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Is Telecommuting the Right Route for You?

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Telecommuting is rapidly gaining in acceptance and even popularity in the workplace, so much so that a study found that no less than 50% of the companies in the country now permit employees to work at home. This translates to nearly 20 million American telecommuters. And while many believe that the practice came in with the advent of the Internet, the concept of telecommuting has actually been around for much longer than we might think.

Home Sweet Work

According to The Telecommuter's Advisor's June Langhoff, the first telecommuter on record was a Boston bank president, who arranged to have a phone line strung from his office to his home back in 1877. "No one called it telecommuting then. It was just 'smart business'." Nearly a century later, the term "telecommuting" was coined in 1973 in California to describe a pioneering program to formally demonstrate and document the viability of a remote-site workforce. Since then, telecommuting has gone a long way towards gaining favor. Now used to sweeten recruitment and retention incentives, telecommuting has been touted as the answer to everything from boosting morale and productivity to eliminating rush hour headaches to helping people with disabilities keep their independence. Proponents even credit telecommuting for saving marriages, since it enables workers to strike a better balance in their work and home lives.

Keeping it Real

Of course, telecommuting is not for everyone. There’s the issue of company data and proprietary information security. Another valid concern is that the arrangement may not always be conducive to productivity. The reality is that only certain types of work are appropriate to perform at a distance. Telecommuting is all but out of the question if an employee requires constant access to office files, supplies and on-site equipment. For tasks such as word processing, data entry and analysis, writing, reading, editing, telephoning, and planning, however, telecommuting can prove to be highly advantageous for both employers and employees alike.

Paving the (Better) Way to Work

When allowed for the right tasks, telecommuting can be a highly effective strategy for maximizing results while minimizing overhead. Like any worthwhile option, however, it has its caveats. Firstly, while telecommuting may mean working at home, remote employees must be as accessible as they are if they were at the office. They should have voice mail, e-mail, fax machines or any other tools that their onsite counterparts use to work with clients, their supervisors and each other. Secondly, both the employee and the employer must be clear on the fact that working offsite does not diminish the fact that it’s still a job, and work must be completed as well as acknowledged. When these and other intrinsic issues are dealt with, then it’s like that you’re ready to enjoy telecommuting’s many benefits.

Some of the reasons why telecommuting has steadily progressed from being merely viable to becoming the ideal working arrangement for more and more companies and their members include:

  • Increased productivity and improved the quality of work. Telecommuters are often finding that they not only do more work, but do better work when they work out of the office environment. This is because employees can concentrate on the project itself without the many small distractions that are inherent in workplaces, such as too much noise, or coworkers stopping for a brief chat.
  • Reduced stress and improved morale. Now more than ever, work/life balance has become a priority to both the female and male members of the workforce. Telecommuting allows employees to create a better balance between work and family demands.
  • Saved hours of commuting time. According to a Colorado research firm, a 20 minute daily commute to and from work equates two 40-hour weeks per year, while a 40 minute commute consumes about eight working weeks a year. These are hours that an employee can otherwise spend working on projects so that they are done well and completed in a more timely manner.
  • Improved recruitment and retention. Many people job hop each year, and much of this "job hopping" is because people want to move to a new location. They enjoy their work, and they would keep working for their present employer, but they do not like their present location. If people could move without losing their jobs, because they could telecommute, the amount of retraining would be reduced substantially. This would increase overall employee productivity while keeping loyal and productive employees on board.
  • Provides increased or continued work opportunities to people with disabilities, or health problems. This includes company employees who would otherwise be on disability, such as new mothers or people recovering from work-related injuries but are both willing and able to do their work home.
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