In May 2007, CIO Magazine wrote a piece called Telecommute. Kill a Career? After surveying over 1200 executives they that found that the general consensus was:
Employees who frequently telecommute may damage or kill their chances to advance within a particular career.
Over 60% of those interviewed felt that way, even though they acknowledged that telecommuting was a faster more productive way of working.
Nine years later, views may have changed towards telecommuting, but the numbers really haven’t. A report from the US Labor Bureau of Statistics said of the hours worked last year, 85% were in the physical workplace, while only 23% did work that was considered telecommuting.
This is only a slight increase from 2003. In the last thirteen years there have been so many technological and cultural shifts in the workplace, so the glaring question — why on earth aren’t more of us telecommuting?
What is telecommuting?
One of the reasons for why more of us aren’t telecommuting, is perhaps there’s some confusion as to what is is and how it works. Simply telecommuting is working from a remote location, outside of your office with the assistance of technology to confer with your work colleagues.
There are no rules set in stone, because the whole notion of telecommuting plays into the larger discussion about flexible work arrangements. In a perfect world, it’s about what works best for both the employer and employee.
In 2013 Yahoo! Negated its teleworking policy. Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer reasoned that, while people may be more productive by themselves, they are more collaborative and creative together:
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
This announcement was met with a lot of bafflement, from tech companies, who felt like Yahoo! was going against the industry grain
There is also this underlying perception from more traditional companies that if there isn’t visibility, then there isn’t transparency. However if done well, telecommuting actually promotes transparency and communication.
Another pervasive notion is that telecommuting is something an employer uses to lure a prospective employee, but actually it tends to be the business that stands to gain the most out of a comprehensive telecommuting strategy.
Telecommuting is a business, strategy, not a perk.
The above phrase was used by Forbes to describe how telework gives business an opportunity to cherry-pick the best talent as you’re not limited to your city. Chances are the best person for the job won’t in fact be in your city, and hiring someone from a different location will also allow you to benefit from their fresh perspective.
As Forbes mentions, it’s also a great way to retain that talent because you’re empowering them to define how they can best do their work.
In fact Global Workplace Analytics looked at various workplaces, 95% of employers said that their retention rates are much higher with a flexible working arrangement and much more productive. According to the report:
- Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40% more productive
- Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions
- JD Edwards teleworkers are 20-25% more productive than their office counterparts.
- American Express workers produced 43% more than their office based counterparts.
- Compaq increased productivity 15-45%
What’s important to note here is that the staff also significantly happier, in fact 36% would choose flexible working arrangements over a pay rise and 37% would actually take a pay cut, if it meant that they could have flexible hours.
Getting the balance right
While there are enormous benefits, telecommuting, isn’t for everyone. Studies have suggested the best option for both businesses and employees tends to be a bit of a mix. You do need time to put your head down and do uninterrupted work, but the office dynamics allow people to be more engaged and energetic.
For some reason, the idea pervades that if you allow your employees to telecommute, then every single person in the business will be telecommuting all day. The best results tend to come from flexibility on the part of employer and employee.
For example, at Xerox, the employee does an assessment to see if it might work for them, and their managers will look at it and weigh up the needs of the business to see if it’s a feasible option.
Is it right for you?
With all of the positives that telecommuting brings, inevitably businesses need to start to think about how they can best use it, and not just for their employees, as Forbes mentions:
“None of the people I spoke with reference flexible work or telecommuting as a “nice to have.” All of these companies view it as a business imperative that is required to stay competitive in the modern workforce.”
There is no denying that a flexible working arrangement makes staff happier and healthier. However, if used in a balanced and considered way, it also has the potential to make your businesses considerably happier and healthier.