Telfer School of Management
University of Ottawa
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Research Links - September 2006 - Understanding Teleworking
Professor Laurent Lapierre
School of Management Professor Examines How Supervisors and Subordinates Manage Distance Relationships.
From the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution to the dawn of today’s knowledge economy, virtually all managers and employees have shared the same workplaces. In stores, factories and offices throughout the industrialized world, supervisors and their subordinates—up and down the chain of organizational command—were in close contact throughout every working day.
Modern communications technology, however, has dramatically changed working relationships between managers and employees. With the advent of portable computers, high-speed networks, cellular telephones and wireless personal digital assistants, workers increasingly perform their tasks away from traditional workplaces. In fact, the most recent statistics indicate that some 25 percent of working Canadians are "teleworkers"—workers located in satellite or mobile offices, work teams whose members are situated in different cities, or employees who work from their homes as a result of formal telework programs.
According to Dr. Laurent Lapierre, a professor at the School of Management and an expert in both supervisor-subordinate relations and how working life impacts overall quality of life, teleworking has become increasingly common to organizations and employees for a variety of reasons.
"Teleworking enables organizations to reduce costs related to office space, and attract greater numbers of qualified workers," he says. "For knowledge workers, this arrangement grants them greater workday freedom and saves many of them the time associated with lengthy and often irritating commutes."
However, Dr. Lapierre states that some experts believe this trend has the potential to create problems in the working relationships between supervisors and subordinates. In particular, managers and employees in teleworking situations do not enjoy the face-to-face contact that is essential to develop and maintain the quality of working relationships that lead to high productivity and both managerial and employee satisfaction.
To determine how organizations should manage teleworking relationships to generate maximum workplace productivity and job satisfaction, Dr. Lapierre, along with Dr. Tammy Allen of the University of South Florida, has embarked on a research project entitled "Managing the Supervisor-Subordinate Telework Relationship." His research, which began in April 2006, is scheduled to run for three years and is funded by a grant of more than $72,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
"I want my research to reveal the answer to one over-riding question," says Dr. Lapierre. "What strategies and methods do supervisors and subordinates in teleworking relationships employ to ensure that they nurture trustful, productive and successful working relationships?"
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