Integrating Telework, Flextime, and Officing for Work Force 2020

by John S. Niles, Global Telematics

January 3, 1999

A paper commissioned by Hudson Institute Center for Workforce Development

Managers of organizations have many concerns. They must worry about and work on:

The overall boundaries of where and when office work is done have traditionally been assumed:

But as the 20th century draws to a close, a number of forces are causing managements to rethink tradition. When work is done, and where work is done can increasingly be subject to variety and flexibility in order to improve the performance of the organization and make workers happier. Flextime and flexplace are two areas of flexibility that managers and workers are using to break out of the eight-to-five-at-a-desk-in-a-cubicle mode.


Flextime includes the four-ten compressed work week, meaning four days of work at ten hours per day and then take a three day weekend every week. Or it can mean the nine-nine compressed work week, which means work nine days over each fortnight at nine hours per day and take a three day weekend off every other week. Flextime also covers variation in the hours of normal daily work, such as starting at six AM and quitting at three PM. The flexibility can be firmly scheduled, or it can be variable from day to day. Of course there are many workers in seven days per week, 24 hours per day industries such as travel and public safety who see their schedules vary considerably. But here we are describing the new flexibility potentially available to office workers in every industry.

In a 1997 nationwide research survey of 150 U.S. executives from the 1,000 largest companies, 37 percent of them said their firms offer a formal flexible hours program for their employees, while informal programs were reported by 47 percent of those polled. ["Execs say telecommuting online to become future office practice," Business First, September 1, 1997, ]


Flextime is related in many ways to the notion of flexplace, also known as telecommuting (a term reminiscent of calling an automobile a horseless carriage!), telework, or teleworking. These work patterns and words were invented by a California researcher, Jack Nilles, in the early 1970s, and initially popularized by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1980 book, The Third Wave [William Morrow, 1980]. The magazine Business Week began covering telecommuting as a business trend in 1982 ["If home is where the worker is," Business Week, May 3, 1982].

Teleworking means working remotely from ones normal colleagues, but connected to them through telecommunications. The remote place can be ones home, or it can be another location such as a customer site, a satellite office, or a moving vehicle. Some of the many varieties of teleworking are described in the following chart:

Varieties of Teleworking

Typical home telecommuter

One or two days per week on average

Full-time home telecommuter

Most of the time at home

Telecenter/satellite office telecommuter

One or two days per week in a remote facility

Telecenter/satellite office full time worker

Full time in a remote facility

Virtual office worker

No office assigned

Long-distance telecommuter

Home worker in a distant city or state

Mobile professionals

May have office, but often on the road

Independent home worker

Self-employed, contract workers, Lone Eagles

Remote field worker

Full time in the field, usually in a defined region

Decentralized work groups

People in the same group but many locations

Remote branch/back office worker

Entire work group in a remote location

The number of telecommuters working from home as been measured throughout the past decade in an annual telephone survey conducted by researcher Tom Miller. As shown in the next chart, the number of telecommuters working during normal daytime business hours as of 1998 is 15.7 million, which amounts to about eight percent of the U.S.population age 18 and older.

A survey of 300 senior executives by the William Olsten Center for Workforce Strategies [MacLachlan, Claudia, "No-Hassle Tools Drive Work-at-Home Trend, " Home Office Computing, September, 1998, p. 23] found 51 percent of North American firms now permit some form of telecommuting. Telecommuting is more prevalent in high tech firms (82 percent), insurance companies (67 percent) and retailers and wholesalers (62 percent).


An interesting way of looking at teleworking was conceived by Duncan Sutherland in the mid 1980s. He coined the word "officing" to describe office work in terms of what it does for an organization, in contrast to focusing on the work's location. He characterized officing as the systematic integration of capital, people, and technology, including facilities, to produce knowledge, information, or data. This definition puts officing on an even footing with manufacturing, which is the systematic integration of capital, people, and technology, including facilities to produce goods.

Because of telework taking work out of the office, in the past ten years there has been more attention paid to the efficient use of the office environment itself. Typically, 30 percent of offices can be found empty at any time of the day, even when there is no teleworking program. Another issue is how to arrange space so that workers who are not in the office full time can be especially productive during the times when they do come in. In response to these issues, a variety of alternative officing arrangements have been conceived by innovative organizations during the 1990s. The following chart describes some of these.

