As an unprecedented percentage of the workforce is asked to work from home in response to the pandemic, traditional office spaces are beginning to sound a little passé. Chances are if you hadn’t heard of telecommuting before, you definitely have by now.
It turns out that even before current circumstances made it ubiquitous, telecommuting was on the rise. According to a survey by Global Workplace Analytics, the number of telecommuters grew at least 140% between 2005 and 2017— 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce.
Businesses with remote work policies enjoy many perks such as increased productivity, improved employee satisfaction and lowered costs. But before we get into the benefits of telecommuting, let’s take a minute to get our terms in order.
Telecommuting is sometimes known as work-from-home (WFH), home job, or working remotely– and refers to when an employee works outside the office.
Remote Work vs. Telecommuting vs. Teleworking
While these terms can often be used interchangeably, there are slight differences according to some definitions. While telework refers to working from a distance, telecommuting refers specifically to the elimination of the daily commute. Thus full-time telework might involve travel, with employees, asked to stop by the office for weekly check-ins or visit off-site locations, but telecommuters would be able to work entirely from home.
While telecommuters and teleworkers will often live in the same region as their business, remote work can be done from anywhere with wi fi. These workers may never step foot on company property.
If these terms seem similar and their differences minor, it’s because they are. Remember, a rose by any other name smells as sweet.
It will depend on your company and its specific needs, but many businesses that allow workers to telecommute have had great success.
A 2017 study found that remote workers at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, showed a 13% increase in productivity over colleagues who remained in the office. Another study found that U.S. Patent and Trademark Office workers who went fully remote were 4.4% more productive than when they had to check-in at the office.
Telecommuting seems to be worthwhile for many different businesses!
Maybe you’ve noticed full time in-office employees showing part time results. Telecommute work boosts productivity by enabling employees to work a full shift without detracting time for a delayed commute or a long lunch. Employees working from home also have fewer distractions than when in a noisy office, and are less likely to get side-tracked at the water cooler.
For many employees, flexibility is the number one perk they look for in a job. By allowing employees to determine their own work hours and days per week, telecommuting improves the work life balance for all. Flexible work also allows employers to reach more diverse talent, as businesses are no longer limited to the candidates in their proximity.
Zapier, a 300-person company whose software automates tasks between web apps, has been fully remote since its start in 2011. “It’s allowed us to tap into a global talent pool in a way nobody else can,” Wade Foster, Zapier’s chief executive told the LA Times.
Shifting to telecommuting will not only allow employers to save costs on office space which is by some estimates, $11,000 per worker per year. Telecommuting has also been shown to drastically reduce turnover, cutting down on costly processes of recruitment and onboarding (according to Deloitte, $4,000 per employee). For companies looking to increase employees or increase job satisfaction, telecommuting may be the answer.
Loss of culture
Company culture is key in winning employee engagement. While in-office work environments provide camaraderie and opportunities to showcase culture, employees working on their own may struggle to feel like part of the team. This is especially true if they’re stuck coordinating across time zones or don’t regularly touch base with peers.
Lack of oversight
It’s every manager’s worst nightmare: telecommuting employees who instead of working just fritter the day away. Without supervision, there is no way to ensure that these employees are working a certain number of hours a day. Some may worry that leaving workers to their own devices will lead to a drop in work quality.
Difficulty striking a work life balance
Although managers voice concerns that employees who work remote may not do enough, the opposite may be true. Research shows that work from home employees end up doing too much, unsure of when to put the phone down and close out their email for the day. Overwork will only lead to burnt-out employees who aren’t able to bring their A-game.
Telecommuting problems? There’s an app for that. Telecommuting software has advanced to directly address many of the challenges telecommuters face. From communication platforms to document managers, there is a program to smooth the path every step of the way.
Twitter has recently adopted Range, a program that helps fill the communication and culture gaps inherent when employees work from home. Built for teams with no central office, Range not only allows teams to track progress (easing mangers’ anxiety) but offers virtual opportunities for socializing. One feature they offer is a list of 350 questions to pose your fellow coworkers, on topics ranging from their last vacation to their favorite brands.
While telecommuting software like this can go a long way, it is important that managers offering telecommuting establish clear policies and norms to support their telecommuters.
The secret to implementing successful telecommuting policy is to strike a balance, between freedom and control, autonomy and teamwork. Here are our tips for managing remote workers:
- Limit distractions but encourage collaboration.
Remote workers are more productive because they don’t have the all the same distractions of the office. The trick is to make employees feel like part of the same team even when they’re out of office. At one company, managers brought remote workers into the fold by delivering personal pizzas to their home offices so they could fully participate in a pizza-fueled meeting taking place at HQ.
- Check-in regularly but don’t micromanage.
It is important to set clear expectations for your team from the get-go. Offer a policy sample outlining preferred means of communication. Also, define meeting schedules and make sure to get agreement from the whole team. Utilize different telecommuting tools to make sure employees are prepared to work from home.
- Leverage technology but know when to turn it off.
Workers who telecommute may struggle to balance the demands of their work-life with the demands of their home life without the clear delineation of being on or off the clock. Telecommuting software can help your team to coordinate and stay organized. In addition, it may also bog workers down in an endless cycle of communication and response. Consider specifying “on” and “off” hours. These are times when employees are expected to be available and when they are free to sign off.
A glance into the future of remote work
Telecommuting provides a vital avenue to success, especially in these tumultuous times. In a few more years, teleworkers may be able to use “telepresence” robots, bots which will roll around the office displaying a feed of a telecommuting worker. Coming soon to an office near you…
Written by Valerie Slaughter; Edited by Tanya Lesiuk