Career Watch

Priscilla Arling, assistant professor of MIS in the College of Business Administration at Butler University, discusses her study on telework and productivity.

Is telecommuting necessarily bad for productivity? I'd like to broaden the perspective of the question a bit. Today, many organizations have team members who are not physically located together and where communication technology is used to accomplish tasks and interact. This way of working is called "distributed work." In addition, measures of success have changed from productivity to performance. Performance includes aspects of productivity, as well as evaluation of knowledge-sharing and teamwork. So the answer to the question, "Is distributed work necessarily bad for performance?" is an unequivocal no, as evidenced by the proliferation of distributed teams across the globe.

How can teams that aren't collocated collaborate effectively? In my research on distributed work, I was curious about the differences in face-to-face and electronic communication. I knew from 15 years of working in teams that individuals had two separate networks of communication: a face-to-face and an electronic network. I found that it was the characteristics of electronic networks that were related to performance. Face-to-face networks are important, but in distributed work, it is electronic networks that differentiate high and low performers. High performers had large, closely knit electronic networks -- that is, contacts were in frequent communication with each other.

Is technology key to making it work? Technology is just a tool, and the success you achieve depends on knowing when to use it and when not to use it. Communicating electronically with many team members was not always beneficial. For instance, knowledge sharing was lower when an individual's electronic contacts were in many different physical locations. However, this negative effect was less in larger teams. In those teams, processes that helped team members understand each other were more likely to be in place. Information about team members' contexts and the work they were performing was regularly shared, so diversity in locations was not as detrimental.

Does that mean IT has a limited role in making telework situations more productive? A key takeaway from my work is that increasing performance in a distributed team is not as simple as increasing electronic communication or even getting team members together more often for face-to-face contact. The focus needs to be on increasing understanding between team members.

IT Workers: Last-Born Pisces Who Love Their Jobs?

Oh, the ways we try to categorize society and explain career choices. Besides those old standby personality assessments Myers-Briggs and Keirsey Temperament Theory, there's the Dewey Color System, where you choose color preferences in a series of options and find out just what sort of person you are and the type of work you're best suited to. (Go ahead and give it a try online; I found out that I am one of two possible types, which seemed diametrically opposed to each other.) Now come the results of a CareerBuilder.com online survey of 8,785 people that looked at "predictors" such as astrological sign and birth order.

What can you learn from this highly scientific study?

  • The last born is more likely than his siblings to go into IT.
  • Those born under Pisces, Aries, Sagittarius and Capricorn are more likely than others to take up IT as a profession.
  • Scorpio, Leo, Taurus and Cancer are the astrological signs most likely to earn six figures. Those born under Capricorn and Aquarius are most likely to earn under $35,000.
  • Pisces, Sagittarius and Capricorn (remember, those all correlate highly to employment in IT) are the signs most closely associated with job satisfaction.

Aren't you glad you know?

Page compiled by Jamie Eckle.

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