Alternative Officing Types

Telework Centers

Multi-company remote office for teleworkers

Satellite Offices

Remote office of an individual company

Non-territorial Offices

Offices not permanently assigned to workers

Shared Space

Office space shared by specific workers


Office space assigned day by day as needed


Office space assigned to one person but used by another temporarily

Facilities Exchange

Offices of one organization used by another organization's employees who live nearby

Activity Settings

Office space designed for a particular special activity, like brainstorming or meeting customers

Team Suites or Teaming Space

Office space designed for teams of people working together

Watering Hole

Office space designed for casual socialization

Flexplace Considerations

Working remotely is appropriate for certain tasks within a job or profession, while for other tasks working in the office with other co-workers is necessary. Remote work is easier if this distinction between the fit of tasks to locations is continually recognized. Most office jobs have at least some task components that are appropriate for teleworking outside of the regular office. Estimates of the fraction of job tasks for which this is true are shown for selected jobs in the next chart.

Work-at-home flexplace may meet the needs of employees to the degree that the arrangement also provides the opportunity for flextime in order to meet some personal needs of the worker. Examples of these needs are non-work requirements to be with family members at certain times, and the physical ability to do better work at certain times of the 24 hour day, for example early in the morning or late in the evening. The next chart compares a traditional office worker's schedule with four alternative telecommuting schedules. The numbers just below the title are times of day, from 4 AM until 10 PM. Red is personal time, green is work time, and yellow is commuting time..

Telecommuter I has a schedule that mirrors regular office hours. He works during what would be his commuting time, but quits and has his afternoon commuting time as personal time.

Telecommuter II is an early riser, starting work at 5 AM, but quitting at 2 PM.

Telecommuter III likes to work late, not starting until 10 am and working until 9 PM with two hour-long breaks.

Telecommuter IV is a parent who needs to have a work schedule punctuated by periods where time can be spent during the available time at home of a school age child.

Because flexplace and flextime typically involve periods of working time when an employee is not under face-to-face supervision, managers in a teleworking environment must place an emphasis on defining and expecting work products with less regard for the process of achieving those results. A few employers have tried to convert telecommuting employees into a contractor status, since the relationship of the supervisor to the employee tends to be analogous to management of an independent contractor. However, an involuntary conversion brings on the wrath of employees and unions, and has resulted in at least one lawsuit that ended the practice [Kugelmass, Joel, Telecommuting: A Manager's Guide to Flexible Work Arrangements, Lexington Books, 1995, pp. 81-82].

Why Flexwork?

There are a number of forces driving flexwork:

Workers like flexwork and request it

Numerous surveys of workers have shown that they like and want flexibility from their employers about the time and place of work. A study of 1,000 employees at Baxter International showed that "among salaried employees, most work-life tensions were driven by the need for greater balance and the desire for flexibility." ["Case Study: One Company's Delicate Balancing Act," Business Week, September 15, 1997, p. 102].

A 1997 survey of workers by the Families and Work Institute found that 35 percent of workers with children under 13 -- and 21 percent of those without -- said they would switch employers in order to have flexible time and leave options ["Employers see the worth of family values," Sacramento Business Journal, July 28, 1997].

Avoidance of commuting and of bad office environments are two other drivers of worker preference for flexplace arrangements.

Expansion of information and communications technologies

Computer hardware is growing rapidly in power and shrinking quickly in price and size. At the same time there is evolutionary growth in software functionality and in network connection speeds. There is continuous development and introduction of new communications devices and service, including wireless data, document conferencing, voice-recognition in document creation, desktop videoconferencing, and real-time chat conferencing that integrates typed messaging, audioconferencing and video. Hardware and software product interests are promoting telework as a major application of their offerings.

Technology shortcomings -- meaning unavailability or high cost of particular equipment, software, and services -- are often held out as a barrier to the growth of telework. "If only desktop video conferencing were universal, teleworking would expand greatly." Or, "if only we had a faster way of connecting into the company local area network, then we could do more telecommuting." In fact, teleworking is always working inside of and growing along with an expanding body of applied information technology. To say that technology gaps are stopping teleworking is usually a polite excuse from somebody who does not want to implement teleworking for other reasons, for example, unwillingness to undertake the necessary planning and training processes. Experience over a quarter century has shown that telecommuting can be implemented for many office workers within the limits of existing technology, with the parallel recognition that the extent of telecommuting will grow as technology grows.

