Managers may view the teleworker as experiencing a drop in productivity during the first few months. This drop occurs as "the employee, his peers, and the manager adjust to the new work regimen". The drop could also be due to inadequate office setup. Additionally, a 1999 study claimed that "70 minutes of each day in a regular office are wasted by interruptions, yakking around the photocopier, and other distractions". Over the long term, though, surveys found that productivity of the teleworker will climb; over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among telecommuters, according to a 2008 survey. Traditional line managers are accustomed to managing by observation and not necessarily by results. This causes a serious obstacle in organizations attempting to adopt telecommuting. Liability and workers' compensation can become serious issues as well. Weaker relationships between job dimensions and job outcomes, such as job performance and absenteeism, may explain why the results regarding performance and telework are conflicting. Some studies have found that telework increases productivity in workers and leads to higher supervisor ratings of performance and higher performance appraisals. However, another study found that professional isolation in teleworkers led to a decrease in job performance, especially for those who spent more time teleworking and engaged in fewer face-to-face interactions. Thus, similar to job attitudes, the amount of time spent teleworking may also influence the relationship between telework and job performance.
The job characteristic dimension, feedback, increases employees' knowledge of results. Feedback refers to the degree that an individual receives direct and clear information about his or her performance related to work activities. Feedback is particularly important so that the employees continuously learn about how they are performing. Electronic communication provides fewer cues for teleworkers and thus, they may have more difficulties interpreting and gaining information, and subsequently, receiving feedback. When a worker is not in the office, there is limited information and greater ambiguity, such as in assignments and expectations. Role ambiguity, when situations have unclear expectations as to what the worker is to do, may result in greater conflict, frustration, and exhaustion.
The roots of telecommuting are found in early 1970s technology that linked satellite offices to downtown mainframes through dumb terminals using telephone lines as a network bridge. The ongoing and exponential decreases in cost along with the increases in performance and usability of personal computers, forged the way for moving the office to the home. By the early 1980s, branch offices and home workers were able to connect to organizational mainframes using personal computers and terminal emulation. Telework is facilitated by tools such as groupware, virtual private networks, conference calling, videoconferencing, virtual call centre, Voice over IP (VOIP), and by the decreasing cost of good quality laptop computers. It can be efficient and useful for companies since it allows workers to communicate over long distances, saving significant amounts of travel time and cost. As broadband Internet connections become more commonplace, more and more workers have adequate bandwidth at home to use these tools to link their home to their corporate intranet and internal phone networks.
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Sociotechnical systems (STS) theory explains the interaction between social and technological factors. STS examines the relationships between people, technology, and the work environment, in order to design work in a way that enhances job satisfaction and increases productivity. Originally developed to explain the paradox of improved technology but decreased productivity, the theory can be applied to the design of telework. One of the principles of STS is minimal critical specification. This principle states that, unless absolutely essential, there should be minimal specification of objectives and how to do tasks in order to avoid closing options or inhibiting effective actions. Telecommuting provides teleworkers with the freedom to decide how and when to do their tasks. Similarly, teleworkers have the responsibility to use their equipment and resources to carry out their responsibilities. This increase in responsibility for their work also increases their power, supporting the idea that teleworking is a privilege and in some companies, considered a promotion.
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