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Summary:

The research is conclusive: compared to office-based colleagues, those who are free to work where they choose are happier with their jobs. But why is this? The answer isn’t as clear as it might first appear to web work boosters.

telecommuters happiness research

The research is conclusive: compared to office-based colleagues, those who are free to work where they choose are happier with their jobs. But why is this? The answer isn’t as clear as it might first appear to web work boosters. After all, ask non-experts for their opinion of telecommuting and you’ll likely get a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages. Sure, controlling your own time is bound to be freeing and allow an easier juggle of home and work responsibilities, but what about the isolation? Don’t relationships fray without face-to-face contact, leading to misunderstandings and loneliness?

It turns out there is research not only on the comparative happiness levels of office-based versus remote workers, but also on the reasons for the difference between the two. Last year a paper published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research aimed to tease out exactly why those who telecommute at least half the time are more satisfied with their jobs. Some of the explanations are no surprise, including:

Spending less than 50 percent of the week in the collocated office affords more flexibility and aids in the balance of work and personal roles, which teleworkers find satisfying.

Telework is associated with less frequent information exchange, which relates to lower stress from meetings and interruptions.

Other findings might come as a shock to those who fear that working from home or the local coffee shop is sure to harm interpersonal relationships with colleagues. The researchers revealed that we actually like our co-workers more when we see them less. Forget loneliness and isolation, the effect of putting a little distance between team members seems to be at least a partial inoculation against the annoyances of office politics:

Teleworkers are less likely to perceive that general political behavior is pervasive in the organization, and in turn are less likely to perceive that people conform to political behavior in order to get ahead. Being less exposed to, or perceiving less of, this type of going along to get ahead behavior is linked to higher job satisfaction.

We conclude that decreased face-time in the office affords a distinct advantage by limiting teleworkers’ exposure to political behavior, or at least allowing them to feel removed enough to downplay its prevalence… Less frequent interaction with others may be desirable.

Hell is other people, according to the famous misanthropic quote from Sartre. Perhaps this applies at the office as well.

Do you think web work is a good way to eliminate some of the stress and distraction of office politics? 

Image courtesy Flickr user benjaminasmith

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  1. Not surprising at all, actually. Makes complete sense.

  2. I don’t understand why everyone thinks web workers are a lonely bunch! It’s not as if people have to hang out with only their office colleagues. I, for example, rarely, if ever, hang out with my office mates after work. I’d much rather prefer to hang out with friends who don’t work with me all day. Personal opinion, but I think this lonelyness thing is overrated.

    1. Totally agree with you! I get more work done without all the interruptions at an office. And also get to work fewer hours.

      1. Totally agree with you. what you could do in an office environment for 8-9 hours gets done in 2-3 hours leaving the rest of the day for other activities.

  3. Shaleen Shah Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Intriguing… I think that a change of scene, every now and then, can be great for anyone. Sometimes, you long the company of people that’s why there are such things as coworking spaces. Then, there are those times when you want to get away from all the hassle of commuting to work where no one will mind if you’re working on something while you’re wearing pajamas.

  4. Tac Anderson Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    I’m going to disagree with the research here. I think it has more to do with autonomy. People are always happier when they feel they have more control over their lives.

  5. True that they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

  6. Charlie Ahern Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Perhaps teleworkers self-select to work in a less manipulative situation, because they are less effective in interpersonal relationships? If you prefer to work with less personal contact to avoid the struggle for resources, then do you tend to concede your position to the ‘politician?’ Coders with mild Asperger’s, please raise your hand.

    1. The way you put that is interesting: “manipulative” situation vs. effectiveness in interpersonal relationship. Manipulative situations are harmful, dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. People with poor social skills or “mild Asperger’s” may want to opt out of all or most social situations. The people with the best social and interpersonal skills will feel thwarted and poisoned in toxic, manipulative offices.

  7. I work at home four days a week, going to the office each Wednesday. I find that you have to be dedicated because you do have alot of distractions at home. However, saying that, I get more work done than I do in the office. My call count is almost double, solving problems is easier and I enjoy the whole experience. I agree with Sharninder, I don’t socialize with co-workers. It just doesn’t work. My husband on the other hand says I give too much time to the work place as my hours are 8-6. When I was commuting, I didn’t get home until 7 due to traffic. I worked until 7:30 last night when my computer shut down. My husband was thanking my IT dept.

  8. Lock a bunch of rats in a small cage and you’ll create an environment not unlike the corporation . . .

  9. I think telecommuting works when the company culture allows for it. MySQL was a great company to work from home for because it was set up that way.

    1. That is true. Company culture goes a long way in making telecommuting viable. Some companies are just not setup for it. Working from home once in a while is fine but telecommuting all the time requires the company to think differently. But, my point remains, telecommuters are not necessarily a lonely lot and socializing with work colleagues is over-rated. Infact, I’d go as far as to say that one should not socialize with colleagues and instead go out with people who’re maybe not even related to your line of work. It just makes conversations more interesting.

      1. Which is why when meeting new people in the same line of work, I steer the conversation to “let’s talk about anything not related to work.” Really catches people off guard sometimes, but is ultimately refreshing.

      2. Socializing is way overrated. I love working from home.

  10. Having worked from home for most of the last twelve years with only two of those twelve in an office, I can tell you I am MUCH more productive at home and am willing to work longer hours as I can flex my schedule as needed, as long as I get my work done and as long as I am reachable via my cell. I’ll never go back to a traditional office. No reason to whatsoever.

    1. I completely agree with this. I’m in the same situation, I’m much more willing to work long hours when they are on my terms. In many ways, having a traditional office is a waste of time. I can get all my work done in much less time when I’m working from home. Granted, working from home isn’t for everyone, it takes dedication and discipline.

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