Teleworkers’ Boundary Management: Temporal, Spatial, and Expectation-Setting Strategies

Teleworkers’ Boundary Management: Temporal, Spatial, and Expectation-Setting Strategies

Kathryn L. Fonner (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, USA) and Lara C. Stache (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0963-1.ch003


Building on boundary theory, this chapter analyzes the open-ended responses of home-based teleworkers (N = 146) to identify the temporal and spatial strategies used by teleworkers to manage the boundary between work and home domains, and the expectation-setting strategies teleworkers use to uphold this boundary with family and work contacts. Teleworkers used temporal routines and physical space to segment work from home domains, but also maintained a degree of permeability between work and home domains in order to preserve the flexible benefits of their work arrangement. Teleworkers employed direct and indirect strategies with their families and colleagues to manage the work-home boundary. Relationships between boundary management choices, demographic variables, work-life conflict, and life-work conflict are also examined.
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Boundary theory provides a theoretical framework for understanding the ways in which individuals create boundaries around work and home role domains in order to facilitate transitions between roles (e.g., Ashforth, et al., 2000; Nippert-Eng, 1996). Boundaries help to delimit the scope and perimeter of an individual’s role in a particular domain and can influence their psychological and physical movement between roles (Ashforth, et al., 2000, p. 474). In general, boundaries are defined in terms of their permeability and flexibility. Boundary permeability is the extent to which the domain or role enables an individual to be physically located in one domain but psychologically and behaviorally involved in another domain or role (Pleck, 1977). For example, permeability occurs when a wife accepts phone calls from her husband at work, or a father accepts work-related calls at home (Winkel & Clayton, 2010). Boundary flexibility is the degree to which spatial and temporal boundaries are pliable (Ashforth, et al., 2000), such that an individual can be cognitively or behaviorally removed from one domain in order to meet the demands of another domain (Bulger, Matthews, & Hoffman, 2007) or can easily transition from one role domain to another (Matthews & Barnes-Farrell, 2010).

To date, boundary management research has largely focused on the ways that boundaries are enacted to either segment or integrate work and family role domains. This research has predominantly been conducted in traditional, or collocated work contexts, with a focus on the management of “boundaries that exist between individuals’ work and their (personal) lives outside of work (i.e., work-nonwork boundaries)” (Hecht & Allen, 2009, p. 840). This body of literature has examined how individuals enact boundaries in order to segment and separate home and work roles, or to allow those roles to become integrated and overlap, and the individual and work-related outcomes associated with those role boundary choices. Examples of complete segmentation or integration are rare (Rau & Hyland, 2002), and a range of integration and segmentation approaches represent a viable means to cope with work and personal demands (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000).

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