Attempts at the
Work and Family7
© Kurt Reymers 1996
Department of Sociology
University at Buffalo
Reprint by permission of author only,
History of Telecommuting
Demographic Trends in Telecommuting
Organizational and Occupational Motivations for Telework
Status, Supervision and Home/Office Boundaries
Table 1: Telecommuting Statistics, by organization and individual, from 1988 to 1995, projected to 2002
Table 2: Costs and Benefits of Telecommuting, by organization and individual
Table 3: Occupational Structure of Telecommuting and Non-telecommuting Organizations
Return to Cyberstudies
The growth of the telecommunications industry in the past decade is a phenomenon that cannot be overlooked. Between 1989 and 1993, the proportion of computers in America connected in networks rose from under 10 percent to over 60 percent (Gilder 1993:77). Between 1980 and 1990 the annual consumption of personal computers rose by approximately 900 percent and expenditures on personal computers rose by 1100 percent (Biocca, 1993: 81). Clearly, an interest in home computing has taken the public by storm in recent years. Along with this increase has been a slight increase in the amount of workers who have chosen a relatively new employment option: telecommuting.
Telecommuting has been variously described as telework, electronic homework, the electronic cottage, networking, distance work, location-independent work and flexiplace (Huws, 1991; Morrison & Saveri, 1991). The existence of such varied synonyms is important as they each connote a slightly different meaning for the phenomenon. In fact, the definitions for telecommuting are quite diverse. Some research focuses solely upon work done from the home, while others integrate work done in "satellite offices", or "on the road" via laptop computer technology. The various synonyms represent distinct manipulations of space made possible by the different contexts of working outside of the office. There are many confusions and overlaps in definitions. For example, in one research instance, "telecommuting varies from teleworking in that teleworking involves travel to a work center that is near a residential area in which the teleworkers live, and the actual work is not conducted in the home or a downtown area. These telework centers are particularly common for clerical and data entry workers who can do their duties without being present in the office headquarters for the firm for whom they work" (Geography Department, University at Buffalo). In another study, however, telework is more vaguely defined: it is "work that, as a result of the application of information and communication technology, is separated from the location of the employer" (for at least 20 percent of working hours) (Weijers, et al, 1992: 1049). Other organizationally related variables, such as the differentiation between self-employed entrepreneurs, sub-contractors, piece-workers and part- and full-time workers, cloud the definition as well.
To further complicate matters, the relationship of costs and benefits are often "made to measure" for different work organizations themselves. Weijers, Meijer and Spoelman (1992) found this in their research on telecommuting in the Netherlands: "Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible to make a quantitative analysis of the costs and benefits [of telework]. This was caused partly by methodological problems, such as the large differences between teleworking companies that meant that a benefit for one company - e.g. reduction of location costs - was completely unimportant for another company" (1051). The scope of all of these differences makes comparative analysis difficult.
The variety of problems that arise with these attempts to define the phenomenon lead to the conclusion that the concept will likely be more useful as a theoretical guide rather than a methodological one. In other words, "telework is so nebulous and ill defined a concept that it can hardly be said to exist in any clearly defined and quantifiable way; it exists more powerfully as an ideological construct than as reality" (Huws, 1991: 28). This could explain the scarcity of research on this much talked about topic (cf. Tomaskovic-Devey & Risman, 1993). Rather than trying to pin down an exact empirical map of the phenomenon and its effects on work life and family life in the United States, it may be more useful at this point to see how different societal aspects are affected by this phenomenon and to see what new conjectures can be attained from such a study. Such postulates will help in building new hypotheses regarding the phenomenon that is "telecommuting".
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) History of
It will be helpful to explore from the beginning how the term "telecommuting" arose. The wheels began to turn in the post World War II days, when telephones and television, as well as automation technology, became increasingly used to facilitate commerce. But it was not until the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s that the term "telecommuting" was coined by Jack Nilles in response to the realization that the worlds fossil-fuels were hardly inexhaustible and energy conservation was now a necessary forethought. "Commuters found alternative methods for conducting business that did not require the expense of daily commutes to work. The individuals involved in the information economy began to develop ways to remotely commute and a new work-style resulted" (Geography Dept., University at Buffalo). As the energy crisis waned, the focus on commuting also gave way to a new focus on the widespread integration of the computer into the workplace itself. In the late 1970s, awareness was dawning that the silicon chip was becoming part of a major industrial restructuring. At about this time cheap personal computers and workstations were entering the workplace. "A new imagery of computer use accompanied this change. Instead of being the tools of white-coated technicians or senior executives, computers began to be presented as instruments by which their passive female operators could themselves be controlled. Advertisements for word processors emphasized the ways in which the technology could increase accuracy and productivity and make it easier for managers to monitor the clerical workforce. Much of the previous mystique was stripped away" (Huws, 1991: 23-24).
