Fewer interruptions, less company politics, and less face-to-face communication add up to good work-life balance and happier employees, according to newly released data on telework.

Researchers Kathryn Fonner, assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, and Michael Roloff, professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, found that three factors contribute to the higher level of job satisfaction among teleworkers.

"Compared to office-based employees, teleworkers experienced higher job satisfaction, less work-life conflict, less stress from meetings and interruptions, less general political behavior, or office politics, and less frequent information exchange with others," says Fonner.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, analyzed conflicting claims of telework's advantages and disadvantages to determine why telework correlates with content employees.

"Job satisfaction is one of the most commonly reported outcomes of telework, but telework adoption in organizations is often met with resistance," says Fonner. "There's concern about employees working in an environment that does not allow for ongoing face-to-face communication with co-workers - that people will be 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind.'"

The sample was made up of 89 teleworkers, including those working from home, on the road, or from satellite offices, who telecommuted at least three times a week, and 103 office-based employees from various industries and employment levels. Although the study controlled for demographic factors, there were some significant differences between teleworkers and office-based employees: Most of the teleworkers were older, married, had children, and had been in their positions and with their companies nearly twice as long as the office-based workers.

The study found that the core benefit of telework was work-life balance. "The flexibility of telework allows employees to structure their work in ways that there is less spillover into personal lives," Fonner says. "Teleworkers are also able to avoid some of the stress associated with meetings, casual conversations, and other interruptions in the workplace, which can take away from the ability to focus and complete work."

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that lack of face-to-face communication and less communication with supervisors and colleagues did not keep them from getting the information they needed, she says.

"Although teleworkers are in touch with people less often, they seem to be able to remain connected to the information they need even without constant communication. This was a positive and surprising aspect of the study," notes Fonner.

Organizations can use these findings to up the job satisfaction of office-based employees. Fonner recommends instituting practices that encourage

  • flexible schedules or work arrangements
  • quiet rooms or areas to allow for uninterrupted time
  • holding meetings only when necessary
  • fairness and merit-based promotion and performance management
  • ability to speak up about concerns without fear of retaliation.