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René Van Someren


Can it fulfil its promises?

Posted April 1st, 2012
Adapted from: Source: "Teleworking: To what extent can it fulfil its promises?"

According to popular statements on the subject, teleworking or telecommuting is supposed to yield a range of advantages to workers, businesses, government and society as a whole. Several advantages named are huge financial savings, much higher productivity, less traffic and cleaner air. Such claims tend to be either highly exaggerated, or simply untrue. Teleworking by certain employees, performing certain tasks, under certain conditions sometimes does result in overall benefit compared to those employees carrying out the same tasks at that same time while not teleworking. However, generalisation of such advantages is inappropriate. Instead, the disadvantages often vastly outweigh the advantages. This may leave teleworking as little more than a fringe benefit to employees at the expense of their employers.

When teleworking, loss of effective productivity and of production quality is often caused by loss of leadership effectiveness. Loss of leadership effectiveness is formed when the physical distance between teleworkers and their colleagues and leaders no longer allows them to communicate with one another as they do when they are physically proximate to one another. This leads to significant decrease in organisational effectiveness, even when teleworkers were to work more and harder than when working at the office. Other presumed advantages too, such as mobility improvements, may be achieved easier by other means.

Still, under strict conditions, teleworking can indeed be advantageous beyond serving merely as a fringe benefit to workers. To be beneficial to employers, or at least to avoid damage to employers, the following conditions must be met:
  1. The assigned tasks must be fully suitable for teleworking;
  2. The prospective teleworkers’ personal circumstances must fully allow executing the assigned tasks while teleworking;
  3. The organisational circumstances must fully allow executing the assigned tasks while teleworking;
  4. The teleworkers must be fully apt to perform the assigned tasks while teleworking;
  5. The supervisors must be fully apt at supervising these specific teleworkers while they perform those tasks under the given circumstances.
Teleworking’s range of applicability is determined by these five confines. Since tasks and circumstances are subject to change, the specific aptitude of teleworkers and their supervisors is also subjected to those changes. However, three global categories of applicability can be identified:
  1. Innate teleworking: Work is carried out naturally at a physical distance from the base office, such as is the case for field workers;
  2. Attainable teleworking; Work may be carried out while teleworking, provided this is done within its range of applicability, for instance drawing up or studying certain papers;
  3. Inapposite teleworking: All cases in which no combination of variables lead to successful application of teleworking. For certain types of tasks, this is always the case, such as for a receptionist or warder.
Inapposite teleworking is counter effective and thus damaging. Inapposite teleworking must be avoided. From a case to case basis it is to be determined whether teleworking is attainable or inapposite. Unlike for innate teleworking, for attainable teleworking it is ill-advised to allow employees to telework for a fixed percentage of their contract hours because the conditions that determine the range of applicability are constantly subject to change, and changes can easily render teleworking inapposite. At one moment all conditions can be met making teleworking attainable, after which a change in task or circumstances may easily render teleworking for the same employee inapposite.


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