This social construction of the technology of the workplace again changed in the late-1980s, as those in professional occupations grasped onto the idea (popularized by Alvin Tofflers image of the electronic cottage) of using the computer as a space-flexible work tool. Eventually a new identity was carved out for this employee niche as well. "People who work at home are enjoying a newfound respectability. In the early 1980s, many executives shied away from being called home workers. But it is now increasingly accepted behavior. With this acceptance the identity of home workers has changed" (Braus, 1993a: 42). Respectability as a computer operator, according to this view, has been regained and has been transferred into the home as well as in the office.
Curiously, the focus on commuting has also come full-circle from the early 1970s. With the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1990, many companies have turned to telecommuting in order to comply with that mandate. By November 1994, the U.S. government required "thousands of businesses employing more than 100 people [to] submit detailed proposals outlining a program deemed by the employer as a way to reduce their employees commute time by 25 percent through car pooling, public transportation incentives, condensed workweeks, or the most practical, cost-effective and popular option, telecommuting" (Zelinsky, 1994). The Telecommuting Guide offered by Smart Valley, Inc., notes a similar local mandate in Californias Bay Area. "The most frequent trip is to and from the workplace, and the vast majority of these trips are made by solo drivers. The best target for public education campaigns and ridesharing incentive programs is the workplace. That's the idea behind the Air District's new trip-reduction regulation for large employers. Under the Air District's new rule, employers with 100 or more employees at a single work site must set up commute incentive programs that encourage employees to get out of their single-occupant cars and into public transit and carpools, or to bike, walk or telecommute to work. The new rule will affect about 3,000 employers and roughly half of the Bay Area's workforce."
However, evidence indicates that telecommuting is in fact not impacting traffic conditions. Niles (1994) notes that while telecommuting is on the increase, so is the number of vehicle miles traveled, but, contradicting the Telecommuting Guide, these miles are not work-related. He asks, "why is the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) growing so fast and urban traffic congestion increasing while telecommunications is growing in capability and use every day, and why does this occur while the number of telecommuters is growing in the short term at more than 10% annually? One answer is that commuting represents a minority share of trip purposes, even in rush hours, and is growing smaller." Pointing to Salomons (1990) research, he concludes that the conventional wisdom that telecommunications is a substitute for transportation is erroneous. "There is, at present, very little evidence to support the substitution [of telecommunications for transportation] hypothesis, " says Salomon (in Niles, 1994). What then, is the impetus for telecommuting, and exactly how prevalent is the phenomenon? The latter question is, perhaps, easier to get an initial grasp on. However, it should be remembered that varying definitions lead to a wide discrepancy in actual results on the telecommuting trend. Thus, these demographics should be understood with the appropriate precautions.
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Trends in Telecommuting
The estimates of telecommuting that have been made over the past several years fluctuate greatly and include both individual and organizational figures. As shown in Table 1, in 1988, estimates were located at roughly 15 million part- and full-time telecommuters, with 4.9 million having formal telecommuting employment relations. It should also be noted that 35 percent of home workers (including those not designated as telecommuters) owned personal computers, more than twice the national average (Telecommuting White Paper, 1991; Ambry, 1988). In 1989 and 1991, two respective estimates place the number of United States work organizations offering telecommuting at 500 (Telecommuting White Paper, 1991; DuBrin, 1991). In 1991, DuBrin reports the number of home workers at 26.6 million, and purports the number of full-time teleworkers to be less than one percent of that figure, at 20,000. However, DuBrin then mysteriously projects that the United States work force will include 30 million telecommuters in 1992. Another 1991 estimate shows the number of telecommuters at 1 million (Telecommuting White Paper, 1991).
