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Introduction Margrethe H. Olson Telecommuting people working at home with computers con- nected to offices many miles away could reshape the way Amer- ica works. Or it may be a short-lived phenomenon. In the mean- time, it poses intriguing questions. Is it new? Is it significant? Who will benefit? Who will not? What is the origin of telecommuting? Alan Kiron coined the term "dominetics" in 1969 in an article published in The Wash- ington Post. That article could have been written yesterday. Around 1971, Frank Schiff began talking about "flexiplace"; and around 1974, Jack Nilles began telling us about "telework." Now we hear, talk, and write about telecommuting, remote work, loca- tion independence, new forms of work, and technology push. The object of this collection of articles is to explore whether, in the words of Megatrends author John Naisbitt, "the computer will permeate the whole world of work." If that is the case, then is telecommuting a concept whose time has come? The phenomenon has several aspects, all requiring examination if we are to gain some understanding of where telecommuting is today and where it will lead us tomorrow. One major issue is the technology behind the trend. Is there a Margrethe Olson is associate professor of computer applications and information systems, Graduate School of Business Administration, New York University. 1
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2 INTRODUCTION technology push? With new technology, many more jobs may be handled relatively independently of location and schedule. But is this adequate reason for an employee to choose and an employer to approve and even underwriteŚwork at home rather than a cen- tral location? It is also an individual and psychological phenomenon. What is the relationship of the inclividual to work, to the workplace, to other facets of everyday life? How might the integration of work and nonwork activities change these relationships? It is also an organizational phenomenon. What happens to the organization as a result of this new flexibility? What happens to organizational culture? Management style? Labor-management relationships? What new opportunities and problems are intro- duced for management and organizations? Finally, how will we unravel the complex web of legal implications surrounding tele- commuting? Analysis of fast-moving trends often follows, rather than pre- cedes, realization of those trends. Companies are already experi- menting with workstations in the home; hence, the organization of this book: we move somewhat unconventionally from the prac- tical to the more theoretical. Part ~ presents the experiences of five firms and the U.S. Army with electronic homework for the disabled; clerical, professional, and managerial workers; and the traditional independent contrac- tor. Part IT moves to the broad issues that surround the practices described in Part ~ (legalities, worker motivation, and the poten- tial for worker exploitation) any then brings the main areas of controversy into focus in the pane} discussions. Part Ill offers a look into the future of telecommuting its technological develop- meet, its impact on female clerical workers, and its potential bene- fits for professional- and by extension ah members of the work force. Part Il] also ends with commentary, this time by an indi- vidual expert in the field. It is our hope that the comments and experiences of aB the con- tributors to this volume win foster a more realistic understanding of the positive and negative implications of telecommuting, now and in the future.
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