In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Kevin Rockmann of George Mason University explores how the practice of telecommuting alters the relationship between a company and its employees.
Kevin Rockmann is an associate professor in the School of Management at George Mason University where his research investigates the development and influence of various types of attachments in organizations. His research can be found in a number of academic journals and he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Dr. Kevin Rockmann – Psychology of Telecommuting
Any company wishing to encourage both job-related motivation as well as outside-the-job effort should strive to build a sense of psychological attachment among its employees. A strong attachment to the company helps an employee to not only stay motivated in their work but to see the company in a positive light, both of which translate to company success.
One of the current dilemmas for companies wishing to engender such attachments is how strongly to encourage or deny telework – a debate echoed in the last two weeks by Yahoo’s announcement. Supporting Yahoo’s position is the research on proximity and attachment, which suggests that stronger bonds are formed when individuals are physically located near each other, such as when everyone is encapsulated inside the company’s walls. Further, the evidence suggests that while teleworkers are happier and perhaps more productive, there is a sacrifice to co-worker bonds over time. A perhaps unintended effect is that those employees left behind in the office are not happy, as the people they come in to work with everyday are no longer there.
On the other side though companies such as Yahoo may be unable to realize the benefits of physical proximity if the employees want and are used to the freedom and flexibility of telework. If employees know that other companies are allowing such forms of work and remember what it was like to have such freedom their bonds with the company will suffer due to feelings of injustice.
This leaves companies with no clear path forward. They want to satisfy their employees, but they also want the collaborative relationships facilitated by proximity. Yahoo says they will do this by “incentivizing talent” but whether they can incentivize enough to make people forget about the lost time with their friends and family remains to be seen.