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Telework: The Pros and Cons

Sahil Lavingia, chief executive officer (CEO) of an online payments company he started, works in his home in San Francisco, California, 2012.
Sahil Lavingia, chief executive officer (CEO) of an online payments company he started, works in his home in San Francisco, California, 2012.
Telework: The Pros and Cons
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Technology has changed the way we live and especially the way we work.

For many jobs, workers no longer need to be in a fixed office building. People can telework: they can work from home or anyplace where they can access the necessary technology. For example, I wrote this story on a backyard porch in the mountains of West Virginia.

A 2015 survey from the company Gallup found that 37 percent of Americans worked from home. In 1995, that number was only 9 percent.

It is easy to think that this freedom to work whenever or wherever is good for workers and for families.

As it turns out, teleworking is both good and bad.

A new report warns that some forms of teleworking may blur the line between our personal and professional lives. In other words, some teleworkers may have a hard time keeping their personal life separate from their professional life. This report claims that this “blurring” may have negative effects on the health and well-being of teleworkers.

The report, titled, "Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work," is a combined effort by the International Labor Organization and the research institute, Eurofound. It looks at the pros and cons -- or the advantages and disadvantages -- of teleworking from home. The report looked at 15 countries including Argentina, Brazil, India, Japan, the United States and 10 European nations.

Oscar Vargas is with Eurofound and Jon Messenger is from the International Labor Organization. The two co-wrote the report. They say in the findings of the study are unclear and, in some cases, contradictory.

For example, the researchers found that on the one hand, teleworkers "report reduced commuting time, more time for their families and a better balance between work and personal life; on the other hand, they also report an increase in working hours, a blurring of the boundaries between paid work and personal life and more work-life interference.”

For some people, teleworking adds more family-work conflict, for others teleworking lowers family-work conflicts. For some people, teleworking lowered stress; for others it lead to higher levels of stress and other health problems such as sleep disorders.

Vargas explains that some of the pros are less commuting time and greater freedom, or as he says, autonomy. One of the cons is working longer hours.

“Among the positive effects, we find the reduction of commuting time leading, greater work autonomy leading to more flexibility, better overall work-life balance and higher productivity. There are also disadvantages. For example, these workers tend to work longer.”

How teleworking affects the health and lifestyle of the workers seems to depend on how much and what type of teleworking they are doing.

The study puts teleworkers into three categories:

  • those who work commonly from home,
  • those who work from several locations outside an office,
  • and those who work both in an office and off-site.

Vargas notes the study found that 20 percent of people in Europe who worked in an office reported high levels of stress. Compare this to 40 percent of stressed-out people in Europe engaged in high-intensity work at home. He said the findings were similar for those who suffer from sleep disorders.

The report also states that teleworkers who are out of the office too often say they feel isolated, or separate from their colleagues and the work environment.

Messenger told VOA that always working away from the employer's work-site seems to be more negative. One of the downsides is this isolation. He calls this a “disconnect from co-workers and from the organization as well.

“This constant work outside the employer’s premises seems to be more negative. And one of the downsides is this isolation, this disconnect from co-workers and of course from the organization as well.”

Also, the high-intensity teleworkers that we talked about earlier may have a difficult turning off their work.

Part time telework = the sweet spot

Vargas explains that there are upsides for those who telework part-time, or not all the time. He said this was good not only for the workers, but also for employers and companies.

“The findings show that if workers do it on a part-time basis -- this way of working can be associated to positive outcomes both for workers but also for employers and companies.”

Messenger adds that "two or three days seems to be the sweet spot,” or the most effective balance. Half the time in the office and half the time outside the office seems to help avoid these “isolation and disconnect issues."

“Two or three days a week seems to be the sweet spot. So, half your time in the office and half your time outside the office and that helps to avoid these isolation and disconnect issues.”

Messenger explains that many organizations have developed policies to overcome this problem. They set maximum numbers of days per week during which people can work outside the employer's work-site. Usually, employees are able to telework two or three days a week.

Authors of the report urge policymakers to pass legislation that addresses telework issues. These issues include such things as extra work, which is often viewed as "unpaid overtime." They said employers should pay teleworkers for the extra work they do at home.

The report also recommends measures, such as shutting down computer servers outside working hours and not sending employees e-mails when they are on holiday.

The researchers suggest that turning off all electronic devices and rest periods for teleworkers will also help avoid negative effects on workers' health and well-being.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report. I’m Anna Matteo.

Do you telework? For you, does teleworking have more pros or cons, upsides or downsides? How do you or how would you make teleworking work best for you?

Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English with additional reporting from Lisa Schlein and ILO-EuroFound report. Hai Do was the editor.


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Words in This Story

blur v. to become unclear

contradictory – adj. involving or having information that disagrees with other information

positive – adj. good or useful (also; pro, advantage, upside)

negative – adj. harmful or bad (also; con, disadvantage, downside)

flexibility adj. characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements

off-site adj. not located or occurring at the site of a particular activity

part-time – adj. working or involving fewer hours than is considered normal or standard

basis n. a fixed pattern or system for doing something — used with on < He visits his grandmother on a regular basis.

premises n. plural a building and the area of land that it is on

intensityn. the quality or state of being intense; especially : extreme degree of strength, force, energy, or feeling

isolate v. to put or keep (someone or something) in a place or situation that is separate from others

sweet spot informal n. an area or range that is most effective or beneficial