An empirical study investigating the costs and benefits of teleworking and their impact upon teleworkers’ productivity and satisfaction

AUTHOR
Banita Lal and Jyoti Choudrie

ABSTRACT

The creation and evolution of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has challenged the traditional structure of work activities within organisations and enabled a movement away from office-based work (Belanger, 1996; FORUM, 2002). New technologies such as videoconferencing, audioconferencing and messaging (both standard text and multimedia) enable employees to see, hear and communicate with colleagues at disparate locations, thus representing teleworking opportunities within organisations (Lipton, 1998). Recent years have witnessed an upsurge in the adoption of teleworking in many countries (FORUM, 2002) and developments in technological capabilities suggest further growth.

Greater flexibility promoted by teleworking replaces the traditional ‘Industrial Age’ style centralisation of work processes and location and strict hierarchy-based structures (Hedberg, 2000). A transition from more traditional work structures entails a vast amount of change and incorporates a variety of possible costs and benefits for all parties involved. However, much of the existing teleworking literature that investigates the costs and benefits of teleworking initiatives fails to support such assertions with solid empirical research.

Benefits for companies often stated by the implementation of teleworking include reduced real estate and recruitment costs, enhanced productivity and organisational flexibility (Helling, 2000; Skyrme, 1993). The benefits for teleworkers include reduced travel and costs, better quality of life and greater flexibility over work organisation (Skyrme, 1993). Given the theoretical context of this research and the lack of availability of empirical evidence, this research was interested in exploring and understanding the costs and benefits associated with teleworking -by incorporating a cost benefit analysis- and whether these affected two often cited and desired outcomes of teleworking: individuals’ productivity and satisfaction within an organisational context. Studying the overall impact of costs/benefits on these two factors can help determine the long-term prosperity of teleworking within an organisation.

Lack of an accurate measurement tool meant that productivity and satisfaction had to be measured subjectively: based on each individual’s perceptions (Belanger, 1999), which are shaped by his or her experiences of teleworking. An amalgamation of qualitative and quantitative research methods (Myers, 1997) was used in this research. A combination of methods enabled the shortcomings of one method to be counteracted by the other. The research methods chosen for primary data collection in this paper were case study, questionnaires and in-depth semi-structured interviews.

The case study in this research was a large UK-based telecommunications company with a global presence: ‘Company X’. Following Yin’s definition (1994), the case study was an empirical inquiry that allowed for the investigation of a contemporary phenomenon (teleworking) within its real-life context (Company X). At the time of this research, Company X employed 150,000 employees; 5,200 of which were teleworkers. Following a pilot study with 10 willing Company X teleworkers, questionnaires were used to collect primary data from teleworkers as they allowed for the attainment of a larger sample size. Questionnaires were utilised as the opinions of multiple participants could be understood in a more beneficial manner whereas in-depth semi- structured interviews allowed the researchers to gain deeper insights into the actual teleworking initiative at Company X. 106 questionnaire responses (66 male, 40 female) were received and three in-depth semi- structured interviews (2 males, 1 female) were carried out in the research. The interviews were not regarded as being representative of the 106 participants or the teleworking population as a whole at Company X. They were used solely to gain a deeper understanding of teleworking at the company. More details on why this particular strategy was followed will be presented in the final paper.

The participants were all self-selected, i.e. volunteers, and were highly professional individuals occupying a variety of job roles, from Systems Engineer to Personnel Manager. The length of employment at Company X ranged from ?1 year to 35 years and the length of time spent teleworking ranged from ?1 year to 30 years.

Following data collection, the questionnaire data was analysed principally using SPSS. Interviews were recorded, transcribed then underwent an analysis of the content in order to gain a corroborating description of the teleworking initiative at Company X. The main costs identified in the research were: lack of social face-to-face interaction and high reliance upon technology. The main benefits were identified as being: reduced commuting time, financial and time savings and the ability to arrange work duties around domestic duties. The general understanding generated from the findings was that the number of participants who perceived the benefits to be greater than the costs exceeded those who did not. In the majority of cases, costs were offset by the benefits as different individuals placed dissimilar weightings on each of the costs and benefits. This depended upon the individuals’ own experiences and beliefs. The existence of different costs and benefits of teleworking was depicted in the research. Additionally, there was a strong indication that the generally positive perceptions of teleworking lead to overall positive perceptions of satisfaction and productivity: the majority of participants felt more satisfied and more productive when teleworking.

The research concludes with a discussion on the limitations of this research and from this, makes suggestions for future research looking into the same topic area. For example, limitations regarding the problem of using ‘self-selection’ as a method of participant recruitment are discussed. The contributions of this research are finally addressed, namely how this research contributes to the area of IS by providing an in-depth exploratory study looking at assertions made about teleworking, thus linking teleworking theory with practise. Such findings contribute towards a greater understanding of the social aspects of teleworking, which is important considering the expected future growth of teleworking.

REFERENCES

Belanger, F. (1996), Distributed Work Arrangements: Impacts of Advanced Information Technologies, Work Coordination Mechanisms and Communication Requirements, http://hsb.baylor.edu/ramsower/ais.ac.96/papers/BELANGER.htm, (viewed 28/07/03)

Belanger, F. (1999), Workers’ Propensity to Telecommute: An Empirical Study, Information and Management, 35,(3), pp139-153

Berg, B.L. (1998), Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, third edition, Boston, USA, Allyn and Bacon

FORUM (2002), The Changing World of Work: Trends and Implications for Occupational Safety and Health in the European Union, http://osha.eu.int, (viewed 23/06/03)

Hedberg, B.; Dahlgren, G.; Hansson, J.; Olve, N.G. (1998), ‘Virtual Organisations and Beyond: Discover Imaginery Systems’, West Sussex, John Wiley and Sons

Lipton, S.P. (1998), ‘Planning the Office of the Future- Today’, Journal of Accountancy, December 1998, v186 i6 p(85)I

Myers (1997), Qualitative Research in Information Systems, www.qual.auckland.ac.nz, (viewed 15/05/03)

Skyrme, D.J., (1993), Teleworking- Achieving the Business Benefits (1993), From Teleworking to E-Work (2000), Distance Working- The Corporate Perspective, www.skyrme.com, (viewed 12/05/03)

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