In 1992, Think Research, Inc., places the number of organizations offering the telecommuting option at 30 percent, but notes that this estimate may be high given the survey methodology. Other estimates (by Hay Huggins, LINK Resources, and Catalyst are mentioned) range between 6 percent and 17 percent. Braus (1993a) notes that in that same year the growth by telecommuters outranked the growth of any other sector of home workers. In 1993, one set of figures reflects 2.9 million full-time employee telecommuters with no travel to an office, jumping to 7.5 million if one includes part-time and contract working telecommuters (Geography Department, University at Buffalo). Braus (1993a) estimates, however, that this figure should be between 20 million and 39 million teleworkers, depending on the definition used, but then proceeds to quote figures from LINK Resources (a New York City-based research and consulting firm that conducts an annual survey of home workers) stating that a 20 percent increase occurred in the course of the past year, bringing the total number of telecommuters to 7.9 million (tripling the figure from 1988). In 1995, Southwestern Bell quotes LINK Resources as estimating the number of part- and full-time telecommuters at 7.6 million, with the average yearly increase being 15 percent. Projections for future increases range from 15 million to 30 million part and full-time telecommuters (Morrison, Saveri, 1991; Geography Dept., University at Buffalo; Southwestern Bell, 1995).
It is clear from this synopsis that, first, definitions of telecommuting vary to a great degree, throwing comparative estimates off tremendously, and, second, that different methodologies of measuring the number of telecommuters also can cause an immense variation in projections of future trends. Similar problems have been noted in German estimates of telecommuting. "Two industry federations estimate that some 30,000 Germans currently work at home by computer. Estimates from other sources range from 3,000 to 150,000, demonstrating the difficulty of defining just what makes a worker a telecommuter. Should the self-employed count as teleworkers? What about sales representatives, computer programmers, graphic designers, translators and mail-order catalogue employees racking up on- screen hours in their homes?" (The Week in Germany, 12/1/95).
However, despite these inconsistencies one fact remains clear: the number of telecommuters in many nations is increasing. This fact alone is significant enough to warrant further study of the situation. Because of the unreliability of quantitative data, though, a qualitative and theoretical analysis of the phenomenon should ensue. The issues that are at hand with the growth of telecommuting are threefold. First, what occupations are being targeted for telecommuting? Second, what are the implications of the ability to more or less disregard the spatial component of work, specifically with respect to the first organizational consideration of targeted occupations? And third, how is telecommuting affecting the decaying relationship between the traditional public and private spheres of work and family?
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and Occupational Motivations for Telework
Motivations for telework differ between the employer and employee. Generally, the adopters of telework are those organizations who see it as "a solution to their problems of finding scarce skills and of cutting costs" and those individuals "who see it as a solution to their child-care problems, their need to stagger working hours around non-work commitments, their desire to set up as an independent entrepreneur or the lack of any employment option" (Huws, Korte and Robinson, 1989). Table 2 shows the various costs and benefits from both an organizational and individual perspective.
Many non-profit groups have emerged in the past few years to facilitate organizational development of telecommuting programs. One such group is Smart Valley, Inc., which began operations in 1992. This 1994 press release shows the strength with which non-profit groups would like many, if not all, workplaces to a commit to a formal telecommuting policy:
Smart Valley, Inc. is a nonprofit organization chartered to create a regional electronic community by developing an advanced information infrastructure and the collective ability to use it. Smart Valley's mission is to facilitate the construction of a pervasive, high-speed communications systems and information services that will benefit all sectors of our Silicon Valley: education, healthcare, local government, business and the home. Smart Valley, Inc. is affiliated with Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a broad-based, grass roots coalition of initiatives begun in 1992.
"Up until now, telecommuting has been acknowledged as the trend du jour and employed, primarily, by a handful of so-called progressive companies," said Dr. Harry J. Saal, president and chief executive officer of Smart Valley. "The reason few companies have embarked on such a project is in part due to the organizational considerations that are key elements in instituting a program."
A similar national group offers support as well: "The national Telecommuting Advisory Council -- TAC -- is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the economic, social and environmental benefits of telecommuting. Our members share information about the telecommuting program and policy design, development of the U.S. telecommuting sector, implementation of telecommuting programs and telecommuting research."
Taking on the telecommuting process in a formal sense can save companies money in the long run. AT&T has had an informal telecommuting program for special cases for 10 years; now, due to the clean air mandate, the company is formalizing this program into a policy that will invest $4,000 into outfitting each worker with the technology and the furniture to become a telecommuter. This move will not only benefit the employee, but will have a profound impact on the companys expenditures: it will drive down its current $88 million staffing and real estate costs by 50 percent, according Linda Villa, human resources vice president for AT&T (Zelinsky, 1994a).
