Is Telecommuting Overrated?

By  |  January 2, 2013, 4:12 PM

The futurist Alvin Toffler predicted the rise of telecommuting, calling the home office an “electronic cottage” that could enhance family and community cohesion. A growing segment of today’s workforce telecommutes—in a variety of ways and with varying frequency. But, as reported by Slate‘s Evgeny Morozov, research indicates that the outcomes of tech-enabled remote work arrangements are decidedly mixed. A Deloitte report about a flexible work pilot program at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management concluded that both employees and their managers had a hard time evaluating performance, and that the quality of work suffered. And while the insurance giant Aetna allows 47 percent of its employees to work from home, those workers tend to be heavier, spurring the company to hire an online personal trainer.

Telecommuting also creates the need for employers to verify that employees are staying on task, raising thorny privacy issues. One study also found that telecommuters are less likely to be married, and that working from home may in fact upend an employee’s work/life balance more than restore it. For now at least, it looks like predictions that technology will both emancipate workers and make them more productive, while undeniably compelling, may be slightly exaggerated.

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