Telecommuting is often seen as a benefit to employees. In an economic era in which raises are few and far between, the ability to have a flexible schedule or to work at home from time to time is generally thought to be a way of saying thanks to dedicated workers — without spending money the company doesn’t have.
But are we really benefiting from working at home? Or is it just another way to trick us into putting in more time?
The Daily Stat at the Harvard Business Review threw out a fact the other day that should make us wonder.
“Half to two-thirds of the work that employees do at home pushes their work hours above 40 per week, an indication that in most cases, ‘telecommuters’ are just adding overtime to their work days,” the staff at HBR writes.
Their numbers come from Mary C. Noonan and Jennifer L. Glass’s recent article in the Monthly Labor Review, “The Hard Truth About Telecommuting.” Noonan and Glass are sociology professors at the University of Iowa and the University of Texas, respectively. Their article outlined research into the nature of telecommuting. Specifically, they wanted to know whether telecommuting currently replaces work done in the office, or adds onto it.
As with most academic questions, the answer is both, sort of, but ultimately, there’s no doubt that working at home lengthened their sample’s work week. Even more significantly, it’s hard to dispute the motivation for employers offering telecommuting options is less altruistic than we generally think.
Or, as Noonan and Glass put it:
“Our descriptive results suggest that labor demand for work-family accommodation does not seem to propel the distribution of telecommuting hours. None of the expected relationships under such a scenario are present in the data — parents of dependent children, for example, are no more likely to telecommute than the population as a whole. Meanwhile, indicators that suggest a supply-side explanations — such as occupational sector and work hours — are more strongly related to telecommuting hours.”
So, in other words, maybe our bosses should be thanking us for the telecommuting option.
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