Cornell University

March 9 2014

Office Versus Home

ILR research tracking implications of telecommuting

Opportunities to work from home are on the rise globally, a fact that has inspired Associate Professor Bradford Bell of ILR to conduct extensive research on telecommuting.

Two of Bell's studies with multi-national cosmetic and Fortune 100 companies on the impact of remote work for teleworkers and senior executive leadership are in the analysis phase before publication.

A project called the "CIT/DFA Remote Work Study" is following 54 Cornell employees enrolled in a flexible work pilot program.

The volunteers are employees of Cornell Information Technology and the university's Division of Financial Affairs.

Researchers engaged the first "wave" of employees for the study in 2013; the second round began in February 2014. The study concludes in 2015.

The research will examine how employees manage the transition to working remotely, and what factors affect this process; the effectiveness of working from home; and identify conditions that allow remote workers to function successfully.

A month before starting the remote work arrangement, Bell sent participating employees, their supervisors and team members of participants a survey with questions on issues including:

  • effects of working remotely on their relationships with coworkers
  • continued engagement and commitment to work 
  • effects on time demands at home versus the office.

To track the transition process, Bell and his team, which includes graduate student Kristie McAlpine M.S./Ph.D. ’16, Human Ecology Professor Rachel Dunifon and Professor Emmanuelle Léon from ESCP Europe, Paris campus, will follow up with surveys at month three, month nine, month 15 and month 21.

An estimated 10 percent of the workforce telecommutes from home, with a likely continued increase due to globalization, the cost and time of commuting and increasing customer demands, according to a 2009 survey by researchers led by Jay Mulki of Northeastern University.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there was an increase of 24.3 percent increase in remote, home-based workers in management, business and financial occupations between 2000 and 2010.

These changes in the American work force pose challenges to human resource departments, and several new facets must be considered when hiring someone to work remotely, according to Bell.

The impact of management styles and leadership, identifying employee qualities related to telecommuting, selecting the right employees for remote work, and creating and maintaining the culture of teamwork will be examined in the study.

There has been speculation that personality traits like being outgoing and self-directed would make for the best remote workers, so that is an area that the research team hopes to prove or disprove, Bell says.