Telecommuters Are Happier And Less Stressed, So AT&T Sends Them Back To Their Cubicles

from the flexible-is-better dept

With gas prices on the rise, telecommuting has encountered renewed enthusiasm lately. With that enthusiasm comes, of course, continued debate as to whether or not telecommuting is more or less productive. Well, the latest study (which is actually an analysis of 46 other studies) finds that telecommuters are happier, less stressful, and have better work-family balance. The study found that telecommuters did not hamper relationships, nor did it artificially stunt career development. According to the study, the number of people who telecommute at least once a month has increased 60 percent in the last few years. These findings really should not be much of a surprise. As more and more employers adapt to the growing numbers of telecommuters, the disadvantages once attributed to the rogue road warriors fade away. So, coupled with the time savings and environmental benefits, it seems that telecommuting is a win-win situation that is here to stay, especially as more and more homes add broadband. That said, it’s slightly ironic that as a result of the SBC, AT&T and BellSouth mergers, as many as 12,000 AT&T telecommuters are being recalled to their home offices. If telecommuting increases morale, then it makes sense that the converse is true, and AT&T is about to find that out the hard way.

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Comments on “Telecommuters Are Happier And Less Stressed, So AT&T Sends Them Back To Their Cubicles”

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Seth Brundle says:

Surprised at the conclusions

I have mostly worked from home since about 2001. Recently I had to work out of my office 90 minutes away for 3 months.

It had a tremendous positive affect on my mood, I got more work done, and when I got home I felt my job was done for the day and didnt feel guilty about relaxing. Home and work were no longer an seamless ‘blob’ – each had definition, meaning, and purpose.

Inside I knew telecommuting was depressing me but, hey, its just too easy to *not* go to work. I know a lot of longtime telecommuters that confide the same to me.

My question is how many of the respondents to the studies *knew* they were responding to their attitudes about telecommuting – because however a telecommuter really feels, they will defend their *ability* to work from home to the death.

David (profile) says:

Re: Surprised at the conclusions

I’m not *surprised* by the conclusions, but I agree with you.

The study was of people who telecommute at least once per month, right? After 3 years at my previous job, I moved 700 miles away to go back to school full time. I kept my job, working from 10 to 25 hours during the semester, and 40 hours during breaks. It was great, and I was able to stay focused and was probably getting more done in 20 hours than I used to get done in 40.

After graduation, I stayed where I was and started working full time from home. I never felt like I was getting enough done, so I would unintentionally work up to 12 hours a day. I barely had any human contact during the week, and I felt completely disconnected from the office. I felt myself getting depressed.

After about 6 months I started a new job. I continued consulting for them part time for a while, but I was using my time more efficiently and felt good about my work. Now after a year at my new job, I’m going to start telecommuting one day every two weeks, and I am sure I will make very good use of that time away from distraction.

I think telecommuting works really well for some people, but I think a lot of people are like me. A few days in the office, then a few days at home, is a good balance.

Michelle says:

More flexability - more work

I’ve worked as a “remote” employee for 3 years now. I don’t even have an office at the “office” anymore. I love it. I have time to go to the gym, get my laundry done, eat a balanced diet without resorting to eating at restraunts multiple times during the week and save on gas.

I put in more then 40 hours work time, but i would do that and more in the office with all the people disrupting me during the day to “talk around the water cooler”.

As for contact with people, I get instant messaged and called all day, sit on conference calls, etc.

When I worked in cubicle city I was incredibly depressed looking at 4 gray walls, no natural lighting or windows and tied to my computer like it was a ball and chain.

I have the option (profile) says:

to work from home

I work both at home and at the office. Today I’m working from home. The key to successful telecommuting is to have a well defined set of performance metrics and goals to which you are expected to meet. I know exactly what is expected of me and I strive to meet or beat those KPI’s every month, and exceed my performance goals every quarter.

The company leaves the decision to me on what work conditions are most ideal to meeting their expectations.

MN says:

Telecommuting way of life

I have been telecommuting now 100% of my time for about the last year, before that with a previous company it was only a few days a week and I wished it could be 100%. It takes a strong organized person to be able to do this all of the time. The company I work for now, when you are hired they help you understand and work with you on home officing skills. They want you to be successful so they can be successful. I do put in more hours than normal but who doesnt these days – at least I am home when the kids get home from school and can help them with a quick a question if needed. I am less stressed & have been healthier this past year. You have to keep the work/life balance in check
& sometimes close the laptop. For the lunch hour sometimes I will schedule a lunch 1 or 2 times a week with different friends so I can get the social interaction. If I need to run to the post office I can do that too. I work with a team of other telecommuters and we do get our “office water cooler chats in” but it is done in a different environment via the telephone and email chats. I also do not have the dreaded commute in our MN metro area. I love home officing and have been successful with the situation. I think if more people would telecommute more of their time, they would find themselves having a higher work productivity and actually putting in a few more hours than they were before. The stigmatism of we cannot see you so you must not be doing anything….this is more than likely coming from managament who does not understand telecommuting, if they could understand it more and see the financial benefits of it, I bet they would be on board if they are not control freeks. If it is co-workers that are giving home officing workers a hard time – they are only jealous and probably wish they could do it as well. I agree with the article that AT&T is going to learn the hard way. Once a person is successful with home officing, I believe it would be much harder for that person to adapt to a cubicle environment.

