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There are four breaks from the traditional 9-to-5 routine of employees who share a work location and see each other on a daily basis. Each of these offers challenges for companies and their managers but also opportunities. We can also expect telework to look very different in the next few years.
Twenty-five years ago, Jack Nilles coined the term "telecommuting" while stuck in traffic in Los Angeles. It is not surprising then that initial interest in telecommuting was driven by concerns about traffic congestion and pollution in densely populated areas such as southern California. In the 1980s, as companies focused increasingly on cutting costs, they pointed to telecommuting as a means to reduce the expense of maintaining office space. More recently, organizations have begun to view telecommuting as a tool to attract and retain top personnel in fields with short labor supplies. Over the years, the substitution of computer-based technology for physical travel has led to a number of alternative work forms beyond home-based telecommuting, including satellite centers, neighborhood work centers, and mobile working. Together, these forms constitute "teleworking." What they have in common is a transition from in-person supervision to remote managing, from face-to-face commu-nication to telecommunications-mediated communication, from on-site working to off-site or multiple-site working, and, in the case of groups, from side-by-side collaboration to virtual teamwork.
Estimates of the number of telecommuters in the U.S. vary, but most figures range between three and nine million people (three to eight per-cent of the workforce). These figures include people who work from home at least several days per month of their normal work schedule.
Many forecasters predict these numbers will continue to rise, but forecasts for the U.S. in the year 2000 vary considerably: from 15 million workers to 44 million workers or 57% of the workforce. Further evidence of telecommuting's growing popularity is found in the creation in 1993 of a national trade organization, the Inter-national Telecommuting Advisory Council (ITAC), dedicated to promoting telework and telecommuting. Recently, ITAC published the premier issue of Telecommute, a monthly maga-zine devoted to "today's flexible workplace."
One troubling element of this trend in new work forms is that many companies are allowing employees to telework without ade-quately informing employees and managers about the benefits and challenges. In this article, we differentiate among the previously mentioned alternative work forms of tele-working, describe advantages and challenges of each form, and provide recommendations to address these challenges. We base our insights on previous research, as well as on conversations Kurland had with 54 traditional on-site and remote supervisors and the tele-workers and non-teleworkers they manage in two high technology firms.
DEFINING TYPES OF TELEWORK
To begin the discussion, we define the four types of telework: home-based telecommut-ing, satellite offices, neighborhood work cen-ters, and mobile working.
Home-based telecommuting refers to employ-ees who work at home on a regular basis, though not necessarily (and, in fact, rarely) every day. For example, employees at Hewlett-Packard can opt to telecommute several hours to several days each week. (We do not consider as telecommuters the home-based workers who are self-employed or who otherwise have no connection to a central workplace.) A per-son can be said to be a telecommuter if her telecommunications link to the office is as sim-ple as a telephone; however, telecommuters often use other communications media such as electronic mail, personal computer links to office servers, and fax machines. Either the firm or the employee purchases the home-based equipment. Hewlett-Packard covers most expenses for employees when they telecommute, including installing ISDN lines in employees' homes. In 1993, 100 American Express travel agents in 15 locations telecom-muted.
The company connected these employees' homes to American Express' phone and data lines for a modest one-time expense of $1300 each, including hardware.
In satellite offices, employees work both out-side the home and away from the conventional workplace in a location convenient to the employees and/or customers. A satellite office houses only employees from a single firm; it is in some sense a branch office whose purpose is to alleviate employees' commute. The satellite office is equipped with office furniture and equipment provided by the firm; in addition, administrative help may be available there. Fuji Xerox has a satellite office near Shin-Yurigaoka Station on the Odakuy Line in a suburb of Tokyo. It has PCs, teleconferencing, and other equipment so employees can work there with-out having to go to the headquarters office in the city. The people who work there belong to different departments within the firm so no whole unit is present at the satellite center.
A neighborhood work center is essentially identical to a satellite office with one major dif-ference: the neighborhood work center houses more than one company's employees. In other words, several companies may share the lease on an office building and maintain separate office areas within the building for employees of each company.Office suites may be fur-nished by the site owner or by each renting firm. Satellite and neighborhood work centers are alternatives to home-based telecommuting; the employee avoids a long commute to the conventional workplace but remains in an office rather than a home setting. For example, Southern California has numerous telecenters in which employees from different companies can rent space monthly. These centers sport conveniences such as private office spaces, cubicles, fax machines, data hookups, telecon-ferencing, and videoconferencing technology.
In contrast to telecommuters who work from one designated location outside the main office and who communicate with the office using electronic communication, mobile workers are frequently on the road, using com-munications technology to work from home, from a car, from a plane, or from a hotel- communicating with the office as necessary from each location. Mobile workers thus are accustomed to working in an assortment of locales. In an airport waiting lounge, one author recently overheard a woman ask a mobile worker, working on his laptop, where his office was. "Actually," he responded, "you're sitting in it." Most companies have employees who are intimately familiar with mobile work, like marketing managers, sales-persons, investment bankers, investigative reporters, and any other personnel who need to be on the move to get their jobs done.
Telework, in any form, has ramifications beyond simply changing the way or place in which an individual employee performs work: It can extend to remote managing and virtual teams.
Remote managing occurs when managers are physically separated from their direct reports because the manager and/or the employee teleworks, and thus manages these employees remotely. For example, a manager in Irvine, California at Fujitsu Business Systems supervises two employees, one based in Boston and the other in Dallas. Both employees telecommute full-time from home and the man-ager telecommutes part-time. Remote manag-ing is characterized by this inability of a man-ager to observe her employees' work processes.
Virtual teams consist of team members who are geographically dispersed and who come together by way of telecommunications technol-ogy (e.g., video conferencing). Each team mem-ber may be located in a traditional office setting, but the offices are not proximate to one another.
Additionally, virtual team members may …