December 11, 2008 3:27 PM
Telecommuting gives employees flexible work arrangements and can lower the cost of housing employees. But how well does this arrangement work?
Telecommuting is typically defined as a flexible work arrangement where employees work out of the office full or part time, all or portion of the workweek, while traveling, or on-site at a client’s office. Although an estimated 45 million U.S. employees telecommuted in 2006, it is not for everyone. Some jobs are better suited for it, especially those where the employee can work independently, doesn’t need a lot of face-to-face interaction, and where the manager can measure the teleworker’s results or output.
In today’s current work environment there are many reasons companies are considering or have recently implemented more telecommuting options for their employees.
For employees these reasons include:
• Improved quality of life and work/family balance
• Increased autonomy
• Increased efficiency
• Increased flexibility
• Increasing costs associated with commuting to work — gas, traffic stress, wear and tear on automobiles, buses etc., increased pollution (carbon emissions)
• Lowered costs of housing employees
• Increased applicant pools
• Improved employee retention
• Lowered rate of absenteeism
• Increased employee productivity
• Increased flexibility
(*These benefits were identified by a study conducted by Penn Sate University in a 2007 survey of over 12,000 employees.)
Telecommuting does, however, pose challenges. The Penn State study identified just as many reasons why companies and employees are hesitant to jump into telecommuting. These challenges include:
• Perceived career hindrance
• Isolation and lack of interaction with coworkers
• Household distractions
• Less living space
• Management resistance and skepticism
• Culture change from evaluating hours worked to results
• Security of data
• Diverse wireless technologies
• Training employees
Some supervisors sometimes believe workers will work less when out of sight. However, the study found just the opposite to be true: both employees and employers noted increased productivity and efficient levels. Another telecommuting challenge is that workers in the office can feel alienated. Managers should make efforts to grant them more autonomy, schedule face-to-face meetings with telecommuters and ensure all employees are included in office events.
Even some work environments that were previously thought to be unsuitable for telecommuting have broken barriers through advanced technology. Specifically, companies with call centers have created a new term called “homeshoring” that refers to moving offshore call centers into homes of employees. The applicant pool becomes much larger because employers can tap people who cannot or chose not to work outside their homes.
There are an estimated 112,000 home agents today in the U.S. and that is expected to grow to more than 300,000 by 2010. Some companies who have made this switch work successfully include Alpine Access, Live Ops and Jet Blue. Jet Blue for example, employs about 1,500 at-home agents. About 70 percent of these agents are stay-at-home moms. They have found that the agents have better retention rates, better scheduling options, good customer service and can work in any weather.
Here in Virginia, our Department of Taxation, through the work of Robin Mack and her team, successfully implemented what they call “Teleworking”. They created a program that offered 75 percent of their work force the eligibility to work one day from home remotely. Ninety percent of those who participated in the program said their productivity was better because of interruptions, while 66 percent of their managers did. Customer service levels also increased for the teleworker group compared to those working on their contact center. Teleworkers did miss interactions with others and managers cited scheduling meetings as the biggest challenge.
For a listing of other companies who have this flexible work arrangements work check out the Families and Work Institute website http://www.familiesandwork.org and its 2008 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work.
Given all the pros and cons described it is not surprising that more companies are cautious about telecommuting. Here are some tips to consider as you implement a Telecommuting policy:
1. Base performance on results, not hours worked
2. Establish clear policy and expectations
3. Establish channels for face-to-face communication
4. Work collaboratively
5. Include telecommuters in office events and meetings
6. Provide effective timely feedback and coaching
7. Recognize when it is not working
Who knows, maybe the PJs you get for Christmas this year will be your new “business casual” outfit.
Genevieve Roberts is managing principal of Richmond-based Titan Group LLC and can be reached at
Excellent article citing many of the benefits and pitfalls of Telecommuting. I think that it is often important to note that employers need to due their due diligence when creating a Telecommuting Program. Simply giving someone a laptop and saying, “go work,“ is not often times the best way, and in many cases almost dooms the arrangement to failure. Companies should consider the policies, procedures, training, and support that will be needed. Managers need direction in how to manage Remote Workers and employees need direction in how to track their time, pay, work, etc. Most legal liabilities can also be avoided with a robust Telecommuting Program. My advice to anyone starting a Telecommuting Program is to always set the strategy and reasons for doing so first, then look at what job functions and business units are most capable. It’s important to start with the job and needed resources rather than the manager’s view of the employee.
Brandon Dempsey of St. Louis, MO
Dec. 12, 2008 at 07:48 PM
Excellent piece! The benefits of Telecommuniting appear to offer extra value as one of many key strategies for traffic congestion management and that’s very important here in Virginia. The FHWA highlights telecommuniting as one of many non-construction strategies that can reduce congestion by taking more vehicles off our highways—trips not made (at least in a physical sense) as a result telecommuting. http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/congestion_report_04/executive_summary.htm. At some point, it will make sense for localities to offer incentives to employers to implement telecommuniting programs—less vehicles on the highways, less highway maintenance, less time spent/wasted in traffic, greater productivity, more leisure time and more time with the family. Telecommuniting may not work for everyone, but perhaps for enough of us to have a significant impact. Seems like a win-win opportunity.
