Telecommuting Improves Task, Context Based Performance Among Employees

Employees who were permitted to telecommute showed positive improvements when it came to task- and context-based performance, including contributions toward creating a positive, cooperative and friendly work environment, according to study results published in Personnel Psychology.

In a previous study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Ravi S. Gajendran, PhD, professor of business administration at the University of Illinois, and colleagues found telecommuting had small but beneficial effects on perceived autonomy and work-family conflict. However, it did not provide enough information on links to job performance and organization citizenship behaviors.

“My earlier study found that there was very little information about telecommuting links to job performance and citizenship behaviors,” Gajendran told O&P Business News. “You have people saying telecommuters are not good citizens and you have people saying that telecommuters are not good performers, yet a fair number of organizations actually think telecommuting has many advantages for employees. Although there was a lot of debate there was little evidence being presented… so my collaborators and I thought about addressing this through research.”

Positive impacts of telecommuting

Developing a theoretical framework that linked telecommuting to employee performance, researchers analyzed field data from 323 employees and 143 matched supervisors across a variety of organizations.

Study results showed employees who telecommute overcompensate in their work to justify their flexible work arrangements and, under some circumstances, employees become more cooperative, helpful and considerate, as well as dedicated. Among those who telecommute, researchers found, although job performance did not increase among employees who had good relationships with their manager, there was an improvement in job performance among employees who did not have a great relationship with their manager.

“Part of the reason we believe this is happening is because when you have a great relationship with your manager and your manager allows you to telecommute it is probably one good thing in a package of many good things that are being provided to you by your manager. It does not stand out in your mind as something special. So when you are allowed to telecommute, you do not do any worse, but you do not do any better, either,” Gajendran said. “But if your relationship is not that great and your manager gives you this special arrangement that is a valuable benefit, then you suddenly feel obligated to return or give back to the organization for having received this valuable benefit and so your performance improves.”

Study results also showed telecommuting enhanced the task and contextual performance of employees who are in positions that require direct supervision and close performance monitoring. However, telecommuting loses its status of special privilege if it is granted to every employee.

“If everybody is [allowed to telecommute] it [becomes] sort of like health care. Everybody is getting it and if I did not get it I would feel bad, but if I got it, it would not make me feel particularly great,” Gajendran said. “But if I am part of a small group or I am [the only one] getting this arrangement, I feel special and I feel like I want to give back and that seems to have some good stuff going on for performance.”

Gajendran continued, “People have assumed the worst of telecommuting. What we find here is, at worst, it has a benign affect. At worst, people perform the same as they would in the office. At best, however, telecommuting can improve performance and so businesses should keep this in mind as they think about telecommuting arrangements. They should look at the evidence, they should figure out if it makes sense for them and if it does there seems to be some benefit for certain kinds of employees.”


Telecommuting in O&P

For some companies in the O&P industry, telecommuting can mean only stepping into the corporate office once or twice a year and working from home for the rest of the time.

Brad Mattear, LO, CPA

Brad Mattear

Brad Mattear, LO, CPA, national strategic account manager for Cascade Orthopedic Supply, said, “In terms of telecommuting as defined where you would work 2 or 3 days from home and maybe go into the office 1 day, not many of that, if much or any of that, happens with Cascade. Most of our people that are outside of the corporate office we see maybe on a biannual basis: once for our annual sales meeting and then maybe for a mid-year meeting.” He added, “Most of the sales/marketing people do not have a corporate headquarters in their backyard. They are basically on an island. They are responsible for their island, they address it, they work it, they grow it and they service it so there is no commuting to the office 1 day a week or 1 day every 2 weeks.”

According to Dory Dyer, customer service manager at Cascade Orthopedic Supply, to communicate and keep track of their sales representatives’ work, Cascade uses the ShoreTel business phone system which allows manager and employee to be directly connected.

“If there are any issues, you can go back and search through call history to listen to the call. Calls are monitored randomly and you can see what status employees are in directly on the computer screen. It is a pretty in depth system,” Dyer said. “It is a constant monitoring, but I have an awesome crew with many years of experience and they are very good at communicating. We do not have any issues with people not getting things done or communicating with each other as a team.”

Besides being able to communicate, both manager and employee need to be open, honest, trusting and understanding on how the telecommuting arrangement will be run.

“I think that telecommuting can only be successful if management handles it the right way. Any manager considering allowing an employee to telecommute needs to have a full understanding of what to expect. Boundaries need to be set that are clear cut and agreed upon by both the employee and management,” Cathie Pruitt, president of PrimeCare Network, a ReliaCare Alliance Company, said. “At ReliaCare, there are four of us that telecommute. Each of us is on the executive team and it works really well for us and the company. One of the reasons the arrangement is so successful is that we communicate daily—even if just very briefly. Plus, technology allows us to log into the company’s system every morning so we are seeing what everyone else is on our desktops. Being able to stay in Memphis where my family’s roots are is a very valuable benefit to me and motivates me to work even harder for the team. We also have strong team relationships with our co-workers in New York.” — by Casey Tingle

For more information:
Gajendran RS. J Appl Psychol. 2007;doi:10.1037/0021-9010.92.6.1524.
Gajendran RS. Pers Psychol. 2014;doi:10.1111/peps.12082.

Disclosure: Gajendran, Mattear, Dyer and Pruitt have no relevant financial disclosures.

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