From Telecommuting to Cybercommuting
Telecommuting was a term phrased in the 1980s to describe how the introduction of cordless phones and faxes enabled employees to work from home (WFH), thereby putting an end to the concept of a full-time office job. The same is now being said of the Internet. Of course, working from home has not been accepted as widely as onlookers predicted, but cybercommuting is becoming increasingly common. In 2010, 24% of employed persons did some or all of their work at home, while last year, the number of employees working regularly from home was 10% in the US alone. Like any other phenomenon prevailing in our society, WFH culture also comes with its own psychological effects.
According to Bloom, Liang, Roberts & Ying (2013)1, an experiment in a Chinese firm showed positive results when employees were given the option to work from home. The company under discussion is CTrip, a Chinese travel agency with a 16,000 strong workforce. Volunteers from their call center were assigned to work from home and in the office randomly for 9 months. WFH led to the following results:
· 13% performance increase
· Call center operatives were able to increase calls per minute by 4% due to a ‘quieter environment’
· Employees reported greater work satisfaction when they worked from home
In the aftermath of the experiment, the company made WHF optional for all employees, and half of them showed interest.
According to Novaco & Gonzalez-quoted in Amichai-Hamburger (2011)2 - driving on congested roads and travelling in public transit causes ‘commuting stress’ which affects both our physical and mental health. Traffic congestion to and from work causes loss of productivity, and gives commuters a psychological effect of impedance, i.e. they are being hindered in the pursuit of life’s goals. People who drive to work every day also experience similar stress, resulting in increased violations and risk of accidents. Working from home, then, helps the individual avoid commuting stress on a daily basis.
On the Job Stress
According to the Stress in the Workplace report (APA (2011)3, while 69% of employed adults report they are satisfied with their job, only 46% report being satisfied with the recognition practices of their employer and only one third of the people surveyed feel their employer provides sufficient opportunities for internal advancement.
36% of workers said they typically feel tense or stressed out during their workday, citing reasons such as unrealistic job expectations, reduction or elimination of bonuses, reduction or elimination of social activities, and long hours. Only 52% of employees said they feel valued on the job, with almost a third of them indicating a desire to seek employment elsewhere within the next year.
Working from home then offers the individual considerable amount of freedom and relief. Notwithstanding the fact that working from home comes with its own set of responsibilities, the factor of “being one’s own boss” significantly helps reduce on the job stress.
Implications for Work-life Balance
It is a well-known fact that imbalance between work and private lives not only damages productivity, but also increases health risks, both factors resulting in a poor quality of life. That is why not only mental health professionals, but even employers themselves are taking initiatives to offer their employees a healthy working environment. That is why cybercommuting, as referenced above, helps to make employees more productive while they get to have more fulfilling private lives4.
According to Hawkley & Cacioppo (2010)5, loneliness is something both teenagers and adults experience. This is something we experience owing to humans being social species who rely on a social environment to survive and thrive. An unfulfilling social life effects physical health, mental health, and cognitive functioning. The question then arises: does working from home full-time isolate a person socially, now that he or she isn’t a part of a team?
A 2007 research at Penn State6 (based on 46 studies on telecommuting from over 2 decades and covering more than 12,000 employees), revealed that WFH strayed relationships between home workers and their colleagues at the office, mostly due to jealousy on the part of the latter.
This can cause significant stress to an individual whose social life mostly revolves around his or her workplace and colleagues. However, as stated above, working from home allows individuals to spend more time with family (e.g. parents being able to pick/drop children from school). Moreover, time spent away from the workforce can be compensated with social activities that an employee couldn’t engage in before due to a strenuous work schedule.
1 Bloom, Liang, Roberts & Ying (2013). Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment. Stanford University.
2(Novaco & Gonzalez. Commuting and Well-being) quoted in Yair Amichai-Hamburger (2011). Technology and Psychological Well-being. Cambridge University Press
3American Psychological Association (2011). Stress in the Workplace Survey Summary.
4Moreno Valley College. Work-life Balance Training Manual
5Hawkley & Cacioppo (2010). Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms. The Society of Behavioral Medicine
6Penn State Research quoted in Korener, B. (2008). Home sweet office: Telecommute Good for Business, Employees, and Planet. Retrieved from http://archive.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/16-10/st_essay