Hank Lewis of Hampton, VA
Dec. 16, 2008 at 11:54 AM
Great article Genevieve. We’ve just competed a book on the telework for John Wiley & Sons. It will be on bookshelves next March. Titled, Undress For Success—The Naked Truth About Working at Home, it’s aimed at showing people how to find legit home-based jobs or start a home-based business.
As part of the process, we developed a model that shows that if the U.S. workers who held telework-compatible jobs did so half of the time (roughly the national average), individually they would gain back almost 2.5 workweeks of free time per year and save between $7,000 and $17,000 dollars annually. Collectively they would save 8.9 billion gallons of gas and 452 barrels of oil (57% of our Gulf Oil imports). And their reduced driving would prevent 78 million metric tons of CO2 from polluting our atmosphere each year—the equivalent of taking 14 million cars off the road.
Our interactive online model allows every City, County, and State in the U.S. to calculate its own telework saving potential (http://undress4success.com/research).
We are in the process of updating the model to incorporate the 2007 interim-census numbers. In addition to the gas & energy savings, we’re adding metrics to calculate telework’s potential to reduce attrition, improve productivity, provide access to a larger labor force (including retiring boomers, rural workers, part-timers, handicapped, and others), reduce unscheduled absences, save money, improve worker morale, reduce traffic accidents, reduce traffic congestion, and provide additional energy and greenhouse gas savings.
A list of telework pros and cons (with data to back them up) is posted here: http://undress4success.com/research/pros-cons/.
The State of Virginia has set a great model for the rest of the country. Thanks for your contribution!
Kate Lister of San Diego CA
Dec. 16, 2008 at 06:38 PM
There is also a benefit for our country as a whole. If telecommuting takes ahold on a widespread scale, there is the benefit of lessened demand for oil and less gridlock in traffic (decreasing the need for more roads).
JCL of SouthWest
Dec. 18, 2008 at 01:34 PM
I want to touch on JCL’s comment about traffic. Being from NoVA traffic is a MAJOR problem on 66 and 495. Obviously there are other minor roads that have traffic as well. A lot of people telecommute on Fridays or have off. Friday’s have a major shift in traffic patterns and for the most part it is traffic free on some roads. So yes telecommuting can potentially lessen traffic but I believe the cons outweigh the pros…
Don Sabatini of Northern VA
Dec. 28, 2008 at 12:46 AM
Being involved with an organization that encourages telecommuting, I find that employees do tend to work longer hours, and in some cases much stranger hours. Receiving an email from someone who is up working at 3:00 a.m. because they have pressing issues sometimes makes me wonder what this is doing to the social fabric. It may be great for the environment as pointed out and for the business bottom line, but are we becoming a society to dependent on being connected all the time?
Barry Wheeler - Marketing, Business & Technology N
Jan. 20, 2009 at 08:45 AM
To the above poster… I agree about working longer hours and I am definitely not surprised that this is taking off. I recently obtained a position which encourages telecommuting and I could not list all of the benefits I have experienced in this post alone. As I work in an industry which usually has roles and positions which place heavy emphasis on independence, I have always thought that such a work environment would be extremely conducive for progress….for me. Everyone is different, I know, but for me personally my level of production has increased tremendously. I am definitely easily distracted in an office atmosphere, so working from home is truly the only place where can literally “tune-everything-out” and get some work done. So when those long hours start flying by, it is definitely easier to stick with the task for prolonged periods when at home. Thanks.
Robert in Jacksonville of Jacksonville, FL
Feb. 4, 2009 at 02:40 PM
Yes, A successful telecommuting program requires a management style which is based on results and it’s really working for my <a href=“http://www.startingasmallbussiness.org”>business</a>.
Jul. 3, 2009 at 05:34 AM
How does the telecommuting affect society?
Sep. 18, 2009 at 08:01 AM
Yah!Long distance telework is facilitated by such tools as virtual private networks, conference calling, videoconferencing, and Voice over IP (VOIP). It can be efficient and useful for companies as it allows staff and workers to communicate over a large distance, saving significant amounts of travel time and cost…
Good article!Keep up the good work..
Sep. 19, 2009 at 08:34 AM
I’ve had a telecommuting job for the last eight years. It’s not for a person that has a hard time motivating themselves. It’s easy to get distracted when you don’t have the boss looking over you all day.
Energy Conservation Tips of Nashville
Dec. 7, 2009 at 12:50 AM
You hear about telecommuting on the rise, and how more Americans are working from home, but I wonder, Are there Telecommuting Jobs out there? Where? How to find one?
Bart Bush of New York
Jun. 27, 2010 at 01:29 PM
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