Overcast says:

I’m able to telecommute – but that being said – I live maybe 30 minutes from work. I tend to usually go in, but if there’s a doctor’s appointment, etc – I can just work from home.

Morale? It’s a huge boost – I’m FAR happier here than other places I’ve worked, and I’ll likely stay around for quite some time.

I get plenty done when I’m home – it doesn’t really matter, just depends on the day. Although, when I’m at home – I might do other little tasks at home, but then end up keeping my laptop running and doing ‘after hours’ tasks, like updating server agents, running patches, etc.

Telecommuter at a Telecom says:

I’d love to agree with your conclusion that AT&T is going to “find out the hard way”, but having recently seen this done at my office, I cannot.

If my case is similar to the theirs, here’s what will happen:
1) A subset of the 12,000 people will find new jobs allowing them to telecommute. It will be a very small minority (We didn’t even see 1%). Most will swear up and down that they’re going to quit, but will ultimately stick around.
2) Another 10-15% of the employees will deal with it, but will be a little less productive and less happy. These are the folks who’s job or who’s work style benefited from telecommuting. Many in this group are just *good employees*, so they’ll end up working in the office and still be good employees.
3) The remainder (vast majority) will be surprisingly more efficient, and a small percentage of them will actually be more happy. They didn’t adjust well to telecommuting, or their manager could never quantify the amount of work they were doing without a set of eye balls on them. Some are good employees with bad managers, others are just bad employees.

It’s that third group that will identify to upper management that bringing workers back was a “good idea”. Real-estate costs will go up, but real-estate costs for a telecom is #3 behind Access Costs and Staff costs. They’re so high that adding room for 12,000 employees (many of whom probably had desks going unused) will go unnoticed.

The complaint often goes: “It’s a few people that abuse Telecommuting that ruin it for those of us who can handle working from home.” If my company was any example, it’s not a “few”, it’s a lot due partly to the employee and partly to management that didn’t know how to manage telecommuters.

Another thing happened at my company: At lower levels, managers began to identify employees who’s jobs made more sense with flex time and work-from-home abilities (and which employees were good at handling it) and allowed them to “less officially” return to their original work situation. Several months later, most of Group #2 (10-15%) were returned to their original work circumstances (flex time/work from home).

As a side note, a lot of blame is laid on the “bad telecommuters”, but it’s really bad management that makes a telecommuting operation fail.
Most people are capable of doing their job regardless of where they are physically. Many managers just don’t know how to work with telecommuters or identify when a telecommuting employee is not working at his/her peek.

Even though many of us professionals are “salary” and are not paid by each hour we work, the organization still puts a huge emphasis on the amount of “time” an employee puts into his/her job, rather than the amount of “work” he/she actually completes. And some managers are so anti-telecommuting that they actually force failure on a telecommuter by assigning less important work or requiring that person to spend equal amounts of time justifying his job as he does doing his job.

Brian says:

Re: ATT for you again


This is likely a strong scenario.

If you have ever worked for a company where they have decided to let an employee go that does not work at the office, there is a different dynamic than if that person worked in the office. I would have to argue it is much easier to let someone go in the office – more predictability, more security, more control of the situation. Call them to your office, their accounts and access are disabled while in your office, inform them of their fate, walk them to their area, clean out personal belongings (or schedule another time for this), escort them to the door, end of story.

If the worker is remote, do you let them know without coming to the office they are being let go? How do you get them to the office without it seeming awkward to call them in? How are you sure they bring company assets with them you will need to collect without telling them? If you can’t, how do you follow-up to be sure you do obtain all assets?

It can be done, sure, on a smaller scale with one or two employees, with careful management. AT&T, however, is trying to bring two workforces together where there is probably a lot of overlap, and it knows inevitably that some positions will be cut. You have to be able to see what will work and what doesn’t, and this is their strategy.

It is the very realistic scenario that rather than work through such a complicated process with remote workers, AT&T is deciding to bring everyone in-house, assess what resources are needed, how they will be managed, reduce the staff to needed levels, and then decide at what level they will re-evaluate who can work remotely and who cannot.

From many standpoints, if you have the physical space and are not having to build a building for this, this is a much more manageable process to meld two workforces together.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ATT for you again

> walk them to their area, clean out personal
> belongings (or schedule another time for this)

> How are you sure they bring company assets
> with them you will need to collect without
> telling them? If you can’t, how do you
> follow-up to be sure you do obtain all assets?