Improvement of organizational performance

Flexibility programs have yielded performance improvements along many dimensions for organizations:

Office space savings have emerged as one big driver of flexplace in recent years. For example, IBM has moved 20,000 employees out of the office and into their homes, cars, clients' offices and hotel rooms, saving the company between $40 million and $60 million in the first couple of years. [O'Connell, Sandra, "The virtual workplace moves at warp speed..," HR Magazine, Vol. 41, March 1996, p. 50.]

Another big driver is better recruitment and retention in tight labor markets. Debbie Faulkner, Director of Administration at Active Voice Corporation in Seattle reports that three professionals per year accept employment offers with them instead of with another firm that does not offer a corporate culture that includes teleworking from home [Remarks by Debbie Faulkner at a workshop of the Pacific Northwest Telecommuting Advisory Council, Seattle, October 27, 1998].

The organizational benefits, of course, need to be achieved net of the additional costs of implementation. There has to be a business case for moving forward, and in line with best practice, performance against a plan should be monitored and managed.

Telecommuters working at home often willingly donate the use of their home office and home computer for their employer's benefit without monetary compensation. Thus one component of the employer's benefit is the assignment of real estate and equipment costs to employees in a voluntary exchange that lets them reduce commuting time and have more schedule flexibility.

Flexwork expands the number of workers

The societal benefit of a larger workforce is of course related to the organizational benefit of better recruitment and retention. The availability of flexwork expands the work force by providing people with new ways to avoid a variety of different constraints that block work force participation. These constraints include:

On the topic of working at home and doing simultaneous childcare, the conventional and obviously valid wisdom from telecommuting consultants is that the two activities do not mix well. Workers at home should have a child care provider to avoid inevitable distractions. However, in practice, flexibility reigns. Consider this report from Mary, a telecommuting mother and tax compliance specialist with Ernst & Young: "Technically, I am supposed to have a nanny. But whatever work I can't get done during the day, I can do in the evening after the baby is asleep" [quoted in Johnson, Dave, "Telecommuting 101," Home Office Computing, September 1998, p.64].

Relationship of Flexplace to Welfare-to-Work

A prominent issue blocking the ability of many individuals without their own automobiles to transition from welfare into the work force is the difficulty in commuting daily to employment locations. Many of America's employment opportunities are now in the outlying suburbs of metropolitan areas, while many welfare recipients begin their transition to working while living in inner city areas. Public transportation from inner cities to suburban areas is not usually very fast or convenient, even assuming that no intermediate stop at a daycare center is necessary.

The notion of locating training facilities and opportunities for entry-level employment in or near inner city areas through telecommunications connections to existing suburban facilities is worth exploring. In practice, companies generally reserve telework for experienced professional employees. But some companies have historically participated in initiatives that offered job training and jobs delivered to disadvantaged populations through facilities located in inner cities. [In the 1970's William Norris, Chairman and CEO of Control Data Corporation, established manufacturing operations in inner city locations in Washington, DC, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and San Antonio. Worth, James C, William C. Norris: Portrait of a Maverick, Ballinger, 1987; see also the description of present-day Community Technology Centers at ]

Manageable Concerns with Telework

Several consistently mentioned management challenges associated with teleworking have been successfully dealt with over the past decade of experience.

Implementing telework requires serious change

Implementing flexplace in any significant sense requires changes in organizational policy, processes, and equipment. Generations-old traditions need to be disrupted. Corporate culture is changed. Planning and training are needed. Because the changes needed for implementing telework are so large, it is usually best to make sure that there is a key business justification for beginning the process of change -- an office space crunch, a need to retain critical staff who would otherwise leave, or in fact a major effort to transform corporate culture.

Telework once underway is not easy to manage

Managing a group of people whose work location can change from day to day is different and more difficult than managing people who work in a fixed location. The face-to-face communications technique of stopping by the office to observe and talk must be replaced on telecommuting days by a different, more deliberate, telecommunications-enabled mode of communications, whether voice telephone calls or email or another electronic mode. The telecommuting worker can no longer casually observe the mood of the boss, which is often a contingency in the worker's decision of what and when to communicate.


