As we celebrate Telecommuter Appreciation Week (February 26 to March 4), business owners have an opportunity to examine how telecommuting benefits their companies and employees.
Statistics show that telecommuting is becoming more popular. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of people working from home has increased over the last decade. In a 2015 study of approximately 10,900 individuals interviewed for the BLS ongoing American Time Use Survey (ATUS), on the days they worked, 24 percent of those surveyed did some or all of their work at home, compared to 19 percent in 2003.
“Telecommuting is definitely on the rise for employees of all ages as companies continue to look for ways to accommodate the changing needs and expectations of their workforces," says Ursula Mead, CEO of InHerSight, an anonymous company review platform.
—Brad Deutser, president, Deutser
“The introduction of a variety of online tools has made remote work often more convenient and productive for employees than heading into the office," says Sandra Lewis, founder and CEO of virtual assistant company Worldwide101. “Advances in online video meetings, live chats and document sharing have created an environment that fosters and even favors remote work."
Cloud-based applications have fueled the working remotely trend, adds Beth Cochran, co-founder and CEO of public relations agency Wired PR Group. “These applications have completely changed the way we experience business. They allow us to communicate in real time, have meetings without being in the same room, manage and collaborate on projects and track time."
The Benefits of Working From Home
The ability to work from home yields benefits for employers and employees. “If an employee works from a home office, this eliminates the need for a physical space, significantly reducing the overhead costs of an office, furniture, utilities, insurance, etc.," says Cochran.
“Employers are increasingly looking for ways to drive performance and create higher levels of engagement with their workforce, as well as attract and retain top talent, and some of that talent works better at home," says Brad Deutser, president of Deutser, a consulting firm that advises leaders and organizations. “Employers willing to work through challenges and set clear expectations will yield great benefit from telecommuting employees."
Leela Srinivasan, CMO of Lever, which makes recruiting software, manages the marketing team at the 100-employee company and has telecommuted herself. “Our engineering team has long worked from home one day a week, and we recently implemented the same for our marketing team. They're excited, because many people are simply more productive at home. The modern open plan office environment may have enhanced team spirit and collaboration, but it comes at the cost of concentration and focus."
Today's workforce also prizes flexibility. “The work-life compartmentalization of yesteryear no longer holds," says Srinivasan. “Employees value the freedom to work when and where they want, on their terms, and they appreciate being treated like grownups in the process. If they're able to be home for the electrician, that decreases their stress and enhances their well-being, without costing the employer anything at all."
Remote work especially appeals to the Millennial generation. “First and foremost, they seek a more flexible lifestyle," says Lewis. “They see work and life as one and the same. Being confined to 9 to 5 stifles their creativity and need for balance."
The Downsides of Telecommuting
Telecommuting isn't for every company or every employee. While some may like the flexibility, others prefer the structure an office setting provides.
“I don't believe that full-time telecommuting is good for the company or the employee. In-person interaction is required," says Dave Hopson, managing partner of Triumphus, a professional consulting firm, and author of Surviving the Business Storm Cycle. “It's important to have everyone in the office at least a couple of days a week so they can share ideas."
It's also a good idea to keep other employees in mind. “Telecommuters can unintentionally create frustration with supervisors and co-workers who may want the same opportunity or who may question the remote worker's commitment," says Deutser. "It's important to have clear, defined expectations for telecommuting employees."
You can help your employees improve their telecommuting experience by keeping the following in mind.
- Hold remote employees accountable. Consider making your expectations clear when offering the option to work remotely. You can specify the schedule and how often these employees can expect communication throughout the workday.
- Invest in apps and tools that make remote work efficient. Providing remote employees with the technology and resources they need can help them telecommute successfully. “Have a robust chat or collaboration tool that simulates the 'water cooler' for remote workers and helps them instantly plug into conversations," says Srinivasan. “At Lever, we are big fans of Slack."
- Encourage regular contact. “We have mandatory, in-person team meetings at our office each week and a daily morning call when everyone calls in and gives a quick digest of what they're working on for the day," says Cochran. “Each person has the floor to discuss any challenges they might be facing so we can collectively come up with solutions to remove the roadblocks."
- Promote a culture of trust and autonomy. “Be prepared to work a little harder at establishing and cultivating your team culture," says Cochran. “A strong culture will help ensure remote employees are 'bought in' to the company vision, and it will help build a bond between the team, no matter the miles that separate them."
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