Writing Requirements2-3 pages in length (excluding abstract, cover page, and reference list)At least 3 cited sourcesPlease make sure to credit all of your sources; no plagiarism! If you fail to credit your sources, you will get no points and no chance to redoAPA formatTechnoiogy and Qrganizationai Culture
New information
Technoiogy and
By: Margrethe H. Olson
Predictions of the effects of office automation on
organizations vary widely. This articie focuses on
changes in individuai work patterns, management controi, and organizationai structure that may occur as a
result of impiementation of office technoiogy. The most
significant change predicted is that organizations wiii no
longer be iimited by a centrai office work environment
operating between the traditionai office work hours of
nine and five. Computer and communications
technoiogy wiii faciiitate the relaxing of these physicai
constraints as necessitated by societal and economic
pressures. Relevant research to date regarding the
effects of the new technoiogy on organizationai
behavior is reviewed. Management guideiines for
preparing for the coming changes are inciuded.
Keywords: Office automation, telecommunications/
transportation tradeoffs, remote work,
telecommuting, electronic mail, professional work station, satellite work center,
remote management
ACM Categories: H.4.1, H.4.3, K.4.3
Members of the MiS profession are well aware of
•he proliferation of new technologies which is
expected to have a significant impact on
managerial and professional productivity.
Microcomputers, office automation, decision
support systems, and teleconferencing are a few
examples of such technological developments.
Despite grandiose predictions, however, so far
only a few studies have demonstrated changes in
methods of work of managers or professionals as
a direct result of recent technology [e.g., 1, 5,
15, 24]; to date such changes can rarely be
translated directly
improvements. This article examines how the use
of new technology in support of managerial and
professional work, particularly office automation,
will affect the “organizational culture” that surrounds the actual tasks to be supported. It thus
focuses on subtle changes in organizational
behavior, facilitated by technology, that may
affect overall organizational performance as much
as individual productivity.
Predictions of the effects of office automation
vary widely. Generally, it is claimed that office
automation will increase office productivity [41].
The underlying assumption is that the same
amount of office work can be performed with
fewer people, or the same number of office
workers can handle increased volumes of office
work. However, predictions regarding the
organization and skill requirements of the remaining office work force still vary widely.
A typical “good” scenario is that office automation
wiii permit more effective management and control of office workers and of the business as a
whole. The ability to increase managerial span of
control is a tangible benefit. Office automation can
also increase the number of work options for
individuals and provide increased opportunities
for skill acquisition and career enhancement [6].
A typical “bad” scenario of office automation can
also be described [10, 16]. In this scenario,
office automation technologies create lowered
skill requirements for office work. The office of
the future is likened to the factory of the industrial
revolution [16]. Increased division of labor
creates jobs that are more routine and repetitive;
the potential for exploitation of office workers is
increased through lower wages and decreased
MIS Quarteriy/Speciai Issue 1982
Technology and Qrganizationai Cuiture
benefits. There is also greater potential for
increased stress on the job and other health
hazards [42].
The philosophy underlying this article is that
technology itself does not create organizational
change; the choice of technology and the method
in which it is implemented dictate the changes
that will occur. The “bad” scenario is not
inevitable, although it could easily occur. The
“good” scenario can be accomplished if management is prepared for the coming changes and
makes the appropriate decisions regarding the
technology in order to bring about positive
The most significant change predicted in this
article is that organizations will no longer be
limited by the physical constraints of a central
office work environment operating between the
traditional work hours of nine and five. Computer
and communications technology will facilitate the
relaxing of these physical constraints as
necessitated by societal and economic
pressures. The implications of changing definitions of organizational structures in space and
time provide a major underlying theme
This article is concerned therefore with management of the future office environment and how to
prepare for it. Emphasis is placed on the realities
of the near term future (five to ten years) rather
than futuristic speculation. Today many organizations are experimenting, formally or informally,
with the use of computer and communications
technology to support innovative work
arrangements; examples of such experiments are
discussed. Relevant research to date regarding
the effects of the new technologies on organizational behavior is reviewed. Management
guidelines for preparing for the coming changes,
so that the positive scenario can be assured, are
Significant trends in
technoiogy and society
Technological developments over the next
decade will provide the necessary support for
new forms of work and alternative organizational
structures. Technology itself will not create such
changes, however; developments in the
72 MIS Quarteriy/Speciai issue 1982
economic and demographic structures in the
United States will create a need for organizations
to search for alternative means of adapting to the
changes, and technology may provide some solutions. In this section, significant emerging
technological and societal trends are discussed.
Technological Trends
The dramatic decreases in costs of computer and
communications power have permitted increased
availability of such power to large numbers of
people. Once such intelligence is in the home, for
instance, the addition of capabilities to perform
work related functions will be relatively easy.
Conversely, bringing computer technology home
to support work related activities is becoming
Many personal electronic communications services, as well as broadcast information services,
will soon become readily available and easily
affordable [9, 28, 29]. Electronic mail permits
individuals to communicate efficiently without
requiring both parties to participate
simultaneously; electronic voice store-andforward message systems have the same
capabilities without requiring the message sender
to type or to have access to a terminal.
Teleconferencing substitutes directly for face-toface meetings among larger groups of people.
Broadband transmission such as is now found
with cable television will become commonplace,
primarily with the introduction of optical fibers.
“Videotex” services will provide consumers with
huge libraries of public information such as airline
schedules, financial services updates, and
shopping guides. Electronic funds transfer may
substitute as much as fifty percent of paper
transactions by the year 2000 [9]. Videodiscs,
which can store immense quantities of data and
randomly access and display any recorded
image, may replace many books and archival
storage if they can be mass produced cheaply
Office automation is a concept that implies a
packaging of a variety of computer and communications components rather than a specific
type of technology. Word processing, the production of text with the support of sophisticated
electronic text handling facilities, is already well
established in organizations. Future office
automation systems will include electronic filing.
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
electronic scheduling, graphics facilities,
facsimile transmission, and even slow-scan video.
The most significant development in office
automation in the near future will probably be its
packaging. One can expect to see “professional
workstations,” microcomputer based systems
with the capabilities listed above built in and
designed for functionality, linked through internal
communications networks to other workstations.
Workstations can be specialized: secretarial
workstations will have specialized capabilities for
word processing and special links to one or
several managerial workstations; programmer
workstations will be designed for programming
functionality, while managerial workstations may
have voice store-and-forward message switching
built in. Variations in workstation design may be
built primarily into the software and/or keyboard
design, or workstations may be specially tailored
through “off the shelf” components to suit
individual needs and work styles.
Teiecommunications/Transportation Tradeoffs
Over the last decade, considerable research
has been undertaken to predict the effect of
increased communications capabilities on
transportation needs [21, 26, 34]. The basic
view is that if computer and communications
capabilities were substituted for certain types of
travel, transportation and energy needs would be
Based on extrapolations from current energy and
transportation needs, one report estimates that if
twenty percent of all business travel (including
both air travel and business travel by auto) were
eliminated through the substitution of
teleconferencing, there would be energy savings
of 130,000 barrels of gasoline daily (at 1974
levels). Since 25 percent of all mileage traveled
and 27 percent of all gasoline consumption is
spent commuting, the resulting savings from
reducing commuting would be even more
dramatic. The report estimates that if fifty percent
of all office workers worked in or near their homes
six out of every seven working days, the savings
in fuel consumption from reduced commuting
would be about 240,000 barrels of gasoline daily
in 1985 [21, p. n i l ] .