The lack of shared, casually-maintained veridical perception on every work day means that deliberately initiated electronic communications must be relied upon to a greater degree. As the subtitle of a 1998 Harvard Business Review case study on managing off-site teams put the main issue, "When people are telecommuting, you can't communicate too much." [Maruca, Regina Fazio, "How Do You Manage an Off-Site Team?" Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1998, p. 22]

The standard advice is that management of flextimers and teleworkers must be based more on a shared understanding of tasks and required accomplishments. The description of a training session at the 1998 Annual Conference of the International Telework Association captures the management issue well in few words: "Managing the Transition of Workplace Control: From Snoopervision to Supervision, ... Challenge is ... the required massive and necessary change in organizational culture and management practices. ... Managing a remote/virtual worker requires a simple philosophy: trust and verify."

The problem is, not all organizational activity can be reduced to tasks and completion dates. There are other issues in organizational life, such as learning, teaching, criticizing, praising, building trust, dealing with incomplete information, and negotiation. To some degree the extra difficulty in working on these issues when people are more often physically separated is mitigated by making sure that all members of a department, team, or other work group are available together in the office every few days. Face-to-face meetings can be scheduled this day. Holding them when everybody can be present reduces the need for awkward mixed mode meetings where some of the participants are around the conference table, and some are at the other end of a communications linkage.

Telework is not suitable for some people

Telecommuting is not for everyone. It requires a meshing of the person, his or her job, the tools used, the work group, and the supervisor. All have to be right.

Telecommuting researcher Patricia Mohktarian estimates that no more than 16 percent of the workforce is currently able to telecommute, given the constraints of management resistance, job unsuitability, technology, cost, and other factors. Furthermore, not everybody who could telecommute wants to [Mohktarian, Patricia L., "Will encouraging telecommuting decrease traffic congestion?" The CQ Researcher, August 14, 1998, p. 713].

A widely disseminated tool for selecting the right kinds of workers to telecommute is the list of characteristics used in some government telecommuting training programs to define a good telecommuter candidate (next chart). The list is a laughably "superhuman" description that looks a lot like the definition of perfection. The list for a good supervisor of telecommuters is similarly descriptive of those who walk on water.

But in fact, many people will emerge as qualified to work remotely some of the time. Telecommuting for those qualified employees must be managed as an optional assignment that is at the discretion of management.

A person's suitability for telework changes over time

Several studies suggest that about half of those who start telecommuting stop within 9 to 18 months. The person's job or boss might have changed, or else there could be a change of circumstances at home -- marriage, divorce, new children, new pets, parents moving in, moving to a different residence, or other potential distractions. In the case of individual workers who have changes at home, the employer needs to be alert to performance changes that telegraph the existence of new circumstances, and to whether or not modifications in the telecommuting assignment are appropriate.

Telework raises legal issues

Over the past several decades of flexwork and especially telework, legal issues have begun to arise, mostly through attorneys contemplating the theoretical possibilities, as opposed to actual law suits being filed.

The scope of legal concerns is wide, and includes:

In experience to date, most employers have found the legal issues manageable, but they cannot be ignored. Attorneys' general legal advice is for employers to create documents formally defining the terms of innovative flexible arrangements. No legal issues have yet been revealed that threaten the existence of flexwork programs, or which portend a major rollback.

Measuring productivity improvement is often difficult

Quite apart from the issue of what flexwork does for the worklife quality of workers, productivity measurement -- the determination of what gets produced as a ratio taken against what resources are expended -- is a difficult. Nevertheless, Jack Nilles has found that "over a wide range of jobs and people, average productivity increases for telecommuters range from 5 to 20 percent" [Koch, Kathy, "Flexible Work Arrangements," The CQ Researcher, August 14, 1998, p. 701].

Productivity measurements have to date usually been made on the work of individual teleworkers, as opposed to looking at the productivity of the entire work group in which individual teleworkers function. Another issue is the productivity of other organizational units which have an interface with telecommuting personnel. Still, if productivity were to go awry in some major way in a particular organization, the associated flexible work practices would undoubtedly be halted.

