The Benefits of Teleworking in the Public Sector: Reality or Rhetoric?

Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
DOI10.1177/0734371X18760124
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/0734371X18760124
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2019, Vol. 39(4) 570 –593
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
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DOI: 10.1177/0734371X18760124
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Article
The Benefits of Teleworking
in the Public Sector: Reality
or Rhetoric?
Hanna de Vries1, Lars Tummers2,
and Victor Bekkers1
Abstract
Many public organizations implement teleworking: an organizational innovation
expected to improve the working conditions of public servants. However, it is unclear
to what extent teleworking is beneficial for public servants. This study adds to the
literature by studying the effects of teleworking on a day-to-day basis. We used a
daily diary methodology and followed public servants across five consecutive working
days. Studies that apply a daily survey method are more accurate than cross-sectional
measures because they reduce recall bias. The results highlight that public servants
experience quite negative effects from teleworking, including greater professional
isolation and less organizational commitment on the days that they worked entirely
from home. Contrary to predictions, working from home did not affect work
engagement. We also found that higher leader–member exchange (LMX) reduced the
impact of teleworking on professional isolation. These findings not only contribute to
the literature by showing the unfavorable effects of teleworking but also highlight that
LMX can, to some extent, reduce these negative effects.
Keywords
diary study, LMX, organizational commitment, professional isolation, teleworking,
work engagement
Introduction
Currently, one of the major challenges facing public organizations is adapting to the
societal, administrative, and technological changes confronting them (Osborne &
1Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
2Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Hanna de Vries, Department of Public Administration and Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam,
P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Email: devries@essb.eur.nl
760124ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X18760124Review of Public Personnel Administrationde Vries et al.
research-article2018
de Vries et al. 571
Brown, 2005). For instance, due to more women in the workplace, two-career fami-
lies, and employees wanting to manage and/or balance work and life responsibilities,
there is a growing employee demand for more flexible work–life programs (Baltes,
Briggs, Huff, Wright, & Neuman, 1999; Caillier, 2013b). This calls on public organi-
zations to innovate, that is, to develop and adopt new practices that create a discontinu-
ity with the past (de Vries, Bekkers, & Tummers, 2016; Osborne & Brown, 2005).
In this regard, one organizational innovation that is increasingly being adopted in
public organizations is teleworking (Caillier, 2012; de Vries, Tummers, & Bekkers,
2017). With teleworking, “employees have been given the opportunity to perform
some or all of their duties at home or at an alternative location” (Caillier, 2012, p. 461).
Telework can be seen as a typical “magic concept” (see Pollitt & Hupe, 2011) in that
its use both inspires and seduces policymakers. For instance, Barack Obama stated
that “attracting and retaining employees who are more productive and engaged through
flexible workplace policies is not just good for business or for our economy—it’s good
for our families and our future” (The White House, 2010). However, what is really
known about the effects of teleworking on the working life of public servants (see
Caillier, 2012)—is teleworking truly beneficial?
This study aims to partly fill this knowledge gap by examining the effects of public
servants’ teleworking on organizational commitment, on work engagement, and on
professional isolation. We focus on the most often used aspect of telework: the possi-
bility to work from home (home-based teleworking). In studying the relationship
between home-based teleworking and the three above-mentioned outcomes, this study
is both theoretically and methodologically innovative.
Theoretically, our study adds to the public administration literature by providing a
more complete overview of the effects of teleworking by including both positive (i.e.,
work engagement) and negative (i.e., professional isolation) effects, along with an
effect for which the findings in the literature have been mixed (i.e., organizational
commitment). These specific effects of teleworking were chosen because they are fre-
quently discussed in the teleworking literature and often the subject of extensive dis-
cussions (e.g., Demerouti, Derks, ten Brummelhuis, & Bakker, 2014; Golden, 2006;
Golden, Veiga, & Dino, 2008; ten Brummelhuis, Bakker, Hetland, & Keulemans,
2012; for overviews, see T. D. Allen, Golden, & Shockley, 2015; Gajendran &
Harrison, 2007). In so doing, we deliberately chose to include the work engagement
dimension, rather than related concepts such as work motivation, because, particularly
in work and organizational psychology, teleworking has been frequently linked to
increased work engagement (e.g., Demerouti et al., 2014; ten Brummelhuis et al.,
2012). However, this has not been tested in the public administration field. In this
regard, Vigoda-Gadot, Eldor, and Schohat (2013) express surprise that the concept of
employee engagement is seldom used by public administration scholars. Moreover,
given that scholars have hinted that the cognitive-psychological dimensions of leader-
ship may be key to ensuring employee satisfaction and commitment in a teleworking
environment (e.g., Golden & Veiga, 2008; Green & Roberts, 2010), we also include
one potential mechanism that might influence the effects of working from home on the
aforementioned outcomes, namely, leader–member exchange (LMX; Graen & Uhl-
Bien, 1995). This aspect has not been previously studied despite the possibility that

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