Advantages & Disadvantages Of Telework In The Usa

There has been a lot of discussion and research on telework and its benefits not only to employees but employers as well. Telework is generally defined as completing work duties away from the typical worksite, usually at home or in a telework center (H. R. 1722, 2010). Some have added the use of telecommunications technology to their definition (Techopedia, n.d.) while others define it as the substitution of technology for travel (Global Workplace Analytics, 2018). The underlying concept within the definitions is that work is performed using current telecommunications technology at a location other than the worksite.

Much of the literature cites the benefits for employees and organizations and some include the challenges faced by both employees and employers. They all show that teleworking is becoming more and more popular, not only in the United States but abroad. Companies offering and employees taking advantage of telework continue to increase (SHRM, 2016; Global Workplace Analytics, 2018). The Federal Government went so far as to enact a bill requiring its agencies to offer telework as much as possible (HR 1722, 2010). That, in turn, created additional jobs as the program requires people to manage and monitor it (OPM, n.d.).

Telework Users

Telework is growing in popularity around the globe as an alternative to the typical work place. Studies have focused on telework in the United States and the European Union, in particular (Chiru, 2017 and Picu & Dinu, 2016). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), 24% of the labor force did some or all of their work at home. The 2016 Employee Benefits Survey found that 60 percent of organizations offer telecommuting to their employees (SHRM, 2016). Across the European Union, an average of 17% of workers claimed they worked outside of the office (Eurofound, 2017).

Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) has determined that 3.2% of the workforce work from home at least half time, a 140% increase from 2005 (2018). Evidence suggests that managers, professionals, white-collar workers are making the move to teleworking (Felstead &Henseke, 2017). While telework is not limited to specific jobs or industries, Forbes reported the most common industries offering telework opportunities to employees tend to be “health care, computer/IT, education/training, sales, customer service, finance and travel/hospitality” (Shin, 2018). Additionally, GWA has found that the typical telecommuter is in their mid-forties, college educated and earns $58,000 per year.

Benefits of Telework

Claudiu Chiru states “there are many advantages in using teleworking involving financial aspect, efficiency in work and issues related to the private life of workers” (2017). Employers and employees perceive numerous benefits to the flexibility of telework although employees find it more beneficial (Church, 2015). The trend of using telework is growing due to benefits reported by employers and employees alike.

Employee benefits

A study by De Menezes and Kelliher (2016) found that a telework arrangement “can lead to positive employee attitudes, which may contribute indirectly to employee performance” (p. 1064) and these teleworkers report significantly higher levels of job satisfaction (Felstead & Henseke, 2017). It’s suggested that the reason for the higher satisfaction is that telework offers the employees the independence to plan activities according to their personal schedule (Picu & Dinu, 2016).

Research by the Office of Personnel Management corroborates this finding employees are more committed to their organizations when they feel they have greater control over their work. Compared to employees who do not telework (but would like to) teleworkers report more satisfaction with their company and higher satisfaction with their job (Henke et al., 2016). In fact, 76% of teleworkers reported greater levels of job satisfaction compared to 68% of nonteleworkers (OPM, 2011). This increased satisfaction can be attributed to better work-life balance that comes with telework (Felstead & Henseke, 2017). The more employees telework, the better their perception of work-life balance.

While there are conflicting results about the relationships teleworkers have with coworkers and managers, some have found teleworking forces improvements in manager/employee relationships (Allen, Golden, & Shockley, 2015). Allen et al. elaborate by saying “these alterations in relationships have in turn been found to be positively associated with telecommuters’ job satisfaction and these changes generally become more pronounced as telecommuting reaches higher levels”.

Productivity of teleworkers shows conflicting results in the current research. One study has determined that the experience of the teleworker determines the productivity while the number of days teleworked does not increase productivity (Torten, Reaiche, & Caraballo, 2016). Allen et al. (2015) cite an increase in productivity among teleworkers, in general. Across the United States and the European Union, organizations have witnessed increased productivity among their employees who telecommute (Chiru, 2017; Eurofound, 2017; Global Workplace Analytics, 2018).