There are other potentially more dramatic
changes that could take place if communications
were to be a widespread substitution for commuting and business travel. Telecommunications
could be used to minimize public transportation
requirements and reduce urban population densities, and to preserve cultural and historical
benefits of the center city. There could be a
return to a rural lifestyle and the formation of communities united by a common recreational or
cultural purpose rather than proximity to work.
Much of this is “informed speculation” which is
out of the scope of this article; the reader is
referred to the comprehensive report completed
by SRI, Inc. for the National Science Foundation
[21]. Later in this report the specific effects of
changing the locational and temporal boundaries
of work, and the implications for organizational
structure, will be discussed.
The Changing Nature of the Worit Force
The increasing size and complexity of today’s
business organization is leading to increased
specialization of the white collar work force. Such
specialization may be viewed as increased professionalization, in the sense that more and more
employees will be acquiring a specific trade or
profession. The data processing profession provides an example of possible future trends; the
loyalty of data processing professionals is often
to the profession before the organization. Since
their skills are also in great demand there is a high
degree of turnover in the job, with little loyalty to a
particular company established.
The composition of the work force is also
expected to change. One significant trend is the
number of women who have been entering, or reentering, the workforce, particularly women with
young children. A recent study showed that in
1978 over 35 percent of all American
households required supplementary day care
[14]. At the same time, the total number of
available people for entry level positions in
general is expected to decrease dramatically; the
number of eighteen year olds in the U.S. will drop
by twenty percent by 1985. The segment of the
U.S. labor force classified as office workers will
be especially hard-hit by this decrease, since the
total number of office workers has been predicted
to double between 1975 to 1985 (from twenty
percent to forty percent of the total U.S. labor
force) [41]. One particular problem facing the
professional worker is the emergence of “dual
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Technoiogy and Qrganizationai Cuiture
career couples.” Faced with the demands of two
careers and raising a family, such couples are
changing their priorities. Generally, work and
family are seen as a set of compromises by such
families; as a result the company has less control
over individual career decisions.
The trends discussed above create specific
problems and opportunities for business
organizations. With increasing specialization and a
shrinking labor force, a major problem will be the
ability to attract and retain qualified personnel in
specialized areas. Because of the increasing
number of families with parents working outside
of the home, new demands are placed on both
families and organizations to allow work and family
responsibilities to be combined more easily [12].
The rising costs and shortages of available office
space are forcing companies in highly developed
urban areas to search for alternatives to
centralized office structures. Altogether these
factors combine to increase the pressure to
improve productivity of present office structures.
In a later section of this article, some predictions
will be made about the potential for new
technology to help alleviate these organizational
and societal pressures.
Changing Definitions
of Organizational Work
The author argues that new office automation
technology will facilitate more flexible, innovative
approaches to the organization of work. In this
section potential changes in individual work styles
and task definitions for different classes of
workers as a result of the new technology are
suggested. In the next section some implications
for overall organizational structures and the coordination and control of work will be discussed.
Changes in individuai work styies
Predictions about potential changes in the structure and content of many “office related” jobs
vary widely. In this section some of these potential changes are discussed. A rather arbitrary
distinction will be made between “clerical,”
“professional,” and “managerial” jobs for the
purposes of discussion.
74 MIS Quarterly/Special Issue 1982
The Clerical Worker
The clerical office worker of the future will have as
a primary work tool some form of screen oriented
input device and electronic intelligence. A
“clerical work station” may have electronic mail,
electronic filing, scheduling, and word processing
readily available. The main emphasis of most promotional literature on office automation is
increased productivity, based on the simple
premise that the same volume of work can be
handled by fewer people or, conversely, increasing volumes can be handled by the same clerical
work force.
In order to accomplish this increased productivity,
however, the nature of the clerical job is altered.
There will be a greater administrative hierarchy,
with workers providing specialized skills through a
centralized or centrally controlled administrative
services function. The concept of a personal
secretary will only be retained at the highest
levels of management.
The fact that workers provide more specialized
skills has implications for training and career
enhancement that could be either positive or
negative. In. the negative scenario, clerical jobs
will become “deskilled, fragmented, routinized”
[16, 42]. The administrative function will undergo
division of labor in such a way that each remaining
job requires minimal training, little career potential, and easy replaceability. It is possible that
such jobs could become more externally paced,
where the operator is required to respond quickly
to external requests and has no self control over
the work flow; short term, external pacing has
been shown to increase stress on the job [42].
There is also, in some views, increased potential
for expioitation of employees; work can be
rewarded on a piece-rate basis and employees
may receive differential pay and benefits,
depending on the supply and demand of their particular skill.
There is of course a much more optimistic
scenario as well. In this view clerical work evolves
into an administrative hierarchy of “information
specialists,” with skill enhancement and
increased career potential. Work can be
organized to provide “job enrichment,” where
each worker performs a variety of tasks and is
responsible for the support of a single work unit
or principal. In ways this scenario looks more like
Technology and Organizational Culture
the traditional “principal secretary” relationship,
except that the set of skills the information
specialist acquires are more generalized and the
potential for skills enhancement and career
growth is greater.
The author’s premise is that office automation
technology does not itself determine which
scenario described above ultimately results. The
nature of the implementation of that technology
determines whether the jobs that remain are
de-skilled or enriched. The technology can be
organized to support either centralized or
decentralized organizational structures, both
physical and authority structures. The author
does not deny that office automation technology
can be used to exploit clerical workers; however,
it also offers excellent opportunities to enrich
clerical work in terms of both the jobs themselves
and their career potential. Both alternatives have
the potential for increasing productivity of the
clerical workforce; it is the overall management
philosophy of the organization that will ultimately
determine which outcome wiii result.
facilities is probably critical to the increased
productivity of professional workers.
One implication of the professional workstation
concept is that with ready access to a terminal
and the necessary data online, as well as electronic mail, a professional employee could easily
work remotely. Much professional work is defined
by deliverables rather than process measures;
employees could work at home, for instance, in
relative peace and quiet for periods of time rather
than going to the office. Already some companies
are taking advantage of the increased flexibility
provided by electronic technology. Employees
can be assigned to different projects without
relocation, for instance. “Electronic briefcases”
permit employees to work at home evenings and
weekends rather than to work long hours away
from their families. In a later section of this article,
the results of a study of professional employees
working remotely are presented; the implications
of remote professional work for the management
process and for professional development are
The Manageriai Worker
The Professionai Woriter
The author predicts that office automation will
improve productivity of professional workers with
the development and refinement of the concept
of a “professional workstation.” The first such
example on the market today is the Xerox Star
System [43]. It is probably representative of
future systems in terms of general functionality,
although one would expect much more specialized workstations in the future.
The Xerox Star System is organized on the basis
of decentralized, communicating, intelligent
workstations. Each station has capabilities for
text/word processing, graphics, and filing.
Electronic mail is decentralized, so that each
workstation has its own private mailbox under the
individual user’s control. In the future, workstations for different professions might have different keyboard designs and function keys; they
would be modularly designed to be easily tailored
to particular needs. The workstation concept probably implies individualized work stations, which
today would be quite cost prohibitive. Even with
shared terminals, a well designed workplace with
easy access to terminals and other reference
With the advent of professional workstations and
extensive use of electronic mail, what office
automation tools will the manager use? How will
office automation affect managerial productivity?
