Summary:

A recent study seems to indicate that remote workers commit fewer ethical violations than in-office workers. But why? Is it simply because there’s less opportunity when you don’t see your coworkers? Or, as some experts suggest, could trust be the key difference?

Ethics

Telecommuting has been touted as a way to save space, motivate employees and boost productivity, but a new report suggests another possible benefit to letting your team work from home – fewer ethics violations.

The survey was carried out by Ethisphere and real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle and asked more than 200 companies about their telecommuting policies and the ethical infractions of their employees. A respectable 68 percent of this group said they allow employees to work from home on a regular basis, and there was a stark difference in behavior between in-office and remote workers:

  • 11 percent of companies who had regular telecommuters reported that remote workers had committed ethics violations in the past two years.
  • Meanwhile, 36 percent of respondents reported visible ethics violations among in-office employees.
  • 43 percent reported non-visible ethics violations (such as account fraud or bribery).

The survey results didn’t go into greater detail about which sort of workers were more or less likely to engage in specific naughty behaviors, but that lack of fine-grain data hasn’t hampered experts from offering possible explanations for the ethics gap between office and home-based workers.

The first of these theories is simple lack of opportunity. If you’re not around co-workers, you can’t harass them. “You can see why someone working from home wouldn’t get embroiled in some of the things that lead to trouble,” said Mark Ohringer, executive vice president and global general counsel for Jones Lang LaSalle.

Others are betting that the explanation lies in who is allowed to telecommute – this argument goes that only the best and most trustworthy workers are offered that flexibility in the first place.

“Many of our clients are being very careful about eligibility and suitability for working from home,” according to Patricia Roberts, executive vice president of strategic consulting at Jones Lang LaSalle.

And those that do get the privilege of working from home see it as a valuable perk and avoid doing things that might see them hauled back to their cubicle. “Working from home is still viewed as a positive privilege because it’s still pretty new,” Alex Brigham, executive director at the Ethisphere Institute, told the WSJ. “In terms of the privilege of working from home, they didn’t want to put it at risk because they didn’t want to get called back into the office.”

The most important reason that telecommuters are less prone to ethical lapses may be simply that they feel respected. This is the view of Suzanne Lucas, aka the Evil HR Lady, writing on BNET:

Telecommuters are more ethical because they are treated like grown-ups and are working in a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE). It’s really hard for managers to micro-manage telecommuters…. All a manager can use to judge a telecommuter is actual performance.

You can see that some managers cannot handle telecommuting employees because they manage by favoring the suck ups, reward face time, and want to control every detail.  But, perhaps if you leave people alone, they perform better.  Perhaps, if they feel respected and their work valued, they feel less inclined to try to stick it to the company.

And perhaps that’s the most powerful takeaway of this research. Letting go of control and trusting people may be hard, but it’s also likely to bring out their best performance – in ethics and in other areas.

Do you buy the correlation between remote work and increased ethics?

Image courtesy of Flickr user justinbaeder, CC 2.0.

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