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Technology has simplified many aspects of today’s life. Cell phones and laptop computers enable people to work elsewhere apart from the office. This trend has the potential to increase productivity (Hoang, Nickerson, Beckman & Eng, 2008). Companies need to recognize telecommuting as an effective alternative to static offices.
Jack Nilles coined the term telecommuting in 1973. According to Hoang et al. (2008), telecommuting refers to “at home work”. In other words, telecommuting means working from remote locations, for instance, at a home office. This is possible through electronically linking the remote location to the company. In this work, employees enjoy flexible work locations and hours. The “telecommuter” is the name of the employee who telecommutes. The majority of telecommuters work from home. However, others use mobile telecommunication technology to work elsewhere like in coffee shops, passenger vehicles, and so on. Telecommuting could involve the use of broadband connections on computers or phone lines.
In 2008, Hoang et al. estimated that there were 17.2 million telecommuters in the world. In 2011, fifty million workers in the United States (40 percent of the working population) indicated that they sometimes worked from home. However, few companies hire home-based full-time workers. The call center industry is one example that has ventured into telecommuting (Butler, Aasheim and Williams, 2007). There are several call centers in the United States of America that employ thousands of people to work from home. In 2009, about 102,000 Federal employees were telecommuting (Hoang et al. 2008). Information Technology decision makers expect that telecommuting will increase by 65% and 33% in the next three years. In 2010, the United States of America Federal Government ratified the Telecommuting Enhancement Act (Public Law 111-292). This Act will increase the number of companies that allow telecommuting.
Telecommuting involves four dimensions. These are the work, usage of Information and communication technologies, time distribution, and the wide range of contractual relations between employers and employees (such as self-employment contracts or regular type). Successful telecommuting programs need management styles that are result oriented and not task oriented. Westfall (2004) refers to this practice as “management by objectives as contrasted to management by observation”.
In telecommuting, the communication process is immensely crucial (Derakhshandeh & Mikaeilvand, 2011). This is because of the absence of static offices in which workers meet to work. The workers in remote places need efficient communication systems that will ensure reliable communication with superiors and other workers. Martin (2004) has defined the communication process as the process of imparting or exchanging information. The communication process requires three things that are the sender, message and the recipient. Advances in technology have enabled the process of communication to go on even when the intended recipient is absent during the time of communication. This has made communication occur across wide distances involving time and space. For the communication to occur, it requires that the sender and the receiver to share a communicative commonality (Martin, 2004). The process of communication is complete when the recipient understands the intent of the sender. In addition, the feedback of the recipient to the sender is critical to ensure that the communication process is effective.
Communication in traditional static offices is easy as it involves direct verbal communication. In addition, to communicate, employees in static offices use gestures, facial expressions, body language, eye contact, and writing, among other methods. This is because the employees are in one place; thus, they can see and hear one another. For instance, the boss can call the junior staff in his office to discuss the recent developments in the company. In the case of telecommuting, companies need to explore other methods of communication. This is because the face-to-face communication is not possible. Employees can work in different places that may even be unknown to their colleagues. Moreover, employees are free to choose their preferred working time. As a result, the most effective means to communicate is to take advantage of technology. This is when the use of the internet and phones becomes particularly crucial.
In the 1970s, there was linking of satellite offices to main offices by dumb terminals that used telephone lines. However, the decrease in cost of personal computers enabled further decentralization of offices. In addition, increased usability and performance of personal computers enabled further decentralization. In the early 1980s, home workers could connect to companies using their personal computers (Siha & Monroe, 2006). Long distance telecommuting depends on a number of tools that include groupware, virtual private network, conference calling, videoconferencing, as well as Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP). These tools are useful to companies as they allow staff to communicate over large distances, a factor that may lead to saving of time and cost. The increased availability of Broadband internet connections allows many workers to link their personal computers to their company’s intranet and phone networks. Besides, the availability of local area networks fosters sharing of resources. The adoption of client-server computing enables further telecommuting.
Today’s trend is that telecommuters can carry laptop personal computers that they can use almost anywhere else, be it at home or office. The coming up of cloud computing technology, as well as Wi-Fi availability, enables access to remote servers using hardware and software. Furthermore, improved technology has given rise to smart phones. These phones are popular in telecommuting as they increase the mobility of workers. They also increase the extent of coordination with the organization. Moreover, the technological advancement of Personal Data Assistants (PDA) and mobile phones enable instant communication between workers by camera photos, text messages (Short Message Services) and video chips. The social media, such as Facebook, Badoo and Twitter, are also an effective means of communication. However, social media may not be the best means of telecommuting because of lack privacy.
According to Hoang et al. (2008) and Butler, Aasheim and Williams (2007), there are various advantages of telecommuting. To the organization, the advantages include increased productivity, increased availability of human resource, and significant reduction of absence levels. There are savings in direct expenses and increased motivation and satisfaction. To the society, telecommuting leads to the betterment of the environment and a decrease in traffic. Telecommuting offers a viable solution to people with handicaps. Through telecommuting, the society saves in infrastructure and energy. Moreover, telecommuting leads to increased autonomy to the individual. It also avails the worker flexible working time. The worker will improve in time management and get time to care for family members. Besides, the telecommuter will save vast amounts of money, as he/she will not have travel expenses. However, organizations should approach telecommuting with caution (Siha & Monroe, 2006). This is because telecommuting can cause problems that can significantly affect the organization. The communication process brings about most of these problems. (Derakhshandeh & Mikaeilvand, 2011).