Although there have been a number of claims that
office automation will increase managerial productivity [e.g., 5, 38], few such claims have to date
been borne out by actual data. Although the
benefits of electronic mail, for instance, can be
analyzed in terms of increased efficiency of
receipt of information (see for instance [1]), the
realization of those benefits is dependent on
whether managers actually adopt the particular
tool. The rate of adoption may be highly dependent on management style; research to date on
what managers actually do shows an overwhelming preference for face-to-face contact [e.g., 2 3,
30, 40].
At this point there are three types of office
automation tools that seem most likely to have an
impact on managerial activities.
Eiectronic Maii. The use of common forms of
electronic mail available today is only partly limited
by managers’ ability to type or willingness to use a
MIS Quarterly/Special issue 1982
Technology and Qrganizationai Cuiture
keyboard; this limitation is removed from several
electronic voice store-and-forward message
systems now available. The effectiveness of electronic mail is also constrained by the number of
others (especially “significant” others) who utilize
the system. For instance, if a manager has even
one subordinate who does not have access to the
electronic mail network (whether voice or typed),
it is easier to prepare a written memo and
distribute it through normal channels than to send
an electronic message and make a special case
for the one subordinate. There is also the danger
that employees who do not have access to the
system will fail to receive critical information
through carelessness or intent.
Electronic Scheduling. These systems are
relatively simple to design and implement, but
pose a number of difficulties depending on how
they are used. Public scheduling systems allow
groups to schedule meetings without the explicit
consent of each member; managers therefore
lose some control over their own scheduling and
screening of appointments. Private scheduling
systems are generally electronic “datebooks”
and less convenient than pocket calendars unless
the manager always has ready access.
Teleconferencing. This refers generally to the
substitution of electronic communication for the
need for face-to-face meetings. Typical
teleconferencing meetings consist of two (or
possibly more) groups “meeting” in specialized
conference rooms that are geographically
separated from each other but electronically connected. Another method sometimes classified as
teleconferencing is “computer conferencing,”
where the subject of the conference is
“discussed” asynchronously on computer terminals using specialized software that could be
described as a highly sophisticated electronic
mail system. Research is now being conducted
on effectiveness of different forms of
teleconferencing and types of meetings for which
they are appropriate [24].
A study of manageriai work
A recent study by Ives and Olson [23] of information systems managers provides some insights
into the type of face-to-face communication in
which managers engage and whether it is
76 MIS Quarteriy/Speciai Issue 1982
mail or
teleconferencing. The researchers spent three
days with each of six managers, observing and
recording their activities and the type of information they utilized. Since the managers were
responsible for data processing, the researchers
were interested in how much they utilized
technology to support their managerial activities.
It was assumed that managers who were familiar
with the technology would be less inhibited
regarding their utilization than other managers
who might resist using a terminal or have a
general fear of computers.
Managerial Activities and Communication
Detailed findings of the study are found in [23]. A
few highlights are relevant here. Generally, the
managers showed an overwhelming preference
for face-to-face contact, consistent with previous
studies [30, 40]. They spent, on average, 77
percent of their day in some form of oral contact;
68 percent of the day was spent in face-to-face
contact. Although they spent almost half (48%) of
their day in scheduled meetings, all other
activities were short, averaging less than nine
minutes in duration, and were interrupted
frequently. They averaged sixteen unscheduled
meetings per day; these were typically unexpected interruptions lasting five mintues or less.
Managers had some control over this hectic,
highly interactive schedule; they initiated over half
of the oral contacts they made.
Purpose of Contacts. Three categories of oral
contacts (telephone calls, scheduled meetings,
unscheduled meetings) were classified as to the
general purpose of the contact or reason for its
initiation. (Within each contact, detailed data
about the type of information passed between
participants will also be reported.)
The general purposes of telephone calls made to
or by the manager were the following:
Manager request
Give information
Receive information
Action request
Technoiogy and Qrganizationai Culture
The managers averaged nine telephone calls a
day. They also attempted an average five
uncompleted telephone calls per day. These
types of “telephone tag” or “shadow functions”
[1 ] have been shown to be costly in terms of time.
It appears that a substantial number of telephone
calls could be substituted by electronic mail
without loss of effectiveness, particularly the
function of scheduling which is surprisingly
timeconsuming. The researchers also observed
that manager requests, particularly requests for
information, could be handled more effectively
when the other party replied asynchronously,
after having located the correct information, than
when the other party attempted to respond “on
the fly” with the most convenient data at hand.
Clearly an electronic mail system would facilitate
an asynchronous reponse to a manager request,
although this could not be shown in the study
because none of the managers utilized electronic
mail. Only nine percent of their day was spent on
the telephone, about forty mintues.
Unscheduled meetings occurred primarily for the
purpose of the manager receiving information (35
percent). The degree to which this could be
substituted is highly dependent on the need for
timeliness of the information sought, which could
not be determined from the data gathered.
However, it will be seen that at least as much subjective information was passed between the
manager and others as factual information.
The two primary purposes for scheduled
meetings were review (36 percent) and strategy
(19 percent). The average duration of a
scheduled meeting was forty minutes. Nearly half
of the meetings were attended by three or more
people; 27 percent were attended by more than
four people. If such people were geographically
separated, the substitution of teleconferencing
for review meetings would seem cost effective.
Teleconferencing costs could be justified not by
savings in travel time and costs as much as by the
convenience leading to more frequent reviews;
since these managers already spent so much
time in meetings it is questionable whether they
would perceive this to be an advantage.
Over half of the managers’ scheduled meetings
were with one other person only. Since the process of scheduling the meeting usually signified
some formal purpose for it, they usually constituted strategy or delicate personnel matters
that would be difficult to substitute by electronic
mail. Contacts with those outside of the organization would of course require a scheduled
meeting; only about five percent of the managers’
contacts were of this type.
Detaiied information Content. Communications
between managers and others were further
classified by the detailed “message units” contained in each communication. Message units fell
into one of four general categories:
1. inform Fact. This included reporting of
all problems and background on
ongoing situations as well as factual
2. inform Opinion. This included any
“soft” or subjective information communicated, including suggestions and
3. inform Action. This category included
actual decisions, delegation of action,
and informing of future plans and
4. Request
information. This covered
of all forms, including
for facts, opinions, and
or plans.
Table 1 contains the frequencies of types of
messages communicated by the manager and
others during telephone calls, scheduled
meetings, and unscheduled meetings. The table
shows that most message units for both the
managers and others were of a “soft” or subjective nature.
The manager communicated fewer facts than
others while requesting more information. The
manager also communicated action oriented
messages. Thus the manager is seen as soliciting
information, much of it subjective or “soft,” and
delegating or communicating action to others.
Table 2 shows the frequencies of message units
classified by the speaker. It is clear from Table 2
that the infonnation systems manager relies heavily
on subordinates; there is no comparison
data available for managers at other levels or in
other functions. The information systems
managers also communicated surprisingly little
MiS Quarteriy/Speciai issue 1982
Technology and Qrganizationai Cuiture
Table 1. Frequency of Message Units
n = 7225
n = 3602
n = 3623
Inform Fact
Inform Opinion
Inform Action
Request Information
Table 2. Frequency of Message Units
to Manager by Speaker
Outside Service
(Consultant, Vendor)
Inside Service
(Peers, other Staff Fns.)
