Telecommuting, also called telework, teleworking, working from home (WFH – the most common term in the UK), mobile work, remote work, and flexible workplace, is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel (e.g. by bus, bicycle or car, etc.) to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse, or store. Telecommuting came into prominence in the 1970s to describe work-related substitutions of telecommunication and related information technologies for travel. Teleworkers in the 21st century often use mobile telecommunications technology such as a Wi-Fi-equipped laptop or tablet computers and smartphones to work from coffee shops; others may use a desktop computer and a landline phone at their home. According to a Reuters poll, approximately “one in five workers around the globe, particularly employees in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent work from home every day.” In the 2000s, annual leave or vacation in some organizations was seen as absence from the workplace rather than ceasing work, and some office employees used telework to continue to check work e-mails while on vacation.
In the 1990s, telecommuting became the subject of pop culture attention. In 1995, the motto that “work is something you do, not something you travel to” was coined. Variations of this motto include: “Work is something we DO, not a place that we GO” and “Work is what we do, not where we are.” Telecommuting has been adopted by a range of businesses, governments and not-for-profit organizations. Organizations may use telecommuting to reduce costs (telecommuting employees do not require an office or cubicle, a space which needs to be rented or purchased, and incurs additional costs such as lighting, climate control, etc.). Some organizations adopt telecommuting to improve workers’ quality of life, as teleworking typically reduces commuting time and time stuck in traffic jams. Along with this, teleworking may make it easier for workers to balance their work responsibilities with their personal life and family roles (e.g., caring for children or elderly parents). Some organizations adopt teleworking for environmental reasons, as telework can reduce congestion and air pollution, with fewer cars on the roads.
Job characteristic theory
Some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of telecommuting can be explained by job characteristic theory, which proposes that the traits and tasks of the job itself affect employees’ work attitudes and behavior. If five characteristics of a job are present (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback), then the employee in that job will experience more internal work motivation, satisfaction with personal growth opportunities, general job satisfaction, higher job performance, and lower absenteeism and turnover. Many studies have provided evidence that job characteristics influence employees’ behaviors and attitudes. Additionally, job characteristics can interact with individual differences to impact employee attitudes and behavior. Of these five job characteristics, telework specifically changes autonomy and feedback compared to face-to-face work and can thus influence employees’ behaviors and attitudes. According to Job Characteristics Theory, changes in autonomy and feedback influence work behaviors and attitudes more than a change in skill variety, task identity, or task significance.