So if a person is fired in-house, they’re at the mercy of the company to reclaim their assets and if they’re fired at home, then the company is at their mercy to reclaim its assets.

Seems like a perfect yin-yang to me. Sauce for the goose and all…

natt says:

makes sense

lots of ppl tend to abuse the privelege of telecommuting.
it also makes it harder for people to collaborate at work place. it changes the whole dynamics.
i think people need to realize that in many (not all) jobs its not sufficient to write documents or software code sitting on your computer anywhere in the world even when we all plethora of collaboration tools available. Nothing replaces face to face interaction with co-workers and customers while solving tough problems and coming up with new solutions.
If telecommuting works so well, it just makes the case for offshoring stronger. If you gonna work from home, you better live in a place where i dont have to pay you much. Otherwise show up here and talk to me.

Dan says:

maybe so, maybe not

At our crown corporation, all managers and up are no longer allowed to telecommute. Employees may do so only on a non-scheduled emergency basis. So the tide has turned and telecommuting has gone out the door, so to speak.

I personally work better in the office and like the interaction there. Also, my job is to provide security consulting services to my company, which is pretty hard to do remotely in our case.

Clueby4 says:


I’m sorry but if your company doesn’t have “metrics”, aka management with a pulse, that can determine the performance of their employees regardless of telecommuting status. Then your company has a significantly larger issues; incompetent management, too much management, etc.

And those flapping about telecommuting vs outsourcing raise a good point, but ignore an alternative. Rather then outsourcing offer true telecommuting with reduced compensation. Since telecommuting implies reduced cost for both the employee(travel, attire, etc) and the employer (real estate, network, hardware). And I qualify it as “true” since many companies offer telecommuting but only as alternative workplace, with the expectation you come in when needed which removes most of the employer savings.

Michael Vilain says:

HP did this with their IT department last year

They ‘consolidated’ all their IT into 85 world-wide centers. If you lived to far from one, you had to relocate or quit. It sounded like a shadow layoff at the time. A friend who worked at Agilent at the time said he still couldn’t find anyone competent to restart his servers in under 2 days.

Granted, IT is one of those positions where access to the hardware is often part of the job and it’s hard to do that without crawling under their desks or around a datacenter.

I guess AT&T doesn’t need those telecommuter tax credits next year and is trying to reduced their workforce.

Josh says:

disconnect between products and practices

As some have mentioned previously, the thing that I find the most interesting about this story is the fact that this is AT&T. Shouldn’t the largest communications company in the US encourage telecommuting? After all, their products and services would benefit from an increase in telecommuting. The consumer DSL and wireless technologies that they offer are essential to any telecommuter. How can they innovate and move forward when they do not support the industries and customers that would use their products. It is a sad state of affairs when large technology providers do not understand the technology they provide.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t work for IBM, but I am a unix tech support guy who has telecommuted full time for just short of a decade. My company doesn’t have to pay for space to put me somewhere. They don’t have to pay for bandwidth or a telephone costs. They don’t have to pay for hardware costs. And when (as happens VERY often) they need someone to help out at the drop of a hat be it working double shifts or helping in a pinch, they can call me and they know there is a 95% chance I will say “no problem” and be engaged within five minutes.

Were that not the case, they would have to call me on my off time and I would have to consider whether or not it was worth getting all dressed up and traveling for almost an hour in each direction on my own time . . . and even if I did decide that I wanted to bother, it would take one or two hours before I could be ready and appear at work, ready to roll.

So all other benefits for them aside, they have an employ who is willing to drop everything and help in every situation 95% of the time versus perhaps a quarter of the time and they have someone who can be available within five minutes, instead of a couple hours.

Not to mention, I’m more likely to put in far more time working just because I want to. I get ten hours of my life back just by not having to commute. And I’m more likely to be using my most alert and productive hours to work, rather than just whatever my state of mind happens to be after I’ve dragged myself into an office.

Oh, by the way… I haven’t taken a sick day in five years and I work almost every holiday.

Tell me telecommuters are lazy and of less benefit to the company. I fscking dare you.

J.C. Carvill (user link) says:

Use technology for telecommuters

Although the main important thing at work is the performance & result improvement, if those employers are still worry because they can’t see whether their telecommuters may not work as hard as in the office, I suppose they could install a web cam, audio sensor or keyboard & mouse activity detector. It should be still cheaper than covering for the transport expenses.

J.C. Carvill

Danielle (user link) says:

Not surprising....

I am not surprised at the study results. I have been working from home since 2009 and I find that the comfort of my home makes me work better. In early 2012 I worked for a company outside of my home office and I hated it. I felt like I had been thrown into a whole new world, and I didn’t get nearly as much work done as I would if I was working from home. I have hope that in the near future, all companies will provide employees with the option of working from home.

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