Just as important as measuring productivity is the need to grasp the multiple conceivable reasons potentially causing productivity to rise or fall as a result of teleworking. Productivity improves as a result of workers who:

All of these reasons can be linked to flexible work practices. Productivity also improves when the costs of some input go down for the same amount of output, for example, when a company needs to spend less on office facilities because people spend more work time at home.

On the other hand, productivity could decline if teleworking employees:

These things can be tied to flexwork as well, but they are all issues that can be addressed through sound management of workers and other resources.

Productivity scenarios with telework can involve tradeoffs. For example, while telecommuting, one worker writes more reports of the same quality each week, but she has lost touch with what is going on in the organization and becomes less promotable. Another employee writes somewhat fewer reports each week because of telecommuting, but now takes less sick leave and personal time, and is more likely to stay with the company.

The next chart describes a number of productivity improvement scenarios in a simplistic case of a worker who produces reports as a basic work product.

Policy Concerns

The previous section covered issues that have been successfully addressed over two decades. At the same time, several troubling public policy issues with business strategy implications have arisen as a result of the growth of teleworking.

Threat to quality of non-work life and even health

Network connections to the home or carried on ones person allow work demands to attract ones attention at home or in the park even during evening and weekend hours beyond a normal 40 to 60 hour professional work week. June Langhoff, a consultant who assists companies in the design of telecommuting describes one organization: "At Lawrence Livermore Labs, telecommuting employees actually work longer hours. The computer logs show access to the network after hours and on weekends more with telecommuting workers" [Johnson, Dave, "Telecommuting 101," Home Office Computing, September 1998, p. 65].

With flexplace, the boundary between personal life and business life can become thinner, blurred and ill defined, or can be breached completely. To business owners and bosses, this can be a good thing. Jennifer Johnson, who employs 16 telecommuters in her own marketing firm in Santa Cruz California, notes, "The real reason to employ telecommuters is that it allows them to be 24/7 [24 hours per day, seven days per week] contributors, working as ideas happen, not just when you're locked away in a cubicle" [Johnson, Dave, "Telecommuting 101," Home Office Computing, September 1998, p. 66].

But there is a downside for working people. John Girard, vice president and research director at Gartner Group in Stamford, CT worries, "Sometimes you work late into the night and then early in the morning. Then you suddenly realize you've spent a double day at work, and you wonder, 'Where did my life go?'" On the other hand, Burke Stinson, senior public relations manager for AT&T reacts to worries that telecommuting promotes workaholism by stating, "If work is something that you enjoy, then working seven days per week at your own pace and pleasure is probably good, not bad. Michael Jordan practices basketball every day harder than everybody else, but no one calls him a workaholic" [The CQ Researcher, August 14, 1998, p. 705].

Still, competitive pressure in the business and career worlds can cause people to behave voluntarily in ways that are not in their own best interest as measured by what their families and friends say, or even what they would say if they were detached from their daily compulsive behavior and reflective about what it means for loved ones.

If a loved family, children, or elders are impacted by ones work behavior at home, then the issue escalates. Work and love, as states of mind, are diametric opposites, as described by psychologist Jay Rohrlich in a book, Work and Love: The Crucial Balance [Summit, 1980]: "Work affirms and defines the self; loving dissolves and obliterates it. Work is structure and order; love is freedom. Work is oriented to the future, to goals; love demands the present. Work is domination and mastery; love is receptivity and submission. Work is mind; love is feeling."

Functionality of Proximity

Enterprise managements and supporting researchers have not yet developed the general principles that allow finding the optimum balance between centralizing workers in a few geographic workers and dispersing workers across many locations.

Clearly, not all of an organization's work need be constrained in a rigid place-time framework represented by an office building of cubicles and meeting rooms filled during standard daylight working hours. But just how much organizational communications can be reduced to messages between remote locations? And how much organizational activity be reduced to specified and scheduled deliverables that can be assigned to remote workers?

Research is showing that many work processes function better under conditions of proximity. The next chart shows the results of research carried out by one company that found which kind of organizational work was appropriate for telecommunications networks, and which was better conducted face to face.

