However, the potential benefits of greater flexibility in where and when work can be done must be balanced against the potential costs or disadvantages. For an employer, disadvantages may include the direct costs of investing in the requisite technology, the intangible costs of learning how to use new tools and develop new styles of management suited to distributed work, less opportunity for certain kinds of serendipitous productivity (e.g., clearing up of a misunderstanding during a chance meeting at the coffee pot), and some loss of distributed workers' identification with an organization. For a worker, disadvantages may include loss of privacy, the blurring of boundaries between work and personal activities, fewer chances to interact socially with colleagues, and the increasing domination of work over other aspects of life if the worker is expected to be constantly on call for the employer. Employees may bear part of the costs of a new distributed work style if, for example, the employer allows telecommuting only by those who are willing to provide their own computers. Loss of job security and fringe benefits can result from any shift toward a greater use of temporary and contract workers and the flattening of organizational hierarchies. Increased social isolation may be a negative outcome for some distributed workers.
For society, a negative consequence of greater flexibility may be a fragmented populace that is increasingly able to segregate itself into homogeneous strata. The ability to enjoy a distributed work style may be inequitably distributed, and the socioeconomic gap between the information "haves" and "have nots" may continue to widen. The off-shore relocation of some location-independent work, increased automation of jobs, and associated organizational restructuring may contribute to increased domestic unemployment (CSTB, 1994a). Finally, greater flexibility for workers in choosing where to live may further exacerbate urban sprawl and result in too-rapid growth in rural areas. (See the report Energy, Emissions, and Social Consequences of Telecommuting (U.S. Department of Energy, 1994) for detailed discussion of many of the societal impacts of telecommuting.)
Until recently, the information technology that was commonly available, the communications infrastructure, and prevailing work practices have inhibited individuals and organizations from taking full advantage of the potential benefits of flexibility in the place and time of work. For example, when 300-baud modems were the norm, each full computer screen of text took approximately 50 seconds to transfer, and most file transfers had to be manually initiated at both the origin and destination. Increasingly, however, the proliferation of more affordable, more portable, more powerful, and somewhat easier to use computing systems and telecommunications equipment