Other organizational considerations that Smart Valley bring into in question lie chiefly along the lines of productivity concerns. Will the employee working at home via telecommunications lines be as productive as if he or she were in the office? All evidence suggests that the employee will be significantly more productive as a telecommuter.
Time saved from physically commuting from home to office alone can greatly enhance productive efficiency. In their support of telecommuting, Southwestern Bell shows that "a 10-minute commute to the office (a 20 minute round-trip) consumes two 40-hour weeks a year. A 40-minute commute consumes about eight working weeks every year. And that's just the time spent in the car -- waiting at stop lights or crawling through traffic snarls. The whole process is hard on cars, the environment and the commuter, too. It's also non-productive time for companies that employ commuters. In response, today's businesses are looking for alternatives to traditional employee commuting. The best answer to date: telecommuting" (1995). But the benefits for employers go far beyond time saving measures.
The most important benefit of telecommuting, according to AT&T, is the rise in productivity when an employee becomes a telecommuter. "Blue Cross telecommuters reportedly boosted their productivity levels by 50 percent, Pacific Bell by 57 percent, J.C. Penney by 25 percent, and The Travelers by 33 percent. AT&Ts own fleet of 6,000 field salespeople report an increase in productivity of 45 percent when they work out of the office whether it be at their clients offices or at home" (Zelinsky, 1994a).
The basis for these productivity increases is unclear. Some researchers (e.g. Perin, 1991) assert that telecommuters in fact practice overtime work at home. Employees are more likely to be adding hours than substituting for those at the office. However, the overwhelming reason that individuals involved in a telecommuting arrangement prefer it is control. "The first and most important reason is having control over ones work," says Braus (1993a). Thomas Miller of LINK Resources agrees: "Quality of life is the prize theyre chasing Despite differences, a clear self-identity is emerging among home workers - the thing that unites them is a need to control their time" (Ambry, 1988).
In addition to controlling their own time, individual motives for greater production coincide with the wants of the organization. Telecommuters work at home primarily to get more work done. Forty-six percent of respondents to the LINK Resources 1987 study chose this answer as a reason for why they telecommute, followed by having no choice (16 percent), making more money (10 percent) and convenience (9 percent). Notably, more than twice as many women as men said that having more family time was a consideration (Braus, 1993a).
Family time is also a significant consideration for the individual, as noted in the cost/benefit table (Table 2). However, this issue seems to be taken under scrutiny once the telecommuter begins to experience it. According to the Roper Organization, another firm that studies home workers, 33 percent of home workers are distracted by household chores, 30 percent are unhappy with family interruptions, and 24 percent miss the regular routine of work. With specific respect to child care, an often cited reason for telecommuting, Ramona K.Z. Heck, an associate professor of consumer economics and housing at Cornell University, says that working at home does not solve child-care problems for working parents. "If you have any children under 18, you will reduce your work-at-home hours per year by about 407. That equates to about one day per week." People with children under age 6 lose an additional three-quarters of a day per week. (Braus, 1993a). These factors show telecommuting as not necessarily the boon in control and autonomy that some claim it to be. In a study of a British software corporation, F International, that had been employing a substantial number of home-based programmers who were mostly female, it was found that "telework did not present itself as a perfect solution to any problem; it was merely one of a range of possible compromises available to them during periods of their lives when they were torn between the irreconcilable demands of wage-earning and caring" (Huws, 1991: 26).
Other disincentives exist for the individual teleworker as well. "Home workers miss office socializing, according to Home Office Computing research," says Braus (1993a). In the case of part-time home workers, they also miss paid benefits and staff and support services. This is a concern to labor unions that traditionally have protected office workers benefits and supports. Because of the newness and inherent idiosyncrasies of the telecommuting phenomenon, unions have had difficulty breaking through new legal barriers to protect telecommuters. Telecommuting has many inherent problems in the eyes of labor organizers. Because of this, in 1994 a telecommuters "bill of rights" that strives to define the rights of employees circulated through the legislatures of New Jersey and California. It is likely that legal issues that re-define private/public borders will be focused upon more clearly as the trend continues. One such issue is the question of who should provide the technology and furniture necessary to telecommute. Current California state policy states that employees who telecommute three days or more a week are provided with a workstation and equipment, but will not have a space in the main office (Zelinsky, 1994a).
