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Telecommuters are More Ethical Than Office Bound Employees

A new study by the Ethisphere Institute and Jones Lang LaSalle found that telecommuters are less likely to have ethical violations than their in-office counterparts.

Fascinating and also absolutely logical. Now, for the record, I question the validity of their "study" (and not just because Jones Lang LaSalle doesn't appear to be able to afford commas and the word "and") because they surveyed 200 companies, only 68% of which had telecommuters in the first place. Then they asked about ethical violations. My questions, just who did they ask? Because my bet is some HR person. In a small company that HR person would know the answer. In a big company, the head HR person probably has no clue how many people are telecommuting.

Not because the company doesn't have any guidelines, but probably because the company has guidelines that are onerous and require sign offs at 3 different levels and IT approval, so managers just do things under the table. I have no problem with the latter, as I think managers should manage. Just so long as the managers are good managers I don't care where their employees work.

But, let's assume that the results from this survey are accurate and telecommuters are more ethical. Considering I'm writing this at my dining room table, you can guess my opinion on telecommuting in general. I'm a big fan for some jobs and some people. Not everyone should telecommute, nor should every position be considered for telecommuting. And there are big problems that need to be overcome when you have telecommuting employees.

But, ethics violations are not one of them. Lots of speculation on why this is. Russell Working at Ragan.com writes:

If you feel surrounded at work by dishonest sneaks and letches who've got their paws all over you, it may be because the more ethical people are working from home.

Then again, if you're a telecommuter who feels morally superior about that, bear in mind that you do work alone. We don't wish to presume, but you probably aren't harassing your cat with those smutty jokes you used to tell in the office.

Point taken and it turns out your cat didn't laugh at the jokes anyway. (Darn cat.) Other theories are that telecommuters are more likely to be self starters and that working from home is still considered a privilege, therefore telecommuters don't want to blow this chance.

I have my own theory, of course, which is this: Telecommuters are more ethical because they are treated like grown-ups and are working in a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE).

It's really hard for managers to micro-manage telecommuters. Even if you call them every 15 minutes, or monitor their computer usage constantly, you honestly cannot tell if they are watching Toddlers & Tiaras (don't click if you don't enjoy train wrecks), or using their personal computer to play games on Facebook. You can't see if they are wearing pajamas or a 3 piece suit. You don't know. All a manager can use to judge a telecommuter is actual performance.

You can see that some managers cannot handle telecommuting employees because they manage by favoring the suck ups, reward face time, and want to control every detail. But, perhaps if you leave people alone, they perform better. Perhaps, if they feel respected and their work valued, they feel less inclined to try to stick it to the company. They don't feel like they "deserve" whatever benefit they gain from their unethical behavior. Instead, they know that their boss considers them valued employees (hence the permission to work from home), and that they will be judged on overall performance (because it's impossible to judge them on other things).

Does this mean more of your employees should telecommute? Absolutely. But, not all. There are benefits to working in an office. Teamwork seems to go better when teams actually know each other. Some work needs to be done face to face for it to be effective. Part time telecommuting tends to be my favorite solution--employees are in the office some days and out on other days. That gives the benefits to the employees of having some flexibility (cutting out a commute is a fabulous benefit for many), while still allowing teams to work together.

So, the next time an employee wants to telecommute, perhaps you should consider it. Your company's ethical standards may increase.

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Photo by markhillary, Flickr cc 2.