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Having employees working at home can boost productivity, but it also can increase feelings of isolation

Indiana University
11-Mar-2020 4:40 PM EDT, by Indiana University

Recognizable companies including Google, Twitter and Eli Lilly all are encouraging their employees to work at home to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Research on the benefits and drawbacks of “working from home is still in its infancy, but researchers have generally found that telecommuting can function as a double-edged sword, said Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

“On the one hand, telecommuting can increase productivity because it enhances employees’ feelings of control and autonomy. With the freedom to choose when and how to do their work, employees generally experience greater motivation and satisfaction,” Gonzalez-Mulé. “Of course, there is a caveat here, in that managers should take care to maintain the same performance management systems they use for ‘in-residence’ employees, such as setting specific goals, ‘checking in’ on goal progress, using regular performance evaluations, and the like.

“The idea is to communicate to employees that, as long as the work gets done -- which managers can assess with performance management systems -- they can choose when and how to do it,” he added.

“On the other hand, recent studies show that telecommuting can increase feelings of isolation. This is because telecommuting workers have significantly less face-to-face contact with their manager and colleagues, which can lead telecommuters to feel alone and socially disconnected. One way to ameliorate these effects is to use technologies that involve virtual face-to-face contact, like Zoom or Skype, or to have at least some ‘real’ face-to-face contact, such as some meetings that are conducted in-person.”

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