Friday, June 29, 2007


Ethics And The Telecommuter

Telecommuting can increase productivity by up to 30 percent, it is convenient for workers with children as well as for those who might otherwise need to make long and expensive commutes, and it is easier on the environment than pumping car exhaust into the atmosphere for an hour or two everyday. Why then are managers reluctant to adopt it as the norm? Many appear to distrust telecommuters, and are suspicious of the freedoms they might be given. Social scientists at the University of Redlands surveyed M.B.A. and M.I.S. (Master in Informations Systems) students and faculty to learn which aspects of telecommuter behavior might be regarded as less "ethical" than others. They were also asked to pass judgment on potential managerial responses to - or exploitation of - telecommuters.

The survey participants were presented with numerous scenarios, and were asked to decided which were ethical or unethical. The scenarios that received the highest percentage of "unethical" classifications are shown below:

1) A manager monitors the phone records of telecommuters to ensure that they were on-line for all the hours they were supposed to be working. 48.8 percent saw this as unethical.

2) A manager gives better raises and opportunities to "in-house" staff than to telecommuters. 48.4 percent saw this as unethical.

3) A telecommuter develops Carpal Tunnel Syndrome working at home, but his employer refuses to compensate him for his injuries. 48.4 percent saw this as unethical.

4) A telecommuter works two full-time jobs simultaneously. 46.8 percent saw this as unethical.

5) A manager drives by the homes of employees to see if they are working when they say they are. 41.3 percent saw this as unethical.

As for me, I would judge only 1 and 5 as unethical - and, actually, as far more stupid than actually unethical.

Consider scenario number 1. Many telecommuters may have only one phone line to dial in on, and consequently may not want to be on-line all day. They probably wouldn't need to anyway. If telecommuters have the appropriate software on their home commuter, they can easily produce documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and the like - even computer code - while they are offline. There is no reason whatsoever why a telecommuter would need to be on-line continuously. Consequently, phone records would be a totally inaccurate measure of work done, and this scenario is just plain foolish.

Scenario number 5 is also equally stupid. How could managers swing by the homes of their subordinates on a daily basis and still get their own work done - unless they, too, telecommuted from their automobiles? That is especially the case if they have numerous subordinates who commute and at least some of them live some distance from work.

I do not see scenarios 2, 3 or 4 as unethical. Unfortunately, it's a given that working on-site will keep you in the mind of your boss and make you more visible to the organization. This is why I believe telecommuting is best for free-lance or contract employees who don't care if they rise within the hierarchy of any company for which they are working only temporarily. Besides, this scenario might well become a non-issue for companies in which the majority of workers telecommute at least part-time - including the managers. I also don't believe that employers have any responsibility for injuries their employees sustain at home - especially if they are working at home by choice. So scratch scenarios 2 and 3.

As for scenario number 4, I think telecommuters - especially contract workers - should be allowed to hold down as many jobs as they can handle. So long as they get their work done and violate no "non-compete" clauses in their work contracts, all power to them. As for the possible issue of fraudulent hourly billing, employers must realize that telecommuters have the option of working many more hours than they would have at the office, as they do not need to physically commute and can remain at their chosen workplace around the clock. This means that they literally could work, say, 6 or 7 hours a day for each of two employers. Besides, in a world in which multi-tasking is the norm, a telecommuter can just as easily work concurrently for different employers as on different assignments and could thus conceivably bill both for the same hour spent working. Moreover, those hours might be filled with a higher proportion of actual work - especially for single workers without children. There is no pointless chit-chat with fellow workers, for instance, and far fewer superfluous meetings.

"The Ethics of Web Work" from Web Worker Daily
"Teleworking Ethics"

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