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The Daily

Study: Telecommuting is Contageous

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 9, 2015
EmptyOfficeEver have someone in your office catch a cold? And then pass that cold on to a few more people, who pass it on to a few more? And you realize that the more sick people you have, the more sick people you get? A recent study published in the journal of the Academy of Management Discoveries has found that telecommuting is kind of like that. 

Basically, the paper says, there is a certain tipping point where telecommuting begins to breed more telecommuting. Once a certain number of people begin working from home, the office starts looking kind of empty, and thus possibilities for social interaction, one of the benefits of working at an office, become fewer, which means that those who are left behind have even more incentive to begin working from home (because, hey, if you're going to work without talking to another soul all day long, you may as well do it from your own couch). This, however, causes a feedback loop, because now the office is even more empty than before, which makes the experience of working there even more depressing for the people who are left, which makes them want to work from home.

Before you know it, the office is a ghost town, with any workers left looking a little like this guy.

Okay, you think, so what? More and more people are working from home, and many who aren't want to do so. It's the wave of the future. However, says the paper, this effect sweeps up even people who would actually rather work at an office. Not everyone, says the paper, desires to telecommute, but when everyone else in the company is doing it, they feel like they need to as well. Further, the paper argues that, while there are benefits to telecommuting, something is lost when we're all isolated from each other, as co-workers "provide important opportunities for social interaction ...As the number of distributed workers reaches a certain point, the social motivation becomes very difficult to fulfill." 

So maybe it's less a matter of working exclusively from home, but having the ability to do so if the circumstances require it, such as needing to take care of a sick child or wait for the cable guy to repair something.