According to Huws (1991), there is a fear "that telework could become a means of destroying trade union organization There have been calls from trade unions and other organizations representing office workers (such as the U.S. group 9 to 5) for electronic homework to be controlled or even banned outright, as was argued with some force by the German trade union, IG Metall" (26).
Several recent studies regarding the occupational structure of telecommuting may substantiate these fears. In 1991, Dutch researchers studying telework reached the conclusion that there is a "flexible organization of work and that this flexibility led to the existence of two different groups of teleworkers- the well educated professionals (management consultants, systems analysts) for whom telework was a step towards entrepreneurship, and the not so well educated women (typists, data entry) for whom telework seemed to be a step away from unemployment. Protection through legislation of the latter group could become necessary" (Weijers, Meijer and Spoelman, 1991: 1049). A study conducted in North Carolina by Tomaskovic-Devey and Risman in 1993 confirms that a similar pattern has occurred here in the United States. "Telecommuting tends to be organized very differently for professional and clerical labor forces. In general, professional telecommuting has been a reorganization of the job that allows increased flexibility and is used to increase the capacity for uninterrupted work. Clerical telecommuting tends to be subcontract or piece rate work done totally at home and with the loss of benefits packages" (368).
This point of view properly recognizes no technological determinism in telecommuting. The expansion of telework is not imminent nor is it a result of a technological imperative; rather, any growth in teleworking will be related to economic, social and political trends (Huws, Korte and Robinson, 1989). Likewise, Tomaskovic-Devey and Risman "do not stress technology as decisive. Instead, technology [is] embedded in social choices made by managers and workers in an organizational context Technologys effects on the labor process itself are contingent primarily on managerial goals and worker power and status" (1993: 367, 383). It is the interplay power and status with organizational motives that seem to be the relevant variables in determining the social outcomes.
According to Tomaskovic-Devey and Rismans findings,
when workers have organizational or labor market power or are of high status, managers are pushed toward innovations that enhance productivity even if this means abandoning goals of direct worker control or labor cost savings. Conversely, low-power, low-status workers are lore likely to be the object of punitive or close supervision Managerial goals will be primarily contingent upon the relative power and status of the class of jobs under consideration.
Managerial considerations significantly associated with the clerical telecommuting option are loss of control and labor cost savings. Top managers who fear that telecommuting will lead to loss of control are half as likely to approve of clerical telecommuting. On the other hand, managers who are concerned with possible loss of managerial control are more likely to favor professional telecommuting arrangements, suggesting that direct workplace control is an already resolved issue in the management of professional telecommuters [Similarly,] managers who see telecommuting as a source of increased employee satisfaction are likely to reject the clerical form and endorse the professional form (1993: 370, 380).
This pattern is also exemplified in the responses to Think Research, Inc.s 1992 survey of organizations with telecommuting programs (see Table 3). Respondents were asked to provide the percentages of their employee populations that could be classified as blue collar, clerical or professional/technical/managerial. The findings generally show that the larger the percentage in the professional/technical/managerial category, the more likely the organization is to sponsor a telecommuting program. Conversely, the larger the share of blue collar employees in an organization, the less likely the organization will be to sponsor telecommuting.
When low-status workers are offered technological innovations, it is typically without regard to quality of life issues. "As the relative power and status of jobs rise, managers are more likely to utilize technology that increases productivity. Similarly, as the power and status of jobs increase, technological innovations are more likely to lead to decreased efforts to control labor and increased concern with the quality of work life. Workers in low-power, low-status jobs are more likely to be subject to technological innovations that control their labor and disregard the quality of work life" (Tomaskovic-Devey, 1993: 383). To account for these findings, a social-psychologistic model may be appropriate. It would seem reasonable to assume that professionals (those who have almost certainly earned some credential from a university, college or technical school) are assumed to have developed a level of discipline that clerical workers lack, so that control becomes split along these lines. This, of course, does not take into account the huge amount of variance that exists between individuals with respect to levels of discipline. Simply because one has not earned a degree should not be a basis for assigning psychological characteristics to a person. However, it seems as though such a concept has become institutionalized into the workplace and acts as a guiding rule in the case of managerial decision making.
