Telecommuting may destroy your work, life balance: study

Working mother

Though the idea of working from home or a remote location and not reporting to office daily may sound glorious, a recent research has shown that it doesn't always reach expectations.

The most recent high-profile failure on this front is a one-year experiment run from August 2010 to August 2011 by the Office for Personal Management—a US government agency that runs the nation's civil service—that allowed employees full flexibility over where and when they worked as long as they got the job done.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request by the Federal Times, a Deloitte report evaluating the pilot program found that OPM senior managers couldn't evaluate performance of their employees, the quality of work deteriorated, and employees had little idea whether they were putting in enough time and effort.

Granted, not every attempt at full-blown telecommuting ends up like OPM's. Aetna, an insurance company, is often held up as a success story: 47 per cent of its US employees work from home every day.

But there's also a downside to spending so much time at home. Aetna's telecommuters tend to be heavier, and the company now provides an online personal trainer to help them stay in shape.

It might also be that, contrary to some early expectations, telecommuting is not necessarily good for the environment.

According to a Slate Magazine report, a 2011 article in the Annals of Regional Science found that, on average, telecommuters end up putting in more travel—on both nonwork-and work-related trips—than those who don't telecommute.

An article defines telecommuters as those who "work at home instead of going to usual workplace" once a week or more.

In other words, that they don't drive to work doesn't mean that they drive less overall.

As Pengyu Zhu, the article's author, put it, "the hopes of planners and policymakers who expected the promotion of telecommuting programs to substitute for face-to-face interactions and thus reduce traditional travels remains largely unmet".

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