Reduction in commute time is a benefit of teleworking that has been tied to reduced stress and greater productivity. Teleworkers see an obvious reduction in commute time when at least part of their work is accomplished from home. Church (2015) cites the time that would have been spent in traffic commuting to a work place can instead be spent on being productive for work. Henke et al. (2016) agree that empowering employees to make decisions that are beneficial to them reduces stress that can come with commuting to the work location every day.

Telework is also purported to have health benefits for those who use it. Some researchers tie the reduction in stress to the reduction in sick days among those who commute. Picu and Dinu (2016) found those that telework are in better health and teleworking reduces the need for sick leave. Church (2015) estimates that approximately 78% of sick days are due to stress or personal issues. And according to Henke et al. (2016), employees who telework 8 hours per month or less were more likely o reduce their risk for depression over time than those who do not telework.

Organizations allowing their employees to use telework also report benefits. In the European Union, telework is promoted as leading to “reductions in the following: physical transportation and urban congestion; pollution and energy use; office space and associated costs. It can create job opportunities, attract and retain qualified workers, and potentially even spark economic growth in remote regions”(Eurofound, 2017). Employers’ gains come from a more productive workforce which uses less space and is more cost effective to house (Felstead & Henseke, 2017).

Employers have found an increase in productivity and less sick days from those employees taking advantage of the telework opportunities (Church, 2015). In Europe, too, companies benefit from enhanced productivity and efficiency, and from a reduction in the need for office space and associated costs (Eurofound, 2017). The Society for Human Resources Management (2016) reports companies report that their telecommuting employees are 26 percent more productive now than when they worked in the office full time. A study completed by Masuda, Holtschlag & Nicklin (2017) reported that employees who work in organizations that offer telework experience greater perceived supervisor goal support. And, individuals who experience high perceived supervisor goal support are likely to attain such goals (Masuda et al., 2017).

Just as employees feel it improves their work-life balance, employers see this reflected all well. Employees perceptions of a better work- life balance increases their levels of job satisfaction and organisational commitment ( Felstead & Henseke, 2017). Teleworking may foster positive sentiments toward the organization ( De Menezes, & Kelliher, 2016). Felstead and Henseke (2017) note that teleworkers are more committed, enthusiastic and satisfied with their job. Employers are reckoned to benefit from the increased work intensity and longer hours triggered by the detachment of work from place (Felstead & Henseke, 2017). Employees who had the opportunity to work from home were more engaged at the end of the work year (Masuda, et al., 2017).

The study by the OPM found “compared with employees not able to telework, more teleworkers report greater levels of job satisfaction (76% v 68%) would recommend their organization as a good place to work (75% vs. 66%), and are less likely to express an intention to leave their current organizations (74% vs. 68%)” (p.6). Picu & Dinu (2016) found that the increase in morale and loyalty of individuals who telework had a positive effect on employment engagement, motivation and satisfaction with their job. Employees will interpret the option to telework as a resource that aids their work, and will tend to reciprocate by developing positive attitudes (Masuda et al., 2017).

Teleworkers display more positive attitudes towards the employing organisation (Felstead & Henseke). “Organizations may also foster a perception of organizational support in helping them manage the interface between their work and nonwork lives” (De Menzes & Kelliher). With the increase in employee job satisfaction and commitment to their organization, telework can be a “powerful weapon in reducing turnover” (Gibson, Blackwell, Dominicis, & Demerath, 2002).

Still others tout is as a marketing tool to attract and retain the best talent (OPM, n.d.; Eurofound, 2017). Offering telework allows organizations to hire people with outstanding skills and qualifications who do not live near the workplace and potentially reduces personnel costs (Chiru, 2017). Mahler (2012) found offering telework expands the pool of potential recruits to include those who chose to live outside major urban centers (Mahler, 2012). Telework allows organizations easier accessibility to the best talent regardless of location (Picu & Dinu, 2016).

