Is telework too much work?

Off-site employees work five to seven hours more each week, survey finds.

Several studies have pointed to the potential benefits of telework, such as increased work-life balance, the ability to maintain continuity of operations in the face of a natural disaster or other emergency situation, improved employee productivity and reduced vehicle carbon emissions on the environment.

But a new study by the University of Texas suggests some potential downsides for teleworking, particularly when it comes to blurring that work-life balance line.

University of Texas researchers found that most employees who work remotely are working more hours than their in-office counterparts. For example, most of the 30 percent of respondents who said they work from home add five to seven hours to their workweek compared with those who work exclusively at the office. Teleworkers also were less likely to work a standard 40-hour workweek and more likely to work overtime.

Many of those who telework also said most of their teleworking hours came after they had already put in 40 hours of work at the office.

“Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts,” the report states. Instead, telework has become "instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers’ needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees.”

The study looked at two data sources – the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 panel and special supplements from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current population survey to analyze trends in telework among U.S. employees and employers.

Surprisingly, despite the vast expansion of technology and many employers claiming to offer more flexible work options, the study found that the proportion of employees who telework has remained essentially flat over the mid-1990s and mid-2000s and is no larger among younger workers than older workers. The number of hours spent teleworking per week also is relatively modest, at around 6 hours per week on average, the researchers found.

“While telecommuting may in theory be a solution to the dilemmas of combining work and family, telecommuting in practice does not unequivocally meet the needs of workers with significant caregiving responsibilities,” the study states.

My own thought is that telework’s positives still outweigh its potential downsides, particularly in the federal workplace, which has long been considered a leader on telework implementation.

In fact, recent employee survey results suggest that telework is having a positive impact. The 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, released last month, found that almost one-quarter of federal employees are teleworking in some form. Telework satisfaction among feds also is increased in the past year, up from 70 percent in 2011, to 73 percent in 2012. Employees who telework also had higher global satisfaction and engagement scores than their in-office counterparts, the survey found.

What are your thoughts on the University of Texas study? Does telework equate to working additional hours? Has it helped or hindered your work-life balance?