Is Telework Dead?

Periodically spates of articles of "the sky is falling" slant appear in the US national media with respect to telework. Their message generally is around the theme that interest in telework is falling because of one or more of the following:

This reminds me of a situation a few years back when I was importuned by a reporter from a national newspaper to provide the names of some telecommuters for the reporter to interview. JALA's policy is not to release the names of any of the participants in telecommuting programs we design unless we have a prior agreement from the individual in question. To make it more difficult, this reporter wanted to interview people who had voluntarily quit telecommuting. I searched our database and found one telecommuter (out of 500 in this program) who had quit. I secured the necessary OKs from the client and gave the name to the reporter.

What to my wondering eyes should appear a few weeks later but an article about the decline of interest in telecommuting, focused on the interview with this one telecommuter. The main reason for this person's decision to quit telecommuting was that he was lonely for the activity of the office. Since we take care to explain some of the adjustment factors, such as loneliness, to prospective telecommuters before they start telecommuting, I was curious to see how frequently the subject of the interview telecommuted. Another look at the database revealed the secret: one day per week!

So a national newspaper was spreading the word about the imminent demise of telecommuting based on an interview with an individual who was telecommuting one day weekly and constituted 0.2% of the telecommuters in that organization!

Although slightly less biased, the more recent articles are of the same nature; some researchers call it the Dixon-Graphite Method (referring to a lead pencil with a good eraser): given the desired results, dredge up only the data required to prove them.

So, with that as background, here is my response (again) to these articles:

Moral: Read newspaper reports with a properly jaundiced eye.

Best wishes,

Jack Nilles, 2 July 2001

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