Study: Telecommuters May Work Harder to Prove They’re Not Gaming the System

If you think all telecommuters are slacking off, think again. A new study from the University of Illinois found that people who work remotely are likely to show more dedication to their organizations and coworkers to prove they are working just as hard as they would in the office.

A new study is adding fodder to the telecommuting debate. This time, research suggests that working remotely can increase teamwork and, in some cases, worker productivity.

Analyzing data from more 300 employees at various organizations, researchers at the University of Illinois found that telecommuters actually work harder to contribute to their organizations and help coworkers. The goal: to avoid being seen as taking advantage of the remote work arrangement.

“They feel compelled to go above and beyond to make their work presence more visible, to make themselves known as assets,” Ravi S. Gajendran, a professor of business administration at the university, said in a statement. “In fact, they almost overcompensate by being extra helpful because they know in the back of their minds that their special arrangement could easily go away. So they give a little extra back to the organization.”

This translates into behaviors such as taking initiative and following organizational rules. “If you’re working remotely, you don’t want your coworkers to resent that arrangement,” Gajendran said. “You want them to continue to think you’re helpful. You don’t want to be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”

While the research did not indicate a marked improvement in productivity among employees overall, performance improved among employees who did not have good relationships with their bosses.

“For someone who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with their supervisor, getting this special work arrangement is significant,” Gajendran said. “The employee is motivated to give back and work harder to ensure that arrangement doesn’t get taken away.”

Not all telecommuters are as conscientious as the Illinois study found, however. A recent Washington Post report on the telecommuting program at the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office found that some agency employees lied about their hours, leading to overtime pay and bonuses for work that wasn’t done.

The USPTO example might be evidence supporting a caveat in the Illinois study. About half of the 8,300 patent examiners at the agency work from home, according to the Post report. As Gajendran pointed out in his research, the more widespread participation is in such a program, the less inclined employees may be to show appreciation for it via better work performance.

“It turns out that if everyone is getting it, then it’s seen as less special, and enthusiasm about it wanes,” Gajendran said. “The employee sees it as a normal part of work life, so they don’t think it’s necessary to go above and beyond to justify it.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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