DuBrin (1991) notes this education effect on the availability of work-at-home amongst a sample of 67 women. In his study of employees of The NPD Group, Inc., a national market research firm, using the demographic characteristics of the two groups he observed (an in-house group and a work-at-home group of equal size) along the category of "some college or more education", 11 from the in-house group ranked, whereas 20 from the work-at-home group fit the category (the difference between groups was significant at the p£ .05 level) (1227). Other anecdotal evidence also reaffirms this hypothesis and may account for the lack of enthusiasm that has been exhibited in starting telecommuting programs in Germany. "Despite the seemingly glowing future, businesses in Germany remain hesitant to take the plunge into telecommuting, the Frankfurter Ründschau reported recently. The reasons for this, the newspaper suggested, lie partly in the fact that companies that have tried telecommuting have not realized the savings they expected Also, many in middle management fear a loss of power and prestige if their employees are not physically present and under their supervision. To overcome these difficulties and support those companies that have ventured into telecommuting, the European Union has provided some DM six billion until 1998 and is also funding a series of pilot projects" (The Week in Germany, 12/1/95).
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Supervision and Home/Office Boundaries
The emphasis on supervision and its control characteristics is the main supposition of Perins (1991) study of teleworking Internal Revenue Service field agents and management consulting systems specialists. Perin employs Jeremy Benthams concept of "panopticon" to conceptualize the workplace and explain the relative lack of institutionalization of telecommuting amongst professionals that, according to the above literature, would have no problems in attaining it and would potentially benefit from greater autonomy and higher productivity. The basic premise is that "the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose of the establishment have been attained" (Bentham, in Perin, 1991: 243). The purpose of the establishment of work is, from the employers point of view, to maintain productivity; from the employees point of view it is to maintain status, even enhance it. So, "American understandings of appropriate times and places of work motivate [the] rejection [of telecommuting]: Employees believe that their continuous office presence is necessary for promotion; managers see it as being essential to supervision. Yet salaried professionals characterize their offices as zoos where they find it impossible to be productive. To think and write, they work at home, overtime, where managers are unconcerned about their invisibility", thus the greatly increased figures that have turned up for various companies when productivity is measured (Perin, 1991: 242). The social construction of the time and place of work, then, demands for professionals to monopolize upon time in the office when it is available. It is the very fact of "control over others time allocations that defines not only formal occupational status, but situational influence as well, as when the chairperson who arrives late legitimates a position simply by having kept others waiting" (Perin, 1991: 248). An office-home schedule breaches the conventional boundary between home and work.
One prevailing concern employees have is that an office-home schedule invites organizational obtrusion into a private domain. In general, when employees are working at home, on regular time not overtime, managers tend to distrust their diligence. "Nine information systems specialists, hand-picked for competence, were allowed to work at home 3 days a week; but, controlled by a new, formal reporting system, they soon felt not only that they were supervised more, but that their managers were less forgiving about missed deadlines than if they were visible in the office, where managers were likely to justify delays as being everyday problems "(Perin, 1991: 249).
Even without such sharp supervision, the combination of work and home can become problematic to telecommuters. One person reporting on his experience with teleworking noted that "an initial honeymoon period of two or three years, which were accompanied by feelings of elation and high productivity, was followed by a less satisfactory period which was accompanied by feelings of loneliness, isolation and a growing desire to escape the same four walls He was totally unprepared for an experience which [many] women would recognize immediately as the trapped housewife syndrome " (Huws, 1991: 29).
The co-optation of the home, the private sphere, the traditional domain of solitude from the "real world", ones sanctuary from Goffmanian fronts, by the public domain of work is potentially traumatic. An alternative explanation to the increase in productivity could, nonetheless, be postulated. It is possible that some telecommuters find it possible to integrate and re-construct the workplace within the confines of the social construction of the home. It would not necessarily be unfair to associate work done in the home with a greater sense of commitment, for, in bringing work into the home, that work may take on the characteristics that are associated with the home: private, genuine, authentic. The work, and the worker, may be legitimated in a way that could not occur in the public sphere of the workplace. This theory could account for those extra-productive telecommuters that do not achieve their productivity levels through overtime home work.
