Telecommuting as Viewed through Cultural Lenses: An Empirical Investigation of the Discourses of Utopia, Identity, and Mystery

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Prior telecommuting research has focused both on teleworkers without comparison to other employee groups and on pragmatic implications of this work arrangement across organizations. In contrast, this investigation situated telecommuting as a socially constructed process and practice within the context of a specific hybrid (federal agency and private sector) organizational culture. We used Martin's (1992) three cultural lenses as a framework for analyzing in-house and telecommuting employees' discourses. These three cultural lenses illuminated how and why telecommuting functions paradoxically in organizations. In the integration lens, members framed FEDSIM as a coherent, innovative, and “employee-centric” utopian culture. Differentiation subcultures diverged from the telecommuter and in-house distinctions that we anticipated based on previous research. Instead, differentiation discourses revealed complex divisions between promotable and non-promotable employees who adhered to different spatio-temporal orientations toward and definitions of work. Through the fragmentation lens, members' talk coalesced around several mysterious processes of the ways things are supposed to and actually do operate. These findings suggest interventions that can assist leaders and members in capitalizing on telecommuting's unique advantages.

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Communication Monographs, v. 69, issue 4, p. 329-356