This qualitative research contributes to the telework research literature by identifying and categorizing employee motives for teleworking. Motives for telework contextualize teleworking behavior, represent proximal telework outcomes, and serve as potential boundary conditions for telework-outcome relationships. Role identity theory (Burke & Tully Social Forces, 55(4), 881-897, 1977) and the uncertainty-reduction hypothesis (Hogg & Terry Academy of Management Review, 25, 121-140, 2000) suggest that motives may be driven by role salience and the ability to meet work and nonwork demands. In this research, we sought to identify a comprehensive list of motives as well as reconcile the wide range of categories and labels given to telework motives in the literature. We asked two independent samples of workers comprised of two subsamples of teleworkers (n1 = 195; n2 = 97) and a subsample of nonteleworkers (n3 = 947) why they telework or would like to telework. A total of 2504 reasons were gathered across the three subsamples. Most respondents reported multiple reasons, especially when encouraged to list all of their reasons. After distinguishing preconditions from motives to telework, ten categories emerged from the qualitative data with “avoid commute” emerging as the most frequently reported motive. Other frequently reported motives included “tend to family demands” and “productivity.” Additional motives are discussed along with implications for telework research and policy development and implementation.
Why Are Employees Motivated to Telework?
Generally speaking, employees are motivated to fulfill their needs and to avoid aversive states (e.g., discomfort). In fact, researchers have noted that employees are inclined to proactively change aspects of their job in order to maximize motivation, reduce stressors, and mitigate strain (Parker & Ohly, 2008). Theoretically, role identity theory (Burke & Tully, 1977) and the uncertainty-reduction hypothesis (Hogg & Terry, 2000) suggest that employees are likely to have motives to fulfill goals that align with their most salient role and seek strategies that help reduce uncertainties that interfere with that role. Despite theories indirectly supporting the desire to telework, studies of telework motives have been largely atheoretical.
According to role identity theory, individuals form identities based on the salience of the various roles that they occupy (Burke & Reitzes, 1991; Kossek et al., 2012; Thoits, 1991). Work and family roles are some of the most salient. Additionally, physical work environments contribute to the formation of identities (Ashkanasy et al., 2014). The most salient role (e.g., work-related or family-related) will determine the centrality of the individual’s identity (i.e., work-centered or family-centered, respectively). Alternatively, a dual-centered identity may emerge if both work and family roles are equally salient. Generally, individuals are motivated to fulfill goals aligned with their role identity and to seek out circumstances that help them to meet work and family demands. This has implications for where individuals prefer to work, thus telework motives. Ironically, the environment that is most conductive to getting work done is not necessarily the traditional work environment because of interruptions and distractions. In fact, the environment that helps employees meet work and family demands may be a location facilitates the fastest role transitions.
Sample 1 responses ranged from 1 to 60 words with a mean of 25.20 words (SD = 16.94 words, N = 195). In total, respondents provided 342 total motives to the question “Why do you telework?” On average, each employee reported slightly more than one motive (M = 1.14, SD = 1.16, median = 1.00, mode = 1, range = 1–5).
Sample 2a responses ranged from 1 to 76 words with a mean of 24.74 words (SD = 15.39 words, N = 97). They provided 171 total motives to the prompt asking participants to list all the reasons why they telework. As the prompt for Sample 2a encouraged employees to list multiple reasons, it is not surprising that the employees in this sample reported more motives per person than Sample 1 (M = 1.98; SD = 1.10; median = 2.00; mode = 2; range 1–6). In fact, many respondents numbered their reasons, indicating that employees possess (and are aware of) multiple motives for teleworking (RQ4).
Sample 2b responses ranged from 1 to 76 words with a mean of 24.74 words (SD = 15.39, N = 947) words. Similar to Sample 2a, nonteleworkers (Sample 2b) were encouraged to list multiple reasons. Correspondingly, they provided 1991 total motives. On average, nonteleworkers reported slightly more than two motives (M = 2.10, SD = 1.55, median = 2.00, mode = 2, range 1–8).