Telecommuting is bad for people who don’t do it?

An article in the April Communications of the ACM takes an unusually rigorous look at the effect of telecommuting on productivity. The study is done with call center workers, so they have a direct measure of productivity, intensity and efficiency. It’s a long study, so they can deal with temporary effects of new telecommuters versus the long-range effects. While it is a small study, they were careful to look at pre-telecommuting differences, deal with possible placebo or Hawthorne effects, and look at the effects on both people “in the office” and telecommuters.

The surprising result for me is that while telecommuters are indeed more productive, productivity declined among non-telecommuters doing the same jobs.

Other possible effects turn out to be a wash: Telecommuting doesn’t affect absenteeism, and productivity is not a selection effect: Telecommuters were not being selected because they already had high productivity. Their productivity actually did improve.

However, if you telecommute and I stay in the office, telecommuting is good for you, but bad for me. Why that seems to be true isn’t clear, but it is potentially very disturbing.

I’d love to think of a way to replicate the study using our staff. I may try mining the CVS repositories to see what’s in there.


Explore posts in the same categories: Process Change, Software, STScI

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