First level
Second level
Third level
with users. Table 3 shows the frequency of communications of each type by speaker. It shows
that opinions or “soft” information are the majority
of message units communicated by all groups
except the manager’s superior and outside
services; the majority of communications from the
former are requests and from the latter, facts.
Subordinates are seen to be the major source of
both factual and soft information.
Table 4 shows the frequency of communications
by all parties classified by medium. The table
shows that the pattern of communications is
basically the same across all three media.
78 MIS Quarteriy/Speciai Issue 1982
impiications for Technologicai Support
The picture of managerial work that emerges, at
least of information systems managers, shows
heavy reliance on “soft” information of a
“realtime” nature. The managers also communicate primarily with subordinates, who are
those in close physical proximity.
It appears that office automation technology could
improve managerial communications by expanding the manager’s volume of contacts beyond the
immediate hierarchical organization. Despite the
emphatic managerial prescriptions for user
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
Tabie 3. Frequency of Ciasses
of Message Units by Speaker
Tabie 4. Frequency of Ciasses
of Message Units by Medium
Telephone Call
Scheduled Meeting
Unscheduled Meeting
MIS Quarterly/Special issue 1982
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
involvement in information systems activities [7,
18, 27], these managers’ direct contacts with
users were minimal. Electronic mail and
teleconferencing remove the locational advantage of the manager’s proximity to subordinates,
and thus could be predicted to help reduce contacts with subordinates and increase contacts
with others. This assumes, of course, that the
technology is readily available throughout the
Office automation will only have an effect on
managers’ activities, however, if the managers
see it as being advantageous and fitting their own
“management style.” These managers dealt with
a great deal of opinion or “soft” information. It is
not clear how much of this type of information
could be effectively communicated through electronic mail or teleconferencing and how much
would require face-to-face contact. The importance of immediacy of the information received is
also not readily apparent.
These managers, like others studied [30, 40],
show an overwhelming preference for face-toface contact. Furthermore, although this group
should theoretically be more comfortable with
technology, they showed little or no inclination to
use it in their own work. Thus the lack of use of
technology cannot be attributed to abnormal
resistance to or fear of technology they do not
comprehend. With the exception of one manager
who utilized his telephone answering machine to
give himself control over incoming telephone
calls, these managers demonstrated few changes
in work habits as a result of technology. Unless
information systems managers are like the “cobbler’s children,” based on this study it appears
likely that patterns of managerial work will be slow
to change.
Changing Definitions
of Organizational
Structure and Culture
In this section the discussion turns from particular
work styles to the overall structure of work and
the organization. The basic premise is that office
automation technology can facilitate alterations in
the physical and temporal boundaries of work
80 MiS Quarteriy/Speciai issue 1982
organizations; some implications of such alterations are discussed. A case study of work under
conditions where the physical and temporal boundaries of work have been altered is presented.
Aitering organizationai structure
Physicai Structures
In traditional organizations as work places it is
assumed that a critical mass of employees will
occupy a central work place a set number of
hours a day, typically “nine to five.” Work
performance and organizational procedures are
critically bounded by this place and these hours.
Office automation permits many office workers to
be potential “telecommuters” or “remote office
workers” in that their work can be performed at a
remote site with the support of computer and
communications technology. Many office jobs
have the potential to be performed independently
of a particular work location or of a standard
schedule of work hours. The removal of these
boundaries theoretically provides great flexibility
in terms of physical organizational structures.
One type of work option is called a satellite work
center [21 ]. The idea of a satellite work center is
that a relatively self-contained organizational division be physically relocated. The emphasis is on
locating the division within convenient commuting
distance of the greatest number of employees
who would utilize the site. The optimum number
of employees to relocate is determined partially
by the opportunity to benefit from economies of
scale of equipment and services. The logic is that
the critical mass of employees will also provide
the necessary social interaction and a sufficiently
deep hierarchical structure for adequate management on site.
One other critical issue with the organization of a
satellite work center is what segment of the central work force can be relocated. In order to
benefit from economies of scale it may be
optimum to relocate an entire function, such as
accounting or data processing. On the other
hand, if the primary motivation is to reduce
employees’ commuting time and expense, the
appropriate employees to be relocated are those
who live nearest the satellite work site. Since the
employees at the site would then not be
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
hierarchically organized, this arrangement poses
problems of remote supervision and social isolation from professional peers, issues which are
addressed later in this article.
Another structural option, similar to satellite work
centers only more complex to implement, is a
neighborhood work center. Under this option,
remote supervision of employees is assumed to
be acceptable so that a critical mass of
employees in one location is not necessary;
however, economies of scale of equipment and
certain services (such as facsimile transmission,
hardcopy printing, teleconferencing facilities,
etc.) are desirable. Employees from different
organizations share space and equipment in the
work center closest to their homes. Thus any
densely populated area could have neighborhood
work centers which are supported financially by
all of the organizations whose employees utilize
them. This option obviously relies heavily on the
use of telecommunications networks for coordination and supervision. Such a concept is complex to implement on a large scale because it
requires a great deal of cooperation among
different organizations.
A more common general trend in the United
States is recognition of the need for occasional
alternative work arrangements, especially for
professional and managerial employees. For
instance, a company may encourage a professional to stay at home to write a critical report,
away from the distractions of the office.
Employees are encouraged to take portable terminals home with them at night or on weekends to
accomplish critical work at “non-peak” computer
hours, or so they do not have to extend their
hours at the office to perform necessary overtime
work. Companies may “reward” employees with
their own terminals or personal computers which
they can then utilize to work at home.
The extreme case of individual work options is to
have employees work at home on a regular basis.
This may mean from one day a week to virtually
full-time, where the employee rarely makes a trip
to the central office. This option is heavily dependent on remote supervision, similar to the
neighborhood work center. It does not provide
the social interaction that a satellite or
neighborhood work center should theoretically
provide. On the other hand, work at home can
provide employees with extreme flexibility in
schedule and life style; theoretically they can
work when and where they want in a more casual
atmosphere. Child care should be accommodated
more easily; for many people with primary child
care responsibility work at home may be their only
employment option. It also offers employment
opportunities to the elderly and handicapped.
Authority Structures
Regardless of the form that physical reorganization takes, the ability to shift employees easily
permits more flexible forms of authority structures
and facilitates the reorganization process. One
may predict that matrix organizations or project
organizations are facilitated because the
employees and their managers are not required to
be physically in close proximity in order for supervision to be effective. Employees may be
reassigned to different work groups, or to multiple
work groups, without physical relocation. For
example, in one organization employees are
regularly promoted without being relocated;
relocation expenses for the company have been
significantly reduced. Importantly, the company
provides the technological and psychological support for remote management to take place on a
regular basis.
Technology may encourage lateral relations
within the existing organizational structure, since
communications across departmental boundaries
are easier to establish [13]. One might predict
improved interdepartmental relations [36] and
increased accessibility of experts within an
organization as a result of electronic communications. As discussed previously, however, the
ultimate effects of the technology are highly
dependent on managers’ preferences for certain
communications media and their willingness to
alter their “management styles.”
implications for the
Coordination and Controi of Wori(
The alternative organizational structures
described above all have one common assumption: coordination and control of work can be performed remotely. In other words, the employee
and the supervisor are geographically separated;
work groups or project teams are also
geographically separated. Another significant
feature of future work structures is that the
MIS Quarteriy/Speciai Issue 1982
Technoiogy and Qrganizationai Culture
employee has at least a modicum of freedom of
scheduling work.
