Dispelling the Disconnected Telecommuter Myth, Part 1

MILWAUKEE, WISC.—There’s a lot of assumptions, call them myths, around virtual office users. One of them sounds like this: People who telecommute regularly feel less attached to the organization they work for; they feel isolated and disconnected. But that’s a myth, according to a new study out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Indeed, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study explored how teleworkers' (which include employees who work from virtual offices) usage of various forms of communication is related to their feelings of closeness to coworkers, as well as to feelings of stress from interruptions. The study also tested how these communication outcomes were associated with teleworkers’ sense of identity as part of their organization.

The overarching result: More communication does not equal more organizational identification for teleworkers. In fact, the opposite was true, says Kathryn Fonner, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee assistant professor of communication.

“It is often assumed that teleworkers need a lot of communication and contact with the organization in order to diminish their sense of distance and to develop a sense of belonging,” says Fonner. “But we found that the more teleworkers communicated with others, the more stressed they felt due to interruptions, and this was negatively associated with their identification with the organization.”

Although feeling a sense of closeness with others during workplace interactions was associated with positive organizational identification, the study found that the negative relationship between stress from interruptions and organizational identification was stronger. As a virtual office user, I can relate. Part of the benefit of working from a virtual office is boosting productivity by not being involved in so much chitchat. When the chitchat rises, the virtual office productivity declines.

Fonner has her own theory—and it actually matches mine. She says one possible reason for teleworkers to feel more stressed by more communication is that they consider fewer interruptions as being one of the perks of their remote work arrangement: “When teleworkers feel they are constantly interrupted, this may decrease the value of organizational membership for them, and diminish their attachment to the organization.”


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