This dissertation addresses the problem of low participation in telecommuting, despite its demonstrated personal, organizational and societal benefits and increasingly favorable technological trends. The dissertation draws on the author's findings as a researcher in the Caltrans-funded WorkSmart project, and on published findings from other telecommuting research, to develop a new model of demand for telecommuting (and by extension, other forms of remote work such as the "virtual office").
This new model posits that, in contrast to traditional perspectives that emphasize explicit economic advantages, demand for telecommuting is largely mediated through implicit, intangible, personal impacts. The dissertation identifies two theoretical perspectives--agency theory and institutional theory--that have high correspondence and explanatory value relative to the phenomena of telecommuting. These theoretical perspectives provide plausible explanations for the observed low usage levels (telecommuting only substitutes for about two percent of travel to work), and generate insights into courses of action for attaining the societal benefits of increased telecommuting.
The key agency theory issue is that telecommuting shifts employee relationships with their managers from behavior-based to outcome-based contracts. This shift is undesirable for both: it increases risks for telecommuters, and increases monitoring costs for their managers. The key institutional theory issue is that, in contrast to working in the highly institutionalized traditional business office, telecommuting lacks institutional legitimacy. This problem is exacerbated by typical telecommuting implementations, which reduce perceptions of legitimacy by emphasizing planning and evaluation.
The dissertation also includes analyses of the microeconomics of telecommuting that are new to this field. It analyzes, for different levels of telecommuting usage, the trade-offs between benefits of increased productivity and reduced real estate costs versus increased support costs for off-site workers.
The dissertation concludes with a proposed program of research. This program is designed to further establish the applicability of agency and institutional theories to this field and more extensively elucidate relationships between these theories and observed telecommuting phenomena. It also should provide a more comprehensive evaluation of the organizational costs and benefits of increased telecommuting.
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