Derakhshandeh and Mikaeilvand (2011) note that the advent of “networks, mobility, and telecommuting” increases the need to assess the security of information systems. This is because organizations are susceptible to the many threats because of the technology used in telecommuting. Examples of the threats are the “required investments in new work and management methods, possible harm to organizational commitment and identity, cost involved in transition to telecommuting and legal issues” (Hoang et al.). Other threats arise from unethical use of the communication tools, which may lead to hacking, loss of data, identity theft, and so on. Organizations should identify and manage the threats posed by telecommuting. This involves assessing the potential risks of using a certain technology. In the assessment, organizations can use various approaches. These include the quantitative approaches, qualitative approaches, knowledge-based approaches, model-based approaches, risk assessment matrix approach, questionnaire approach, combination of risk matrix and questionnaire approach, expert systems approach, and fuzzy logic approach (Derakhshandeh & Mikaeilvand 2011). These approaches will enable an organization to make informed decisions by suggesting ways of assessing potential threats. The process of risk assessment involves the use of money and, as a result, the approach selected should meet all the needs of an organization.
In adopting telecommuting, companies should ensure that their employees take into consideration the ethical issues in business communication. Employees should be honest, fair, and respectful while communicating with customers as well as with each other. This is specifically relevant given the freedom that telecommuting avails to workers. The traditional static offices enabled direct supervision of workers, and, as a result, there was ethical communication. Telecommuting removes direct supervision and, thus, brings about the risk of the erosion of ethics. Telecommuting workers have a tendency of dishonesty (Westfall, 2004). Honesty involves telling the truth. Telecommuting workers may exaggerate and manipulate information in order to suit themselves. For instance, the employee may feign sickness in order to be absent from work.
On the other hand, telecommuting may do away with unethical practices like gender bias (Martin, 2004). Difficulties may arise from the way an employee treats the opposite sex. This involves differences in the way the individual handles sexual orientation. In traditional static offices, it was common to witness cases of gender related complaints. For instance, some managers were kind to men but harsh to women. Martin (2004) notes that nonverbal communication may also bring about gender related complaints. Telecommuting enables doing away with such ethical problems. This is because there is no direct human interaction as workers communicate using technological devises.
Besides, telecommuting ensures that organizations minimize favoritism. Favoritism is giving unfair rewards, assistance, or punishment to workers. Siha and Monroe (2006) posit that inappropriate communication can lead to favoritism. As a result, employees should always avoid communication practices that might translate to favoritism. Telecommuting reduces the risk of accusations of favoritism, as much of the interaction is impersonal. As previously noted, telecommuting is result oriented and not task oriented. The organization aims at the results that the worker gives and not the way he/she does it. The precipice of favoritism is personal interaction (Martin, 2004). We make friends and enemies after we interact at a personal level. If we remove the interpersonal interaction, relationships will purely be professional. This is one of the outstanding advantages of telecommuting.
In France, work-related religious debates are common. There have been controversies concerning the wearing of veils by Muslim women. In fact, the Constitution of France outlaws any form of religious symbols in public places. This means that employees need to keep religious beliefs to themselves. Many people agree that the ban of donning religious symbols at the work place is controversial. However, an equal number of people agree that religion and work should not mix. Workers should not communicate in a way that they will show religious intolerance or bias (Siha & Monroe, 2006). Some organizations have strict policies concerning religious tolerance. Workers have even lost jobs because of infringing such policies. The world should rejoice that telecommuting is becoming a reality. This is because telecommuting has the potential to foster religious tolerance among workers and clients. This is, again, because of the impersonal relationships that exist. Through telecommuting, workers are free to wear their religious symbols and perform rituals as they deem fit. Nobody will be there to question them on their religious beliefs. As a result, telecommuting promotes the ethical practice of religious tolerance.
Siha and Monroe (2006) predict that, “in the next 10 years, there will be an increase in the number of organizations adopting telecommuting”. This will arise from the acknowledgment by managers and executive officers of the many benefits that telecommuting can bring. The most significant benefit is the possibility to increase productivity of the organization. A research by Hoang et al. (2008) established that there was a general increase in productivity when workers were free to work elsewhere apart from the office. Other researchers echoed the same sentiments (Butler, Aasheim and Williams, 2007). This arose from the feeling of self-determination and esteem that the workers felt. In addition, telecommuting is likely to decrease unemployment, as an added number of people will access jobs. This arises from the point that there will be no restriction of the number of employees because of restricted office space. Telecommuting will enable organizations to recruit workers from all over the globe. This is because the only thing required to work is access to a computer or another technological devise that can enable communication. As a result, the American corporate world should take advantage of telecommuting and maximize profits.
Lastly, telecommuting requires an effective communication process. The technological devises that workers use to communicate should be effective to enable efficient delivery of services. Besides, organizations should identify potential risks to their information systems so that they can identify and control threats. Moreover, the workers should uphold ethical communication practices in order to achieve the full potential of telecommuting.