Telecommuting not a panacea

September 21, 2006, volume 37, no. 2
By Diane Luckow



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Think telecommuting will improve your work/life balance? Not necessarily, says SFU business associate professor Brenda Lautsch. "Telecommuting isn't a panacea for solving work and family problems."

After spending the past several years examining the work and family life implications of telecommuting for 245 professionals at two large Fortune 500 firms, Lautsch has some recommendations.

"We found that just having access to teleworking didn't matter as much for improving work and family life as the way the job itself is designed," she says. "People who had better work/life balance tended to be people who had flexibility and control over their jobs—not just over how the work was done, but when it was done—all aspects of it."

Managing boundaries is a big issue for those telecommuting with family at home. "People think you can work at home and take care of the family—type with one hand, rock the cradle with the other," says Lautsch. "In many cases, that's not the reality." In fact, her most surprising finding was that telecommuters who try to integrate their family life with their work end up with greater work/family conflict. "A lot of people studying work/family life balance have been advocating integration—letting people blur things together. This is the first study I'm aware of that's shown the possible negative effects."

She found that telecommuting was also linked to a higher incidence of depression for the workers she studied, likely because of their isolation from colleagues. The one exception:mothers telecommuting from home.

The study examined telecommuting hours, performance levels, depression, how jobs were designed, and who controlled the job. The results were published in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of Vocational Behaviour.

To learn more about the study, Telecommuting, control, and boundary management: Correlates of policy use and practice, job control, and work-family effectiveness, visit www.sciencedirect.com.

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