The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting - What Works for You?

Work from home
Caiaimage/Paul Viant.

Telecommuting, or working from home or another place other than the regular office, is becoming more prevalent these days.

A study by the Consumer Electronics Association found 37 percent of employed adults in the U.S. work from home at least one day a month, and a large number of them are planning to spend a good chunk of change on technology products to make it easier to telecommute. Here are some other facts and figures to show how things stand:

  • In 1980, only 2.3 percent of workers telecommuted.

  • Today, estimates put the number of Americans calling home their permanent office at over three million.

  • The next few years will see telecommuting numbers grow by 63% according to Telework Research Network.

  • The average telecommuter nowadays is a 40-year-old professional male with a university degree and not a work-from-home mom.

  • Current research reveals more companies are offering telecommuting than any other new benefit.

Why Telecommute?

The progress of technology has helped accommodate the telework option. Wireless devices, web applications, and collaboration tools, such as online meeting software, make it easier to interact with managers and colleagues when you're not in the office.

People would rather work from home than in an office because:

  • They can focus better on their tasks with fewer disruptions.

  • They avoid a long commute, which is more environmentally friendly and saves valuable personal time.

  • They save on fuel or transit costs.

Companies allow telecommuting for the following reasons:

  • To promote work/life balance

  • To save on real estate, office supplies, and other overhead costs

  • To encourage productivity and reduce expenses associated with lost time due to disruptions

  • To foster a "green" workplace culture

    Drawbacks of Telecommuting

    Remote work isn’t without its downsides, and employers have their apprehensions. Causes for concern include:

    • Less face time with managers and peers can be a major communication roadblock. Moreover, the benefits of brainstorming and innovation through on-site collaboration diminish.

    • Employers can’t control how workers use their time. This leads to worries over lost productivity. And when employees are on hourly contracts, there’s no guarantee that paid time is spent on work-related activities. Yahoo banned the arrangement in 2013 because of abuse of the remote work system.

    • When this benefit is available to selected staff only, jealousy and resentment can cause an adverse working environment and can affect morale.

    When Telework is Not Ideal

    There are instances when it doesn’t make sense to have IT staff working from home. Companies must consider the individual's role and the needs of the departments that he or she interacts with the most. Certain problems are impossible to troubleshoot remotely.

    Security issues and compliance with regulatory requirements limit access to development tools, software, and other applications. In these cases, workers can’t carry out their duties off-site.

    When Telecommuting Works

    If you have an IT job where you work independently most of the time, working from home could be possible.

    A software developer, for example, is a good candidate for teleworking. If you're in a phone tech support role with no requirement to go to the user's desk, telecommuting may work for you too.

    How to Make Telecommuting Work for You

    Here’s how you can optimize the arrangement:

    • Make sure you go to the office once in a while. If you work from home full-time, it's a good idea to interact with colleagues in person to keep the lines of communication open and maintain relationships. Attend regular face-to-face meetings.

    • Discuss expectations with your employer. Know when you're expected to be on-site, and make sure you're familiar with the company's telework policy.

    • Establish communication protocols. Make sure people know how to reach you during work hours, no matter where you are.

    • Use a schedule for tracking progress. This will help both you and your employer gage how productive you are when working from home.

    Conclusion

    Both employers and employees should consider the effects of telework on business performance. What’s ideal for one company or person isn’t the same for another. Workers don’t always operate well in isolation, and extroverts often prefer being in an office environment. To avoid negative impacts from telecommuting, companies must set out clear guidelines and policies on productivity, security, and workers’ compensation.

    This article has since been updated by Laurence Bradford.

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