Another issue arises when one considers the general requirements for organizational health, as summarized in the next chart, based on the work of Becker and Steele. [Becker, Franklin and Fritz Steele, Workplace by Design : Mapping the High-Performance Workscape, Jossey-Bass, 1995] The accomplishment of tasks is only a portion of the work in health organizations, and face-to-face proximity is likely to be important in addressing many of the dimensions of organizational health.

Even the mundane issue of how to train workers for productive use of information networks while at the same time putting controls on non-productive uses of Internet access and computer usage suggests that proximity of workers and their computer workstations to others is probably an important specification for many. One study finds that about 24 percent of Internet use in organizations is non-work related [Wilder, Clinton, "The Bright Side: Your Staff is Well-Informed," Information Week, August 17, 1998, p. 14]. Gartner Group estimates that unproductive "futzing" with personal computers costs over $5,000 per year per computer installed in U.S. businesses [].

If we consolidate the job of specifying the where and when of business activity into a unified concept of design for human performance, we can see that a number of separate business issues could be usefully coordinated: information technology, facilities strategy, and travel policy to name just three.

Environmental Impacts

Telework is a force for environmentally beneficial trip reduction and environmentally damaging land use sprawl at the same time.

Every time a commuter walks to a home office as a substitute for a driving trip to the office, there is a beneficial environmental effect from reduced driving and traffic congestion. The benefit is typically portrayed as a linear calculation of the commuting trips eliminated multiplied by the average commuting miles driven per trip. Furthermore, there is evidence from controlled studies that the parked cars of teleworkers are not used excessively by other family members who see new opportunities for travel.

However, even though telework is growing as a work practice in the U.S., there is little evidence that driving is being reduced proportionately. As reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the number of work trips likely to be eliminated through the growth of telework is swamped by the background growth in driving across all trip types, work and non-work.

Particularly disturbing in this analysis are two ways in which teleworking can cause increases in driving. The first problem is the tendency of telecommuters to live farther away from their office and thus to commute longer distances on days when they do commute to the office. This tendency has been demonstrated in government-sponsored studies of telecommuting carried out in California and Washington State. It makes sense insofar as commuting time is a perceived cost of driving to the office each day, and less commuting days makes longer commuting times more tolerable on the commuting days still required. Furthermore, because of all the non-work driving to stores, services, schools, recreation, and entertainment that is part of daily life in America, transportation analysts know that a more dispersed pattern of land use generates more driving than a compact pattern. Non-commuting trips are well over half of all driving in typical urban areas, and growing in their market share of trip-making.

The second problem is the known likelihood of trip reduction during peak periods creating conditions on the margin that cause transit riders, carpoolers, freeway avoiders, and off peak commuters such as flextimers to reenter peak period flows even as others find ways to use telework and avoid congestion by staying out of these flows. There is also the potential for more optional non-work trips to enter peak period traffic if more space in that flow results from teleworking. These effects are known as latent travel demand that is induced by changed conditions.

These and a variety of other effects of telecommunications and information technology on travel underscore the point that telework is no magic bullet for the growing congestion found in healthy urban areas across America. For the large number of members in WorkForce 2020 who still have to commute to a place of work outside of the home in synchronization with normal business hours, the post World War II dynamic of parallel growth of jobs and housing in contiguous suburban locations -- what Joel Garreau describes as Edge City [Doubleday, 1991] -- is likely to continue.


For Organizations

For Workers

Flexplace is a work arrangement in higher demand by workers than the supply of telecommuting opportunities available. It is a difficult arrangement to obtain as a new hire into an organization. Teleworking is normally the preserve of existing workers whose managements authorize it. To be in a better position to take advantage of opportunities to telework that come along, workers should:

For Government


Flexible work practices have by now been sufficiently exercised to show their applicability as powerful and practical responses to many organizational performance challenges. At the same time, telework and flextime are characteristics of working environments that people find attractive, and thus amount to serving as a way to expand America's workforce. Because of growing experience and visibility, however, there is no need to turn these work practices into government initiatives that are pushed into the private sector. Flexwork will become more completely and quickly embedded in American worklife to the degree that individual workers and organizational managers are motivated to implement better ways to work because of pressures experienced directly in the highly competitive global environment that frames the American economy.


              Last modified, February 07, 2011