New Research Suggests Telecommuting Is Effective, But Only In Moderation

A new study published by the Association for Psychological Science points out the importance of building relationships with coworkers in person, which can be difficult for full-time telecommuters.

In early 2013, Yahoo  generated a heated debate around the issue of telecommuting after CEO Marissa Meyer announced that the company’s employees could no longer work remotely.  Two-and-a-half years later, and in many organizations telework is now much less of a debate and more the norm.

Fifty percent of the U.S. workforce has a job that is compatible with telework, and about a quarter of the U.S. workforce telecommutes either full or part time, according to research compiled and analyzed by, which also found that roughly 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. workforce would like to telework at least part time (two to three days a week).

There are plenty of studies and statistics showing that teleworkers are just as, if not more, productive than in-office employees. Yet, not all the evidence points to all-around success. A new study published by the Association for Psychological Science (APS), for example, found a few caveats to the benefits of working remotely.

While on the one hand the research found that telecommuting is often associated with increased job satisfaction and performance, there are times when face-to-face interaction, which allows for relationship building, is the ideal.

“Telecommuting may be most beneficial when it’s practiced to a moderate degree,” the study’s authors wrote. “Face-to-face time may be particularly important at the start of new projects.”

The authors also pointed out that teleworkers are often found to have better quality relationships with bosses or supervisors, but their relationships with coworkers tend to be weaker. Thus, a telecommuter’s relative independence, or the extent to which others rely on him or her for work-related purposes, can affect the success and productivity of working remotely. It’s important to note that Yahoo’s Meyer cited a need for greater collaboration among employees in close proximity of one another as a main driver of her decision to end teleworking.

Another oft-cited caveat to telecommuting that the APS study looked at is the likelihood of working more. Because those working remotely often have less-defined working hours, as well as less of a separation between work and home, they may end up working prolonged hours.

That’s not to say there aren’t benefits to telecommuting, but overall, the researchers found that successful teleworking programs depends on individual fit, supportive management, and clear communication.

Telecommuting in Practice

Clear, consistent communication has proved invaluable to Jaclyn Reeves-Pepin, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, who works remotely and adheres to weekly conference calls with her staff, even if there are no pressing issues to discuss.

“That doesn’t mean we aren’t talking at other times as things arise, but we schedule that hour even if we don’t have agenda items,” she told Associations Now. “It’s easy to say ‘Hey, we have nothing to talk about. I could use that hour back.’ But you really need to use that hour to continue to maintain your relationship.”

Reeves-Pepin also travels to meet with staff in-person at least once a quarter to continue to foster good working relationships and open communication.

Remote Interviewing

Associations aren’t just working remotely. Some, such as the National Business Officers Association, are also using virtual meeting technology to hire from afar.

“For us, communicating through video conference is really part of the work that we do every week,” NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, told Associations Now. “So it’s a natural part of how we screen candidates to come on staff.”

There are a number of other advantages to virtual interviewing, including the ability to interview a wider pool of candidates throughout the country, and it’s more affordable, Shields added.

Have you found working remotely, either full or part time, increases your productivity and job satisfaction? Please share in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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