Is there a dark side to telecommuting?

Monday - 8/8/2011, 8:36pm EDT

We hear a lot about the benefits of telework but George Mason University Professor Stephen Ruth says there's reason to be cautious as well. Ruth has written a draft chapter for an upcoming book about potential challenges that could arise as more people are added to the telecommuting ranks.

As federal agencies and companies allow more and more people to telework, Ruth questions whether all of them should be eligible. He warns that not all people are made out for teleworking - including those who are easily distracted.

"Telecommuting gains so far have been leveraged through a relatively small number of highly capable people-the work place's most talented and diligent individuals are the ones who are telecommuting 3-5 days per week," Ruth wrote. "As more employees clamor to be added, there may be some new challenges. Is there a limit to telecommuting growth, a level where the practice begins to yield lower returns to the employer?"

Some other potential challenges Ruth sees:

  • Time banditry - the idea that employees will engage in more activities that are unrelated to their jobs if they are working outside the office.
  • Loneliness - Ruth says working away from the office could have several side effects including a lack of social interaction with coworkers and assumed threats to career advancement.
  • Detachment issues - Ruth points to studies that indicate the more someone telecommutes, the more problems they have stepping away from their work at the end of the day. In turn, Ruth says this could lead to an increase in the person's family stress level.

Assuming telecommuters are in the office for at least a few days a week, Ruth also questions whether a teleworker can be as productive in the office as they are outside of it. In addition, Ruth warns of resentment from the workers who are unable to telework.