The technological support for “remote work” and
remote supervision already exists, although software to fit new work styles still lags behind hardware. At MIT, for example, prototype systems are
being developed that support professional group
work through interaction on terminals; computer
conferencing is an early example of systems that
support group interaction while group members
are geographically separate [17, 22]. The
desirability and nature of coordination of remote
work is significantly different for clerical versus
professional employees; each will be discussed
Clerical Employees. The general premise for
arranging clerical work to be performed remotely
is that as long as an equitable and measurable
piece-rate can be established for the work,
remote supervision is not an issue. Furthermore,
the relationship between the employee and the
organization, in terms of career growth and
development, is basically considered irrelevant.
The jobs that are considered appropriate do not
require communication with others in the
organization in order to be performed and the
social needs of the individuals performing the
work are assumed to be non-critical to the work
The motivation for organizations to consider
remote work options for clerical workers is strictly
economic; they can pay less for the same work.
Normally the employees are hired under part-time
status [8, 31], and receive no benefits.
According to one company experimenting with
clerical workers at home, the cost of equipment is
justified by having employees work part-time at
home, receiving no benefits and an hourly wage
that is less than that paid for comparable work at
the central site [31]. An additional benefit is that
turnover and absenteeism are reduced. Since
similar attitudes prevail for employees doing
clerical work in a central office site (the employee
is replaceable and therefore not worth investing
in), these are often jobs for which absenteeism
and turnover are significant problems.
Situations such as those cited above are relatively
rare today, in part because of the difficulty of
establishing equitable piece-rates for much
clerical work and in part because much of it, such
82 MIS Quarteriy/Speciai Issue 1982
as filing and scheduling, is not yet widely
automated. However, many companies are contracting out overloads in keypunching and word
processing. It has been predicted [20] that there
will be a general trend toward increased contract
work in the future. Such entrepreneurial
arrangements could be beneficial to both the
worker and the organization in the same way that
software contract houses flourish today, providing qualified technical expertise to “take up the
slack” in company workload on an as-needed
basis. Furthermore, work could be distributed to
depressed areas where jobs are scarce, to the
benefit of the community.
However, there is also the potential for exploitation of remote clerical workers. In order to
establish an equitable piece-rate, the work needs
to be divided so as to become more repetitive;
furthermore, the piece-rates can be set arbitrarily
low, especially if the supply of the skill required
exceeds demand. It is possible to set up such an
arrangement for short turnaround, so that the
employee has less flexibility working remotely
rather than more. A warning can be taken from the
situation of industrial home work in the U.S. and
Canada, where exploitation of workers in terms of
low pay, unreasonable turnaround, and poor
working conditions is a severe problem [25].
Professlonai Employees. For professional jobs
to be performed remotely, whether in satellite
work centers, other offices geographically
separated from management, or at home, the
underlying organizational philosophy is that the
employee should be rewarded with greater
autonomy and flexibility [8]. The employee’s long
term relationship to the organization is at stake, so
it needs to be reinforced even as the employee is
given greater autonomy. The underlying motivation is still economic; generally the employees in
question provide a scarce and important skill
which is crucial for the organization to retain.
The company may see some remote work
arrangements such as work at home as a tradeoff
to the employee for performing less desirable
tasks; for instance, a company may attract people
to the generally unpopular programming job of
maintenance by allowing them to work at home.
Although communications in typical professional
jobs are required, it is assumed that technology
can support most requirements for communica-
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
tions and the rest can be “batched” for those
times when the employee is on site.
For the professional worker who is paid on salary,
the task of remote supervision takes on a
somewhat different aura. The supervisory process is often assumed to be one of observation,
so that a manager’s initial reaction to a remote
work proposal is, “How can I manage someone I
can’t see?” Most remote supervision of professional employees is actually based on results, the
quality and timeliness of completed work, rather
than observation. In effect, professional work
could be subcontracted out just as software consultants are paid, if the manager felt comfortable
with the estimating techniques employed. To
date, most companies that practice remote work
arrangements with professionals do not contract
their work, but treat them as exempt full-time
employees receiving regular salary and benefits
A study of remote work
In order to understand the phenomenon of coordination and control of remote work, the author
interviewed nine employees and their managers
in a major corporation that practices remote work
on a regular basis. One half of the employees
interviewed participated in the company’s “alternate work site” (AWS) program; they worked at
home three days a week and attended the central
work location the other two days. The other
employees interviewed were geographically
separated from their managers so that little or no
supervision or work group interaction was conducted face-to-face; they worked at home for the
most part.
In the remainder of this section, the results of
these interviews in terms of the phenomenon of
remote work and its implications for the
employees’ relationships with their managers,
their coworkers, and the organization as a whole
will be discussed. The focus will be on professional workers, as all the employees interviewed
were professionals. First, the attitudes of
employees and their managers toward remote
supervision are presented, followed by a discussion of the broader implications of the relationship
of the employee to the organization.
Remote Supervision
Changing Attitudes. It may appear that a
manager will become comfortable with remote
supervision as soon as it was recognized that
regular supervision of professional work is also
results oriented rather than “over the shoulder.”
In fact, however, remote supervision, requires a
significant change in attitude and discipline on the
part of both the manager and the employee. The
employees interviewed all felt that remote supervision was more formalized than face-to-face and
relied more on rules and procedures. Most felt
they had less supervision than under the
traditional work arrangement, although those in
the AWS program, working at home only three
days a week, felt they had the same amount of
supervision or more. Employees felt that there
would be a greater reaction on the part of
management if deadlines were not met than there
would be if management could observe “the
everyday problems and distractions in the office
that contibuted to delays and missed deadlines.
The managers interviewed agreed that supervision of remote employees was more timeconsuming for them because of the additional
paperwork required and the greater reliance on it.
Some who generally preferred a more formal
style of management did not feel the increased
formality to be a serious drawback; one manager
who preferred a more personal style commented
on the need to learn to be more expressive and
sensitive on the telephone.
The manager generally agreed that a key to the
success of remote supervision was selection;
employees who were already highly motivated
and self-disciplined were most likely to perform
successfully remotely from their managers and
did not pose a management problem in any case.
Communications. The managers found that they
did not communicate extensively with their
remote employees. They averaged one to three
telephone calls per week; only one remote
employee communicated with his manager daily.
Employees at alternate work sites usually saw
their managers on a formal basis once a week
when they attended the office. Those in distant
remote locations usually came to headquarters
for face-to-face meetings quarterly. Some
managers made special arrangements to help the
remote employee keep informed: two managers
MIS Quarteriy/Speciai Issue 1982
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
had remote employees conference called into
staff meetings while another manager taped staff
meetings. There was little use of electronic mail
for communication with remote subordinates,
even though they all had access to an electronic
mail system via an internal network and all
employees had ready access to terminals.
