Why are web workers happier?

Written on:July 18, 2011
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The research is conclusive: compared to office-based colleagues, those who are free to work where they choose are happier with their jobs. But why is this? The answer isn’t as clear as it might first appear to web work boosters. After all, ask non-experts for their opinion of telecommuting and you’ll likely get a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages. Sure, controlling your own time is bound to be freeing and allow an easier juggle of home and work responsibilities, but what about the isolation? Don’t relationships fray without face-to-face contact, leading to misunderstandings and loneliness?

It turns out there is research not only on the comparative happiness levels of office-based versus remote workers, but also on the reasons for the difference between the two. Last year a paper published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research aimed to tease out exactly why those who telecommute at least half the time are more satisfied with their jobs. Some of the explanations are no surprise, including:

Spending less than 50 percent of the week in the collocated office affords more flexibility and aids in the balance of work and personal roles, which teleworkers find satisfying.

Telework is associated with less frequent information exchange, which relates to lower stress from meetings and interruptions.

Other findings might come as a shock to those who fear that working from home or the local coffee shop is sure to harm interpersonal relationships with colleagues. The researchers revealed that we actually like our co-workers more when we see them less. Forget loneliness and isolation, the effect of putting a little distance between team members seems to be at least a partial inoculation against the annoyances of office politics:

Teleworkers are less likely to perceive that general political behavior is pervasive in the organization, and in turn are less likely to perceive that people conform to political behavior in order to get ahead. Being less exposed to, or perceiving less of, this type of going along to get ahead behavior is linked to higher job satisfaction.

We conclude that decreased face-time in the office affords a distinct advantage by limiting teleworkers’ exposure to political behavior, or at least allowing them to feel removed enough to downplay its prevalence… Less frequent interaction with others may be desirable.

Hell is other people, according to the famous misanthropic quote from Sartre. Perhaps this applies at the office as well.

Do you think web work is a good way to eliminate some of the stress and distraction of office politics? 

Image courtesy Flickr user benjaminasmith

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