Telecommuting: A Test of Trust, Competing Values, and Relative Advantage

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December 2000

Telecommuting: A Test of Trust, Competing Values, and Relative Advantage


In recent years, telecommuting has received a great deal of attention. With telecommuting, the employee uses telecommunications equipment to complete daily tasks while not physically located at the workplace. Despite the potential benefits to both employees and managers, the use of telecommuting does not seem to be growing as quickly as predicted. Several reasons have been suggested that include: Negative managerial attitude toward telecommuting

  • Lack of trust in employees because managers have less control and direct supervision
  • Ineffective means of evaluating, organizing, and informing workers
  • Use of hierarchical workplace structure and culture


Therefore, the primary objectives of this study were to investigate whether the adoption, diffusion, and success of telecommuting was influenced by:

  • Trust and corporate culture
  • Practical compatibility with existing workplace values and practices
  • Perceived benefits to the workplace, management, and employee

Adoption is defined as formally accepting telecommuting as the best course of action. Diffusion relates to the extent telecommuting is used throughout the organization. Success is based on management’s contentment with the results of telecommuting.

Based upon a detailed review of literature, the authors hypothesized the following (see the table below):


The greater the…


Manager’s trust of telecommuters

Group culture (emphasizes people, flexibility, growth, and creativity)

Rational culture (emphasizes organization, control, goal setting, outcomes, competence, and efficiency)

Development culture (emphasizes organization, flexibility, growth, and creativity)

Compatibility of telecommuting within the IT workplace

Greater the level of adoption, diffusion, and success

Group culture

Rational culture of the workplace

Greater the level of trust between the manager and telecommuter

Hierarchical culture of the workplace (emphasizes people, control, procedures, and rules)

Lower the level of trust between manager and telecommuter

Lower the amount of adoption, diffusion, and success


To investigate these hypotheses, surveys were sent to IT managers at 900 different organizations. Managers were selected based on the belief that they would be in the best position to:

  • Observe the IT workplace culture
  • Report on employee communication, trust, and telecommuting issues
  • Know the telecommuting adoption and diffusion policies
  • Determine overall success of telecommuting

The selected organizations were involved in local (20%), national (40%), and international (40%) IT business. These companies were composed of a mixture of PC (13%), mainframe (18%), or both (69%). Trust, corporate culture, practical compatibility, adoption, diffusion, and success were measured using various survey instruments.


The response rate for the survey was 12% (111 responses). The results indicated that perceptions of trust, security, relative advantage or benefit, and rational culture are key ingredients for the initial adoption and diffusion of telecommuting.

The adoption and diffusion of telecommuting is related to the managers’ perceived trust of their employees. This finding confirms the suggestion that the lack of employee trust by management is a barrier to the widespread use of telecommuting.

Another interesting fact is that group culture appears to influence the trust of management. In other words, it is not simply the employee’s character or the manager’s disposition toward trust, but the organization’s attitude toward sharing and development that influences trust.

The study also found that trust was related to a rational culture. In this type of culture, trust may grow from using an objective reward and performance appraisal system. The results reveal that trust issues for both employees and managers may improve if an objective rewards system is used. An objective rewards system will work effectively only if there are clear expectations, open communication, and active participation from both the employee and manager.

Unlike other research, this study did not find a significant negative relationship between trust and hierarchical cultures. It may be that the other studies did not differentiate between the various cultures that focus on control. It is suggested that further research be conducted on the relationships between culture types and telecommuting.

Once telecommuting is embraced, group culture plays an increasing role in its success and diffusion. This is especially true as a greater percentage of employees become involved in telecommuting and their time away from the workplace increases. The results indicate that managers must provide a mechanism that encourages employees to communicate with management once telecommuting has been adopted. Otherwise, the employee-manager relationship may start to deteriorate.

This study suggests that when the value of telecommuting is apparent, companies with a rational culture are more willing to adopt telecommuting. Since companies that work within a rational culture manage by setting goals, rather than by monitoring employee presence, they may be better suited to integrate telecommuters into their existing structure.

Furthermore, the results indicate that if managers feel they can immediately benefit from telecommuting and can control and secure it, they are more apt to adopt and diffuse it.

An important finding in this study was that adoption, diffusion, and success are not equally affected by the same variables. For example, a lack of trust seems to greatly impact adoption, but has far less impact on success once telecommuting has been adopted. Culture seems to have an ongoing strong influence on diffusion and success, but very little influence on adoption.

In summary, this study implies that in order to establish effective telecommuting practices in a work environment, you should:

  • Establish trust and communication with your employee
  • Devise mechanisms for securing the telecommuting practice
  • Set clear objectives for the employee
  • Evaluate the employee based on success of goals and not time on-site
  • Outline and present the benefits of telecommuting to the organization and employee
  • Promote a group oriented culture