Is telecommuting bad for job security?

Does being on the premises increase your clout with your boss when times get tough?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Telecommuting and remote work is great, since you can avoid office politics.

Telecommuting and remote work puts your job at risk, since you are out of the loop with office politics.

Which is true? At a time of unease about job security, is it risky for people to not be seeing your face every day? Our SmartPlanet colleague Vince Thompson just posted an interesting interview here at the site, in which Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out On Top at Work, describes the interpersonal strategies that can help keep your job safe. Most importantly, Viscusi urges a highly personal relationship with your managers, best facilitated by being right there in the office, since layoffs and cutbacks tend to be highly emotional decisions.

As Viscusi put it: "bosses hate to fire people they know and like—but it is easy to fire even the best worker, if you know nothing about them as a person."

And, in his interview with Andrew, he had one thing to say about telecommuting:  "Guess what? Out of site out of mind!"

Does telecommuting put you out of sight, and therefore out of mind?

Back in July, we reported on an informal poll, conducted by VitalSmarts and the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, which concluded that remote work relationships tend to be more problematic than when employees are able to interact face-to-face. Conversely, we also discussed another study by Cisco Systems that examined the productivity of 2,000 of its own employees and found remote teams and employees actually end up being more productive than their counterparts anchored into offices.

In addition, a study published by the American Psychological Association, which looked at 20 years of flexible work arrangements affecting 12,000 employees, concluded that telecommuting "has no straightforward, damaging effects on the quality of workplace relationships or perceived career prospects." The study also stated that the main downside of telecommuting is "that it does seem to send coworker (but not supervisor) relationships in a harmful direction." While "Some of the complexities of these consequences have yet to be explored, but the evidence and theory reviewed here suggest that they can be managed effectively through informed human resources policies.”

What Stephen Viscusi seems to be saying is it doesn't matter how productive the arrangement is -- when things tighten up and a manager needs to cut 10% of staff expenses, that manager is less likely to bring the axe down on people he or she likes -- which are more likely to be the people that are physically present in the workplace every day.

Of course, there's also an increasing likelihood that the boss is also a telecommuter, which tilts this dynamic toward fellow telecommuters, right?

With electronic communications and the need to lower overhead, telecommuting is only going to keep increasing as a workplace option. Telecommuting is a highly beneficial approach for both employers and employees alike, and any fears associated with potential dis-connectivity need to be addressed if a remote work strategy is going to function well.

The important takeaway here is that for their part, remote or telecommuting employees need to build quality interaction with managers into their routines. In addition, organizations need to actively facilitate greater interactivity between remote team members as well. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, such as hybrid schedules that involve both onsite and off-site work for employees within geographic range. For remote employees out of commuting range, social networking interaction may help maintain presence.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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