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The Slow, But Promising, Rise of Telecommuting

March 4, 2011
Related Topics: Generations At Work, Talent Management, Management, Flexible Working
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The Telework Research Center reports that only 2 percent of the U.S. workforce -- 2.8 million people -- identifies home as their primary location of work. Meanwhile, a much greater number -- 17.2 billion people -- work from home at least one day a week. Moreover, 40 percent of U.S. workers indicate that they can do their job from home, which is a trend supported by the growth of informational jobs over industrial jobs.

There have been many articles written about telecommuting benefits, challenges and strategies for the employer and employee. Some of these articles contain misperceptions about telecommuting, including one by the Vancouver Sun that reports Working from home raises productivity, once crumbs are cleared from keyboards: Lack of chit-chat from adjoining cubicles reduces the chances of distraction.

First, the article explores employers’ fears of telecommuting, including:

  • Lost control (more difficult to supervise).
  • Lack of communication.
  • Breech in security and confidentiality.
  • Decrease in team morale and loyalty to the company.

None of these fears can be questioned. But then, the article discusses ways to convince your boss to allow telecommuting in spite of these fears. In summary, the benefits discussed include:

  • Increased flexibility in work hours to accommodate personal needs.
  • Increased productivity.

At initial glance, these benefits seem plausible. However, a couple of the supporting points made are not entirely accurate.

Not only do you seem healthier working from home, taking fewer sick days, but, inexplicably, there are fewer problems with that other office malaise: technology.

In fact, your office-issued equipment seems to work better when it's plugged into your personal grid, maybe because you are finally forced to troubleshoot or maybe because fewer wires are crossed on a network of one.

Some companies may have minor bandwidth issues with all their employees in office accessing the Internet at one time. However, the speed offered in many residential areas does not compare to those offered by a large business network. Technology, specifically the Internet, could actually become a challenge for a telecommuter.

Another inaccurate point made:

There are no distractions when you work from home. Except maybe the letter carrier and the kid collecting for soccer camp. No chit-chat with cubicle neighbours, and no dedicated coffee breaks or lunch hours, either, certainly not those dictated by union contract or years of routine.

There are different types of distractions that occur when you work from home. It might not be the gossiping neighbor, but could be household chores, a child, a sick spouse, roommates, the television or many other similar personal distractions. These distractions and the need to learn how to be self-motivated can also become a challenge to a telecommuter.

Although this spotlights some potential challenges for the telecommuter, there are benefits to the employer and organization that are not completely covered in the article, including:

  • Decreased expenses associated with real estate costs and other overhead.
  • Increased incentive used to recruit top talent.

Telecommuting is without a doubt on the rise and continuing to gain in popularity. Company leaders will need to continue to consider this as an option as the cost of living and travel increases. Telecommuting can work if the company goes in prepared. When the time comes to implement telecommuting options, companies should consider how to train managers on how to lead virtual teams and employees on how to work to create structure that promotes maximum productivity and work-life balance.

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