Telecommuting is a popular option for many workers in this intensely technical age. Defined as “the practice of working from home for a business and communicating through the use of a personal computer equipped with modem and communications software”, telecommuting is a process used by more and more businesses and employees. But why has it grown in popularity? And what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting, for both businesses and employees?
The Growth of Telecommuting:
In the highly-digital world of many businesses today, the requirement to be “in the office” and present diminishes with every new piece of technology. Once upon a time, it was not possible to have a meeting unless invitees were present and sitting around a table. With teleconferencing and video-conferencing, staff can be scattered across the world and still be available to meet.
Telecommuting started in the 1980’s, coinciding with the first instances of personal computers. It was fairly rare back then, but continued to grow as people began to realise the many possibilities that working at home offered. In the 1990’s, telecommuting grew again as industries involving advanced technology rose to importance.
In current times, there are many staff members in a variety of industries who are now able to telecommute to work – not just managers and executives, as was previously common. The advent of highly-technical positions and new technologies make it a widely acknowledged and implemented tool for small businesses and big corporations.
There are many advantages to telecommuting, both from the perspective of business owners or executives, and from employees themselves. Benefits that businesses may access by implementing a telecommuting policy include:
Wider Global Reach: When a business is looking for someone with a particular skill set, interest or even personality, it can be hard to find exactly what you are looking for in a small area. Telecommuting gives businesses the opportunity to look for specific people and make them a part of their country, regardless of previously insurmountable barriers such as location or language.
Stronger Talent Retention: For some businesses, offering telecommuting opportunities to their staff allows them to retain the services of talented individuals who know and love the brand but may need to move to more flexible hours or relocate for personal reasons. Prior to telecommuting, organisations had to let good staff go. Now, businesses can keep talented staff onboard for longer thanks to more flexibility.
Cost Efficiency: There is plenty of money to be saved in allowing telecommuting opportunities to employees. A report in 2013 showed that businesses can save as much as $11,000 per employee – and this money can then be spent on other costs, such as product research or content development.
For employees, the benefits are slightly different but equally appealing.
Focus: Majority of employees feel more efficient and effective when they are away from ringing phones, distracting colleagues or other minimal interruptions. Telecommuting allows many employees to work within their own focused situation, responding to emergency situations when required.
Flexibility: Telecommuting will largely mean that it is not entirely necessary for employees to maintain a standard 9 to 5 workday like many office-based roles. For employees with life commitments, such as family or study, the flexibility of telecommuting is a major added bonus to a role – one that’s likely to make them more loyal to a company or organisation.
Time Saving: Employees can spend an hour getting ready every morning, and sometimes as much as an hour commuting into the office – that’s 2 hours gone before the work day has even begun. Telecommuting allows workers to start their day immediately, which can help productivity and reduce stress from time pressures.
As there are advantages to telecommuting for both businesses and employees, there are also disadvantages for both parties. Some of the negatives that businesses may notice when implementing a telecommuting policy include:
Supervision: The major issue that businesses have with telecommuting is the lack of supervision that executives and managers can offer over staff they have working from another location. There are very few ways to guarantee that employees are working the hours that they are required to, which is a risk for some businesses. A lack of supervision can also lead to a drop in work quality.
Cultural Hit: Culture is a big part of what makes employers great – the way in which they treat their employees, reward effort and so forth. When you don’t have employees in one site, on one timezone, it makes it difficult for your staff to feel included or feel like part of a team. This can be detrimental to both their work ethic and commitment to your product or cause.
Communication Difficulties: Even with modern technology such as phones, video programs and instant messaging software, it can be easy for messages to get lost in translation between managers and remote employees. Some businesses may find that relying on technology to communicate with their employees does not suit their purposes.
For employees working remotely, there are a couple of major challenges that may cause issues or uncertainty when it comes to telecommuting.
Vulnerability: If, as a remote employee, you have technological issues and can’t connect into a crucial meeting or submit a key document, there is no back-up. This can make some employees feel uncomfortable – a lack of support and a high level of accountability can be a daunting prospect for someone with little access to advice or assistance from their superiors.
Work-Life Balance: Generally, people believe that working flexible hours will make for a better work-life balance. For some remote employees, however, they find the opposite is true – working from home can ruin a balance because the temptation is always there to look at one more issue, or check your emails one more time. Workaholics are likely to struggle to pull themselves away – and that can lead to several health issues.
Knowledge: Employees who work within an office environment are able to access a variety of resources and insights from other employees when dealing with a problem or situation. When working remotely, it may be harder to make contact with someone or acquire the knowledge needed. This can lead to errors or additional pressure for employees.
Are you a telecommuter? Would you like to be? What are the advantages and disadvantages you see? Let us know in the comments below.
This article was written by Simone Ball on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Richard Male and Groove HQ.
If you're wondering if a work from home job might be right for you, be sure to consider the telecommuting advantages and disadvantages before making a final decision.
Advantages of Telecommuting
- Save Time - When you work from home, you won't have to spend time traveling back and forth to work every day. If your position doesn't require you to meet face to face with coworkers or clients, you can also save the time that it takes to get dressed for the office every day. Many telecommuting workers get their jobs done in t-shirts and jeans, or even their pajamas, rather than having to dress in traditional business attire.
- Save Money - When you don't have to commute to an office on a regular basis, you can save a significant amount of money in fuel expenses. Many people who begin working from home also find that they save money on clothing purchases, dry cleaning bills, morning coffee, restaurant and fast food lunches, and more.
- Schedule Flexibility - Many telecommuting jobs provide workers with the opportunity to work flexible hours, planning job-related activities around family and other responsibilities. Often, telecommuting workers are able to work any time of the day or night, from home or other locations. Even those positions that require set schedules still allow workers to choose the work times that work best for them.
- Earning Potential - Many telecommuting positions offer performance based compensation rather than traditional hourly pay system. Workers who have jobs that pay in this manner often receive piece rates or productivity based pay. This means that skilled workers who are efficient can often earn better wages than in positions where they are paid by the hour.
- Tax Advantages - Telecommuting workers can enjoy the tax write-off advantages that go along with having a home-based office, assuming that they do not have an employer provided workspace.
- Time Management Challenges - When you work from home, it can sometimes become difficult to separate work time from home responsibilities. There's often a temptation to divide attention between household duties and work activities, resulting in insufficient attention being paid to both. Working from home requires a great deal of self control and discipline. Telecommuters have to learn to set limits for themselves as well as for the other members of their household in order to prevent the problems that might arise when work and the activities of daily living overlap too much.
- Perception of Friends and Family - It can sometimes be difficult for friends and relatives to understand that the fact that you are working at home does not mean that you are available to chat, run errands, go shopping, etc. When you begin telecommuting, don't fall into the trap of letting people pull you away from what you need to accomplish during the time you have set aside to work. You will likely have to spend some time explaining your new role to the people in your life, making it clear that when you are working from home, you must focus on accomplishing work related tasks.
- Lack of Social Interaction - When you are accustomed to working in an office environment, you have an opportunity to interact with co-workers on a regular basis. Even though dealing with your coworkers may be challenging at sometimes, interacting with others helps meet the important social needs that everyone has. Those who telecommute often find the lack of contact with coworkers to be a surprising drawback.
Weighing the Telecommuting Advantages and Disadvantages
Before switching from a traditional work environment to working from home, it's important to carefully evaluating the telecommuting advantages and disadvantages. For motivated individuals who enjoy working independently and are able to focus on work while at home, a telecommuting job can be ideal. For those who perform better with close supervision and opportunities to interact with coworkers regularly, this type of job might not be the best choice.