Challenges of Telework

Acknowledging the benefits requires a review of perceived challenges. For each of the benefits discovered, there seems to be evidence of just as many challenges. Employees can often feel that they are missing out on face-to-face contact, including collaboration, and may experience a reduced sense of team cohesion by utilizing telework (Church, 2015). This lack of social interaction may lead to feelings of isolation and low morale (Picu & Dinu, 2016). Masuda et al. note the teleworking employees may miss out on opportunities for socialization, learning and mentoring by not being physically at the work place (2017). Communication and coordination can potentially be more challenging (Mahler, 2012).

At the same time, some employees fear they will hamper their chances for promotions by not physically being in front of the supervisors (Church, 2015). In essence, their work will go unnoticed by their supervisors. On the other hand, employees who telework may also work more hours because there is no set separation between work and home (Henke et al., 2016). This can often complicate the work-life benefit of teleworking (Church, 2015). Felstead & Henseke found many teleworkers found it difficult to “switch off” and unwind at the end of the work day when there is no separation between work and home.

“Teleworkers recognize a persistent need to manage perceptions about their work arrangement by seeming to overproduce when they work from home and being sure to remain engaged with their coworkers by being accessible” (Greer & Payne, 2014). Many employees found that working from home often leads to them working longer hours than when they worked in an office (Church, 2015). In fact, Eurofound reported teleworkers have a tendency to work longer hours, increasing the work-home interference and resulting in work intensification (2017).

Smaller, less noted challenges for teleworkers come in the form of health habits. As there were reported benefits in the health of teleworkers, some employees who work from home may find they start poor health habits like overeating, eating less nutritious food, and smoking, because the social cues that would normally limit these behaviors are missing (Henke et al., 2016). Managers have expressed concerns with not being able to have face-to-face communications with employees (Greer and Payne, 2014). Ranking among the top deterrents was the inability of employers to monitor employee performance (Mills, Wong-Ellison, Werner & Clay, 2001).

The underlying cause of these deterrents is the employers lack of trust in the employees ability to still accomplish tasks while they’re not physically in the work location (Brown, Smith, Arduengo & Taylor, 2016). Managing and monitoring teleworker performance and mentoring are the number one challenge managers have with teleworking (Greer & Payne, 2014). In his research, Church found many managers are more comfortable when they are able to witness their employees’ work first-hand and have a difficult time gauging the effectiveness of employees who are not in the same physical location.

“Senior executives feel that telecommuting is out of sync with the current emphasis on teamwork and rapid change and response” (Gibson et al., 2002). Team members need to be available to each other and “coordinate in ways that lead to synergy, cohesion, camaraderie and overall team effectiveness” (Greer & Payne, 2014). In a widely publicized move, former Yahoo President and CEO, Marissa Mayer did away with the teleworking policy at Yahoo and explained, “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative an innovative when they’re together” (2013).

Team members need to be available to one another and when they perceived as being unavailable, it impedes the development and maintenance of coworker relationship quality (Allen et al., 2015). Other challenges were briefly touched on. In contradiction to engagement being enhanced for teleworkers, it was found that this engagement may decrease over a long period of time (Masuda et al., 2017). In the case of formal flexible working arrangements, once the arrangement has been made, it is likely to be harder, although not impossible, for the employer to withdraw from the arrangement, which itself is likely to involve a formal process. (De Menezes, & Kelliher ).


Telework is a growing trend in the United States (Picu & Dinu, 2016). Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to telework. Teleworking is a form of work that requires two key factors: training and specific experience in order to succeed (Torten et al., 2016). As stated by Allen et al. (2015), “ a multidisciplinary, comprehensive understanding of both the benefits and the drawbacks of telecommuting can be used to more effectively shape and inform organizations practices and public policy”. “When it comes to work/life balance, employees are looking for two things: flexibility and trust” (Sutherland, 2015).

When organizations allow their employees to telework, it sends a signal to the employees that the organization cares for them and enhances their perceptions of supervisor goal support (Masuda, et al., 2017). The desire to telework is so great that some employees are willing to give up pay increases in order to work from home (Church, 2015). With all of the available studies on the benefits of telework for employees and employers alike, organizations can find ways to implement telework policies that satisfy the needs of both.


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11 February 2020
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