The winds may have died down and the rain has stopped, but it's still not business as usual in the Northeast. Superstorm Sandy left airports flooded and thousands of flights backlogged, streets and highways jammed with apocalyptic traffic and subways and railways closed until further notice.
If ever there was a time for businesses to have a work-at-home policy in place, it's now.
Luckily, many employers are embracing the concept and taking advantage of new technology that is making telecommuting possible. From 2005 to 2012, the American workforce grew by 3 percent. At the same time, the number of telecommuters grew by 66 percent. About half of the workforce, or 64 million employees, have the option of working from home part-time. By 2020, 29 percent of the global workforce will work remotely, reports Citrix, a developer of networking and collaboration technolgies.
Even as major corporations like Cisco, Accenture and Intel tout their own telecommuting programs, many small businesses shun them because they fear that productivity will suffer, employees will get distracted, communication will break down and they will have less control over their human capital. On the contrary, discouraging telecommuting may just drive your employees into the arms of your larger competitors: out of the Fortune 100 best companies to work for list this year, 85 of them have telecommuting programs.
Here are the top reasons why employers–and especially small businesses–should start offering employees the option to work remotely:
1. It's a powerful recruiting tool. Millennials, and the best in class employees, are looking for more flexibility at work. Employees today don't want to have to sit in a cubicle every single day. They want employers to trust them and as a result, they will be happier and more loyal. Right now, companies are suffering from high turnover rates. On average, millennials leave in two years, Generation X workers leave in five years and boomers leave in seven years.
2. It saves money. With fewer employees coming to work, an office needs fewer desks and cubicles. Employers can have smaller offices and save money on rent. Companies also save on electricity, heating and air conditioning, as well as printing costs. All of these expenses add up, especially if it's a small to mid-size company. Employees also save money on gas, tolls, tickets, eating out and professional work attire. The average commuter spends $1,500 annually on gas. If the employee works in cities with good public transportation, they might not need to own a car and pay auto insurance. All of these costs add up. In many ways, allowing an employee to telecommute is similar to giving them a raise because they have fewer expenses.
3. It's good for an employee's health. A study by the American Psychological Association found telecommuting has a positive effect when it comes to balancing work and family. You could also make the case that long commutes put workers at risk for traffic accidents. A study from the Washington University shows that people who commute long distances have higher blood pressure than people who have short commutes.
4. It increases productivity. Despite what you would think, working from home can actually increase an employee's productivity. An experiment by a Chinese company called Ctrip shows that those who worked from home were 13 percent more productive than people working in an office. In an office, you have meetings, co-workers can be loud and it's easy to be interrupted. You can also use technology to manage projects, people and get work done.
Employees who are set up to telecommute can work through minor illnesses and don't sicken their fellow co-workers. You don't have to worry about a transit strike, a subway shutdown or a traffic disaster keeping your staff from their duties. With a geographically dispersed staff, working from the comfort of their homes, not even a superstorm can keep your business offline.
Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen-Y research and management-consulting firm. Subscribe to his updates at Facebook.com/DanSchawbel.