Messages, when sent, were usually limited to
requests for the employee to call to discuss an
Performance Evaluation. Most of the remote
employees in the sample were assigned to long
term projects with well defined deliverables. The
employees had control over their own scheduling
of work, although they were expected to be
available by telephone during the core work hours
of approximately 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Managers
expected to be satisfied if the remote employees
met their schedules for deliverables. Most
required more-or-less formal progress reports on
a weekly or biweekly basis, either verbal or written. There were no cases among the nine
managers of checking or attempting to check the
process of work rather than the final output. For
instance, no managers monitored terminal activity
even though that information was readily available
on the system which they were using.
Interestingly enough, although the managers
were relatively positive about the abilities of their
remote employees, they were generally unsure
about their own ability to evaluate performance.
They recognized that their intuitions were subjective and felt uncomfortable about the lack of
substantive examples to support them. Several
managers acknowledged that deadlines were
monitored more closely than for regular
employees because they were the only concrete
yardstick available. It seemed clear that, although
they may not have been more subjective in their
evaluations than with their on site employees, the
lack of ability to support their perceptions with a
verbal image of the employee at work made them
somewhat uncomfortable.
Productivity. Although in no case were hard
measures of performance available, both the
managers and the employees emphatically pronounced that remote work, particularly work at
home, improved employee productivity.
Managers recognized intangible benefits that
enhanced overall performance: employees were
84 MIS Quarteriy/Speciai issue 1982
more responsible and conscientious about
schedules, produced better documentation, and
planned and organized their time better. Several
managers also thought that technology, while not
having an effect as yet, would enhance productivity of remote workers once the appropriate
tools became available.
Employees perceived their own productivity to be
generally higher than when they had worked fulltime in an office environment. They cited
increases of from 10 to 100 percent. They felt
that they worked more efficiently or produced
higher quality work, but some doubted whether
their supervisors recognized the difference.
Several of those working at home felt that their
regular work environment was extremely distracting, so that the increase in productivity due to the
ability to concentrate was relative to the character
of the regular work environment.
Managers’ Attitudes. Most of the managers
interviewed felt that managing employees
remotely was less than ideal but was a fact of life.
Success of remote work was seen as highly contingent on selecting projects with little coordination or visibility required. Most managers felt that
their own jobs could not be performed remotely.
Technology was seen as an important factor in
facilitating remote supervision in the future but
played a minimal role at present. The success of
remote work was also seen as relative to the
working conditions of the regular work
The basic premise of remote supervision,
according to these managers, was that good
managers recognize and reward good work. The
managers indicated that they did feel insecure not
being able to observe the employees at work,
simply for their own reassurance that everything
was in control. They indicated that the manager
also needed special skills to provide the
employee with emotional support, generally by
having to be expressive and sensitive without the
benefit of face-to-face contact.
The Relationship of the
Empioyee to the Organization
The task of supervising an employee remotely is
only one of several issues affecting the
employee’s relationship to the organization. More
subtle effects are concerned in the employee’s
Technology and Qrganizationai Cuiture
relationship to others on a project team and other
professional peers in general. Long term career
paths may be affected. The feeling of commitment of the employee to the organization may be
altered by the arrangement. These and other
issues were explored in the interviews with
employees working remotely.
cut down on “non-essential” interactions. This
example indicates how much the nature of the
individual contributes to the success or failure of a
remote work arrangement; this individual had a
strong sense of his own social needs and the
degree to which they were separate from work
Communications with Others. The methods by
which employees communicate with their
managers have already been discussed. Most of
the employees interviewed were working on long
term projects in which other people were
involved, although for the most part the projects
were highly structured and did not require frequent intense interaction. Communications with
others on a project were limited to two to three
contacts per week. The employees had a strong
preference for the telephone, although they and
other members of the project team had access to
electronic mail and used it occasionally for brief
factual messages. A “monitor mode” on the
system permitted limited interaction between two
people: a program, for instance, would appear on
both screens and a few lines at the bottom of
each screen were used to “discuss” the
Logistics. There are some logistical problems
with a remote work site, although not as many as
one might anticipate. The employees working at
home were aware of the need to have a separate
work area, preferably one they could close off
when not working. For those who did not attend
the office on a regular basis, the biggest problem
was the need for hard copy, either a printer or a
copy machine or both. For those who worked at
home three days a week as well as the others,
another major problem was lack of necessary
information or materials. Several indicated that
because of this work arrangement they had
learned to plan ahead and were better organized
than before, so that the problem of missing
materials was not as great as it had been originally
and the advantage was an improved ability to
organize their time.
All those interviewed indicated that their
interactions were, for the most part, more factual
and formal than they had been previously. There
were mixed reactions to this change; while
acknowledging that they were more efficient with
their time, several employees missed the purely
“social” interaction. Only one employee, who
was working at home and remotely from not only
his boss but all of his project team members,
made regular weekly telephone calls to colleagues for sharing of common interests and
problems. Others acknowledged a sense of isolation at times, particularly those who did not attend
the office two days a week.
Only one remote worker of the nine interviewed
carried on extensive communications with project
team members out of his home. He coordinated a
project with five to ten people actively involved at
any one time. He said he averaged about ten
telephone calls a day and twenty to thirty
electronic messages per day. He felt that his
communications with colleagues had improved
with this work arrangement because he had more
control over the communications and was able to
One common problem of the remote employees
was the lack of clerical support. None really felt
that the clerical support they received was
adequate. For those attending the office two days
a week the need to batch clerical work and then
have fast turnaround on the days they were in
appeared to put a strain on the clerical support
system that was difficult for both parties to
manage. However, lack of clerical support was
not seen as a major problem by most; they simply
viewed it as a necessary evil and did much of the
work themselves. Having access to word processing software and the ability to type, they
found it easier to do their own correspondence
and report preparation. When specialized clerical
support was required, such as preparation of
graphics materials for a presentation, there were
occasionally severe problems meeting deadlines.
Promotabiiity. One particularly difficult issue with
remote work and remote supervision is their
affect on employee’s promotabiiity. At issue is the
degree to which visibility, as opposed to performance, affects promotions. The remote
employees that were interviewed felt that their
work arrangement enhanced their ability to perform good work; some felt that their performance
MIS Quarterly/Special Issue 1982
Technoiogy and Qrganizationai Culture
was recognized and rewarded, while others were
more doubtful. Four out of the nine interviewed
felt that promotability was not affected by their
work arrangement; two felt their chances for
promotion were improved because their work
was recognized and rewarded. The three that felt
their chances of promotion were hurt were concerned that lack of visibility would make it difficult
for them to be promoted to a position with
management responsibilities. At least one
employee felt that his career path was limited
because of his work arrangement; he said that if
he had a choice between being promoted into
management and remaining with his present work
arrangement he would choose the latter.
Summary: implications of Remote Work
The “alternate worksite” example illustrates that
professional employees can perform remotely
from their management if the work has well
defined deliverables, the employee is a
demonstrated high performer, and a relationship
of trust has been established between the
employee and manager. However, remote supervision is difficult. Improved technology may
enhance a remote worker’s ability to communicate, but strong preferences for traditional
management techniques will be hard to change.
Continuing preference for the telephone over
electronic mail and the increasing formalization of
communications nevertheless are signs that
technology is not a perfect substitute. There is no
indication at this point whether technology can or
should be used for performance monitoring, at
least of professional employees.
