ment is considered. Second, the frequency or extent of
telecommuting should be precisely distinguished. For
example, capturing the hours per week or the percent-
age of time that someone telecommutes provides more
information than does dichotomizing individuals into
low- or high-frequency telecommuting groups. Third,
to better isolate the effects of telecommuting, temporal
flexibility should also be taken into account. Without
information on temporal flexibility, researchers are less
able to know if positive work-related outcomes are
due to telecommuting or to the individual’s being able
to modify the timing with which work is completed.
Fourth, it is important to provide organizational con-
text and reasons for telecommuting, such as whether
or not the telecommuting is by employee choice. For
example, in some cases, telecommuting may be
required of employees as part of a larger organiza-
tional initiative, while in other cases, an employee may
initiate a telecommuting work arrangement. Contex-
tual information concerning the type of work and the
culture of the organization in terms of family support-
iveness or the percentage of employees who do tele-
commute can help illuminate the boundary conditions
of research results. It would be useful for researchers
to assess all of these characteristics in their studies.
The role of time. The majority of existing telework
research, particularly as it pertains to workplace issues, is
based on cross-sectional research designs. This limits our
knowledge of causality, but it also limits our knowledge
concerning the role of time. To address these limitations,
longitudinal methodologies that cover both shorter and
longer time frames are needed. Shorter time periods such
as those common in experience-sampling studies permit
the capture of rapid, potentially reversible change, while
studies conducted over longer periods are also needed to
identify slower developmental processes that are less
easily reversed. These studies are needed to shed a
brighter light on directionality but can also help deter-
mine if telecommuting is a “sustainable” practice or is
more episodic in occurrence (e.g., individuals telecom-
mute for a period of time and then drop out or drop in
and out; Varma, Ho, Stanek, & Mokhtarian, 1998). That is,
under what specified periods of time do the benefits of
telecommuting accrue or begin to decline? What period
of time is needed for individuals to adjust to a telecom-
muting arrangement? Do the potential pitfalls of telecom-
muting, such as the deterioration of work relationships or
career stalemates, begin to reveal themselves quickly or
only over a longer period of time? What are the effects
when telecommuting is paired with family issues, such as
when an employee requests to telecommute for a period
of time following childbirth?
Health considerations. There has been surprisingly
little research investigating links between telecommuting
and health-related behaviors and outcomes. Several top-
ics appear particularly worthy of attention. One consider-
ation is the ergonomics of the telecommuter’s workstation.
In corporate offices, risks for employee injury are com-
monly controlled through the setup of ergonomically
designed computer workstations, regulated rest breaks,
engineered lighting, and inspections by safety officers (S.
S. Harrington & Walker, 2004). These same risk controls
are not typically in place in home offices, which are com-
monly set up by telecommuters without employer guid-
ance, seemingly increasing the risk for injury (Ellison,
2012). Chairs that lack proper lumbar support, improper
monitor and keyboard height, mouse position, no or
hard armrests, and reliance on laptop keyboards can all
contribute to musculoskeletal disorders (Dennerlein &
Johnson, 2006; Ellison, 2012; Garza, Catalano, Katz, Huys-
mans, & Dennerlein, 2012).
Another topic is the impact of telecommuting on phys-
ical activity. This issue is important in that the health risks
associated with extended periods of time spent sitting—
such as excess weight gain, cardiovascular disease, dia-
betes, and premature mortality—are becoming
increasingly well known (Thorp, Owen, Neuhaus, &
Dunstan, 2011). On one hand, working from home may
decrease total body movement, as individuals are not
required to travel to an offsite location or move around
an office environment. On the other hand, the time saved
by not telecommuting could be put toward workers’
physical-activity routines, such as going to the health
club. Moreover, some research has indicated that long
commutes contribute to poor health outcomes.
Specifically, commuting distance has been negatively
associated with physical activity and cardiorespiratory fit-
ness (Hoehner, Barlow, Allen, & Schootman, 2012). One
intervention that is currently receiving attention to help
address the problem of long hours spent sitting in front
of a computer is the installation of sit-stand workstations,
which have been found to reduce sitting time at work by
21% and to increase employees’ overall sense of well-
being and energy (Dutta, Koepp, Stovitz, Levine, &
Pereira, 2014). Overall, more research is needed to
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62 Allen et al.
understand the connections among work location, physi-
cal activity, and health outcomes.
A final consideration is the impact on dietary choices.
Working from home may be associated with more health-
ful dietary choices. Healthy food options are often miss-
ing from the workplace, where vending machines are
filled with high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. At least one
study has found that individuals who reported having
greater flexibility in terms of their work location also
reported eating less fast food for dinner (Allen, Shockley,
& Poteat, 2008). In sum, research investigating both the
potential positive and negative health links with telecom-
muting is needed.
Conclusion
Telecommuting has received enormous attention from
researchers and the public because of its potential for
widespread benefits at individual, organizational, and
societal levels. However, there are potential drawbacks
as well. This article provides a critical synthesis of the
telecommuting literature. Telecommuting arrangements
bring to the forefront the notion that work is no longer
a place but what you do, and new ways of working are
likely to continue. A multidisciplinary, comprehensive
understanding of both the benefits and the drawbacks
of telecommuting can be used to more effectively shape
and inform organizational practices and public policy.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
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Ohnmacht, Timo; Vu, Thao Thi & von Arx, Widar (2020). Job Mobility Biographies in Coworking Spaces: A Theoretical Contribution to New Social and Spatial Restructurings. In Joachim Scheiner; Henrike Rau (Hrsg.), Mobility over the life course (S. 100-116). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. LINK
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Through a review of the literature, this chapter identifies the impacts of telecommuting on organizations and employees and provides recommendations concerning the management of telecommuting. Key success factors of telecommuting programs, such as choosing the right jobs and employees, managerial attitude and expertise, are identified and discussed. Finally, this chapter present several essential steps that organizations should follow when implementing a telecommuting program. Purchase this chapter to continue reading all 23 pages >