However, it is certainly plausible that these public and private spheres of work and home that have been institutionalized since the onset of the industrial revolution are reinforced into mutual separation by the very strength of that institution. This is a very likely reason for the unrealized expectations of the futurists of the 1970s that prophesied the eruption of electronic cottages throughout computerized societies. The mitigation of social, economic and political circumstances has clearly stunted the growth of the phenomenon of telecommuting. The power of telecommuting as a symbol, on the other hand, remains potent because of its attempt at re-defining the long entrenched institutions of work and family. As Huws says, with telework "we seem to be offered a resolution of the age-old conflicts between the needs for adventure and security, for communication and for privacy, for the excitement of the city and the serenity of the countryside. This is the stuff of which symbols are made [It is] testimony to the power of [this] symbol that few other aspects of work organization are discussed in this emotionally (and often also morally) charged way" (1991: 20-21). The relative empirical instances of telecommuting may be small compared to society-wide patterns of work, but the importance of the idea of telecommuting is bound to re-shape our institutions in some (unpredictable) manner through its power as a social symbol.
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It has been seen that telecommuting is a complex and multi-faceted new system of work and family organization that has yet to wedge itself into the social fabric of societies world-wide. What is inevitable, it seems, is the continued development of the technology that makes the world smaller and changes the way in which we conceive of space and location. What can certainly not be predicted, however, is the way in which social institutions accommodate these newfound technologies and alter our perceptions of what we consider private and public spheres of our lives. How will the elements of status and power come to affect the stratification of occupations within the telecommuting trend? In what way will old institutions adjust to integrate new technologies? What will be the function of the former central city when centralized space is no longer necessary for work? How will the family structure be reformulated to adjust to these changes? Further research on telecommuting is most certainly warranted for it may enlighten the direction in which we are turning our current institutions of work and family.
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Statistics, by organization and individual,
from 1988 to 1995, projected to 2002
(Compiled from various sources; see bibliography)
- LINK estimate: 15.4 million telecommuters, 4.9 million with formal telecommuting arrangements (Telecommuting White Paper)
- 25 million people working at home in some respect ; 35% of these home workers owned a personal computer, more than twice the national average (Ambry)
- 15 million telecommuters (part- and full-time) (Morrison, Saveri)
- over 500 companies had telecommuting programs in place (Telecommuting White Paper)
- 26.6 million home workers (DuBrin)
- 20,000 full-time telecommuters (DuBrin)
- 1 million telecommuters (part- and full-time) (Telecommuting White Paper)
- 30% of organizations sponsor telecommuting program (6%-17% in other estimates) (Think Research, Inc.)
- Growth by telecommuters faster than any other home working sector (Braus)
- 2.9 million employee telecommuters, with no travel to office (Geography Department, University at Buffalo)
- 7.5 million telecommuters, including contract workers and part-time telecommuters (Geography Dept., UB)
- Depending on definition, between 20 million and 39 million telecommuters (Braus)
- Between 1992-1993, according to LINK, 20% increase in telecommuters, reaching 7.9 million telecommuters; this figure has almost tripled since 1988 (Braus)
- LINK figures show 7.6 million telecommuters (part- and full-time); annual rate of increase is at 15% or more (Southwestern Bell)
- 30 million telecommuters (part- and full-time) (Morrison, Saveri)
- LINK Resources estimate that 10% of U.S. workforce will telecommute at least 2 days per week (Southwestern Bell)
Early 21st century
- 15 million telecommuters, or 10% of U.S. workforce (Geography Department, University at Buffalo)
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A. Costs and Benefits of Telecommuting for the Organization
|1. Mentioned most||Extra equipment;
Lack of involvement with company
|2. Mentioned often||Training and
guidance of personnel;
Adaptation of the organization
be contacted easier or at non-office hours;
Less sick leave
|3. Mentioned sometimes||Loss of informal communication||More motivated personnel|
B. Costs and Benefits of Telecommuting for the Individual
|1. Mentioned most||Isolation;
Insecurity about work and income;
Combination with family
|2. Mentioned often||Deterioration of
Fewer career opportunities
More possibilities to get or keep job
|3. Mentioned sometimes||Mixing work and family responsibilities||Less traveling time and costs|
Source: Weijers, Meijer and Spoelman, 1992: 1053
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Structure of Telecommuting and
|Among organizations reporting telecommuting programs:|
|Among organizations not reporting telecommuting programs:|
Source: Survey conducted by Think Research Inc., 1992. "Report on the Home Office Computing Survey of Telecommuting Practices", available through the Internet at http://www.bluemarble.net/~amyloo/tele.html
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______________. 1994b. "Filling Vacant Office Buildings with Virtual
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Survey conducted and report prepared for Home Office Computing Magazine by
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Computing Survey of Telecommuting Practices", available
through the Internet at http://www.bluemarble.net/~amyloo/tele.html
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