In the sample of remote workers there were two
types of remote work arrangements: the alternate
work site program had an employee at home
three days a week and in the office two, while the
other remote employees either worked at home
or in an office but were geographically separated,
permanently, from their work groups. With this
limited data, it appears that the AWS arrangement
definitely improved productivity, although it must
be kept in mind that these were carefully selected
individuals who had already been identified as
high performers. The other remote employees
had, understandably, greater problems with isolation from their professional peer group. From the
management point of view, the remote work
arrangement was seen as a necessary evil;
86 MIS Quarterly/Special Issue 1982
managers would have preferred to have the
employees “where they could see them.” Their
feelings about the AWS program varied from
somewhat negative to very positive; the variation
depended on their own insecurities about their
somewhat more subjective evaluations of these
employees, and did not seem to affect the
employees’ evaluations of their own performance
or managerial support.
Implications for the future
What is a realistic prediction of the long term
implications of these technological developments
for organizations and for society as a whole?
Although theoretically dramatic changes in the
geographic distribution of the work force could
take place [21 ], it is likely that such changes will
occur incrementally. Since the focus of this article
is the near term future, the predictions are
relatively conservative. Any developments are of
course a result of a combination of factors
including the economic situation, government
policy, and the relationship between management
and labor unions. These factors differ markedly
depending on the country involved; in this article
only the situation in the United States is
Teiecommunications/Transportation Tradeoffs
Will telecommunications provide an adequate
substitute for business travel? In a review of
studies of attitudes of business travellers,
Kraemer [26] concluded that “business travelers
will continue in their present travel patterns unless
compelled, by political, economic, or organizational factors, to modify their travel behavior.”
Furthermore, the perceived substitutability of
telecommunications (including teleconferencing
and electronic mail) for travel is only about twenty
to thirty percent. There is some evidence [26]
that availability of telecommunications increases
the total demand for communications in general;
in one scenario travel is actually increased as a
result [21]. Limited use of teleconferencing to
date has not resulted in consistent reductions in
travel; it has more commonly increased the total
volume of communications and the number of
people communicating with each other [15].
Technoiogy and Qrganizationai Culture
The reduction of business travel would result in a
direct cost saving to the organization. Remote
work or “telecommuting,” on the other hand,
results in savings in commuting time and cost,
which accrues directly to the individual. A recent
study of employees of companies working at
home showed that the primary advantage felt by
the employees was the reduction in commuting
[8]. Furthermore, commuting can be stressful;
employees may lose as much as an hour of otherwise productive work time recovering from the
stress of commuting to a major urban area such
as Manhattan [35].
Of the forms of remote work that have been
discussed, satellite work centers are the easiest
to implement. Some companies are experimenting with such centers [3, 8]; others are
decentralizing de facto as demands for office
space increase and the supply in urban areas
diminishes (while prices rise) [19]. Telecommunications facilitates such regional decentralization but is not currently a major contributor to the
trend. Neighborhood work centers have not been
experimented with in the United States, although
they have been described as combining the best
advantages to both the individual and the
organization of all remote work options [2, 21].
Some experiments are currently being conducted
in Europe [2].
Work at home is generally considered the most
radical remote work option [21 ], although it is the
best option for those with family care responsibilities, physical handicaps, or other constraints
on their ability to work traditional hours in a central
work place. Although estimates vary, it has been
predicted that up to fifty percent of all office
related jobs could be performed at or near home
[21 ]. This estimate is based on the characteristics
of the work and whether it can be performed with
telecommunications support. (See [35] for a
discussion of selection criteria for jobs that can be
performed at home on a regular basis.) Because
of other significant constraints such as social
isolation of employees working at home and difficulties (perceived or otherwise) in the supervision of remote workers, the author predicts that
a much smaller proportion of the office work
force, perhaps five to ten percent, will be working
at home within the next decade. Of these, most
will represent special situations and many will be
temporary arrangements.
For businesses, the primary motivation presently
to investigate remote work options is the need to
attract or retain qualified personnel. Thus the
most active interest generated today is usually
within data processing, not as much because of
the technological requirements of the work as
because of the critical shortage of qualified data
processing professionals. Other advantages in
terms of increased productivity or reduced compensation have already been discussed. Despite
the recent publicity [3, 4 , 1 1 , 32, 33, 37, 39],
few companies actually have full-time employees
working at home on a regular basis. Furthermore,
the author knows of no major business organization in the United States that currently has a
standard policy to permit employees who qualify
to work at home.
The author does not necessarily feel that a conservative approach to remote work, as depicted
here, is ideal. However, organizational structures
are slow to change. Dramatic changes will not
occur until basic philosophical notions about the
nature of work and control of work are altered.
The author does not predict such changes will
occur except incrementally, at least in the next
The Structure of the Labor Force
Much of the speculation regarding the impact of
technology on office work is critically dependent
on the structure of the labor force and supply
versus demand of certain categories of workers.
Earlier in this article it was argued that shortages
of critical skills provide the primary motivation
for companies to consider alternative work
arrangements. Will these shortages continue?
What other shortages will occur?
It has been well demonstrated that the “information sector” is the fastest growing sector of the
economy and has accounted for over fifty percent
of jobs in the United States since 1960 [2]. The
clerical and office work force, a component of the
information sector, has been increasing at a rate
that is predicted to be 100% in the decade
ending in 1985 [41]. At these rates of growth
and with an average capitalization per office
worker of $1000 (for an electric typewriter!) it is
understandable that companies are turning to
office work as an area for productivity improvement through technological support.
MIS Quarterly/Special Issue 1982
Technoiogy and Qrganizationai Cuiture
Predictions of how effective office automation will
be in increasing office productivity vary widely. A
summary of quantitative forecasts shows
estimates of from ten percent to sixty percent
reductions in clerical and administrative jobs in the
next decade [2]. A separate study by Communications Studies and Planning Ltd. [2], drew
somewhat more conservative forecasts regarding
the labor force in Great Britain:
1. The study predicts that by 1985
roughly two percent of the present
secretarial work force will be displaced
by word processing technology. The
maximum displacement by 1990 is
predicted to be seventeen percent.
2. The study further predicts a shift in the
job market from unskilled and semiskilled clerical jobs to jobs requiring
higher educational and professional
qualifications [2, p. 5].
At the same time, it has been pointed out here
that the number of eighteen year olds, representing new entries into the labor force, is expected
to drop by twenty percent by 1985. The implication is that even significant displacement of entry
level jobs should not significantly impact
unemployment. The combined effects of these
two phenomena are still not understood and are
highly dependent on the degree of displacement
in other categories of the labor force.
Nevertheless, new jobs will likely be created at
higher professional levels and requiring more
specialized education [2]. This could present a
barrier to entry unless training and educational
opportunities are provided to upgrade the skill
qualifications of those who would otherwise be
Interest in remote work opportunities as
discussed in this article are based on a
company’s economic motivation to attract or
retain qualified personnel. There is little indication
that the percentage of professional and
administrative jobs will be significantly affected by
technology within the next decade [2]; it is
therefore difficult to predict whether companies
will be motivated by shortages to provide alter-
88 MIS Quarterly/Special Issue 1982
native work options. The Communication Studies
and Planning report concludes that flexible work
hours, part-time work, and work at home or in
neighborhood work centers all have a low priority
in terms of management planning. The author also
concludes that unless critical labor shortages
exist, companies will not be compelled to consider such risky alternatives. In other words, in
the near future there will be little motivation for
companies to change their basic underlying
philosophy of control of work through temporal
and spatial boundaries.
Implications for Policy
Changes in government policy could have a
significant influence over the potential for
technological impacts on business and society as
a whole. The issue of telecommunications/
transportation tradeoffs is highly dependent on
whether government takes an active approach to
policies encouraging telecommunications and/or
curbing growth in transportation facilities.
Kraemer [26] provides a thorough summary of
arguments for and against pro-active government
policy in this regard.
The author has argued that part of the shift in
employment caused by technology will be away
from unskilled and semi-skilled jobs to jobs requiring specialized skills and/or higher educational
qualifications. It is essential, therefore, that
educational opportunities be readily available to
those in more disadvantaged situations, so that
the gap between the employable and unemployable does not widen.
The author has also discussed in this article
scenarios where office workers, particularly
clerical workers, are exploited through low wages
based on piece-rates and job de-skilling [16].
Furthermore, the option to work at home has the
potential for increased exploitation as wi.th
industrial home work [25]. Office work at home
can be seen as an opportunity or a threat and is
generally resisted by labor unions [4]. One solution to preventing the potential abuses of home
work is to provide adequate government controls
to prevent exploitative practices, although
enforcement is difficult [25].
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
Guidelines: Preparing for
the Coming Changes
Although the author has suggested that, in the
short run at least, the potential impacts of
technology on organizational structure and
culture will occur slowly and will not be dramatic,
nevertheless the management process will be
affected. At the very least, managers will have to
learn to cope with new technology and its diffusion within the organization. The more subtle
adjustments in management style and supervision
and in the criteria for a “good manager” will be
more difficult to determine. This article concludes
with some general guideiines for managers to
prepare for the coming changes.
The process of management
The author has discussed some characteristics of
“management style,” based on the nature of
manager’s daily activities. Office automation
technology provides the opportunity or threat to
alter management styles. It also may require or
make available different criteria for supervising
and evaluating employees.
Management Styie
Managers in the future, given the availability of
office automation technology, will need to rely
less on face-to-face communication than they do
today. We have seen that remote supervision
may tend to increase the formalization of the relationship between employee and manager. Thus in
the long run, performance evaluation may
become more “rational,” based more on formal
rules and procedures than intuition. Other implications of remote management relate to physical
appearance: there may be less dependence on
physical attractiveness as a factor in promotion or
acquisition of power; one may also argue that
there is less potential for discrimination against
minority groups, women, or the handicapped if
communication is not face-to-face [22].
The managers studied by Ives and Olson [23]
apparently had little control over events in their
work domain. Their days were characterized by
many varied, short activities, a relentless pace,
and frequent interruptions. If managers are provided with tools that permit them to gain more
control over these interactions and activities, they
may become more “productive.” Will managers
have more time to make decisions? This is unlikely
since in fact many decisions are made during the
interaction process [30], although they may be
implemented in some more formal or structured
way. Two more conservative results of better
control over the process of interaction may be
predicted. One is that technology replaces the
“gateway” that Is currently provided by a personal secretary; if a restructuring of the office
work force has taken place, this eventuality is
very likely. Thus, relatively inexpensive
technology may replace at least one of the
functions of a relatively expensive human
resource. Another possible direct result of
technology is that through better time management the manager’s span of control may be
increased, also translating into direct cost savings
for the organization.
Remote Supervision
If employees are to be supervised less through
face-to-face contact, the process of supervision
of many employees will be altered. We may learn
from supervision of sales forces and management
at the corporate level (e.g., of regional divisions);
employees are managed on the basis of results
and the value of those results is clearly
understood and appreciated by both parties.
The supervisory process may become more
formalized, with a greater reliance on procedures
and measurable outputs than intuition for a
greater number of employees.
The manager who operates under this new form
of management must learn to rely on deliverables;
therefore, the manager must learn to be a good
estimator. More managers in a broader range of
functions in the organization must learn to set
clear performance goals, establish clear
guidelines for performance, and establish
appropriate feedback mechanisms. Moreover,
much remote work will also be group work; the
manager’s role in coordinating group projects and
facilitating interaction and information flow among
group workers will be critical.
The author has argued that philosophically remote
work represents a change in the definition of work
in space and time, it can be argued that providing
these options for employees will increase their
MIS Quarteriy/Speciai issue 1982
Technology and Qrganizationai Culture
overall productivity; under these conditions, how
is productivity defined? A relatively ineffective
method of evaluating performance is to measure
the number of hours worked without defining an
expected deliverable for that time. However, if
employees are given more flexibility in work hours
and well defined deliverables, what work hours
should be expected? Employees attribute greater
productivity at home, for instance, to their ability
to concentrate away from the distractions of the
office. If it takes an employee half the time to do
the same amount of work at home, should the
employee be expected to produce twice as much
or be permitted to work a twenty hour week? This
example illustrates the need for managers to
develop indicators of performance that take into
account the overall effectiveness of the
employee rather than to narrowly focus on short
term measures such as hours worked or piecerates.
Career paths
With remote management, the long term career
paths of employees are affected in organizations
where visibility remains key to promotability. If
remote work is a standard, then the relationship
between work quality and rewards must be clear.
At this point one can only speculate, but there are
signs that remote work encourages individual
autonomy rather than loyalty to the organization.
Management philosophy can go in two different
directions. On the one hand, remote work
arrangements may be viewed as a privilege and
an indication of trust in an employee; coupled with
a commitment to develop the employee’s career
path, remote work may actually encourage commitment to the company and improve the
likelihood of long term employment. On the other
hand, companies may view remote work options
as a step toward contractual arrangements for
work that has fluctuating demand; such
arrangements may benefit both the company and
the employee if the rates for work performed are
established equitably.
Improving the quality of work life
Although this article has concentrated on
organizational structure and the management proc-
90 MIS Quarterly/Special Issue 1982
ess, it reflects an underlying concern for the
potential of technology to either negatively or
positively affect the quality of work life overall.
The general premise is that the technology is
neutral; its implementation in the organization
determines its effects on employee productivity
and job satisfaction. Two alternative strategies by
which organizations may utilize technology to
improve productivity are summarized. In the first
strategy, improved quality of work life is sacrificed
to increased efficiency. Technology is organized
to increase the division of labor, reduce skill
requirements for remaining jobs, and set
exploitative piece rates; the “office of the future”
becomes the “factory of the past” [16]. In the
second strategy, office automation technology is
organized to facilitate job enrichment, to provide a
greater set of employment options and greater
flexibility to accommodate varying employee
needs outside of their work lives, and to
demonstrate trust in the employee’s ability, sense
of responsibility, and willingness to produce a
quality product.
The challenge for management in the future,
beginning today, is to utilize the vast potential of
computer and communications technology to
achieve the end of increasing organizational productivity while at the same time improving the
quality of work life for all employees. The author is
optimistic that with good management planning
this end can be achieved.
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About the Author
Margrethe Olson is an Associate Professor in the
Computer Applications and Information Systems
Department of the Graduate School of Business
at New York University. She holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan and
an MBA and Ph.D. in Management Information
Systems from the University of Minnesota. Professor Olson’s research interests focus on the
organization of information services and the
impact of computer systems on individuals and
organizations. She Is currently conducting
research on remote work, particularly work at
home, and problems of management and control
associated with it.

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