Telecommuting, or as more informally known, working from home, is becoming increasingly common. After recent events in 2020, the dialogue on allowing employees to work from home or a place different from their regular office is commonplace.
62% of employed Americans worked remotely due to the pandemic, and as it draws down, many will not be returning to the office. Significant companies like Twitter have transitioned to letting employees telecommute permanently.
All of this does beg the question, what are the benefits of telecommuting? We will lay out the significant benefits and drawbacks of telecommuting to allow you to decide what is the best option for employers.
We will also share some tips on managing a telecommuting workforce effectively.
Why Consider Telecommuting
Telecommuting as a serious option to consider has much to do with recent progress in technology. Significant cost cuts and increased availability for wireless devices and high-speed, reliable internet has gone a long way in making it seem less like a gimmick we remember from the dial-up days.
Add also the prevalence of easy-to-use web applications and collaborative workspace tools such as software for online meetings. Interaction between colleagues and managers is further streamlined outside the office, and you have the benefits of telecommuting begin to write themselves.
Today, most employees would prefer to shift to telecommuting rather than working in the office. The core reasons are as follows:
- Avoiding lengthy commutes which waste limited personal time and are worse for the environment
- Saving on costs for fuel/transit
- Have the ability to focus on their task in an environment with fewer disruptions.
Many companies are also shifting towards telecommuting. The primary reasons for doing so are:
- Saving on overhead costs such as real estate<span style=”font-weight: 400;”> and office supplies
- Fostering a more ‘green’ culture in the workplace
- Promoting a work-life balance among employees
- Increased productivity and minimizing expenses from inefficiently used time due to disruptions
The Drawbacks to Telecommuting
There are not only benefits of telecommuting. There are indeed some drawbacks to remote work to consider. Important causes of apprehension and concern among employers include:
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- There is no control for employers on how workers spend their time. The lack of monitoring gives rise to often valid worry over lost productivity. You are paying employees by the hour. They need to be spending it working. The lack of a guarantee that employees spend their paid time on work-related activities exclusively can be off-putting. Yahoo ended its telecommuting policy in 2013 over abuse of the system.
- In some situations, only certain employees or roles are allowed the option to telecommute. In such instances, jealousy and resentment may lead to an adverse effect on team morale and the overall working environment.
- Decreased direct interaction between managers and peers can cause communication issues. Furthermore, the unique sort of innovation and brainstorming which occurs through on-site collaboration is lost.
Cases Where Telecommuting is Suboptimal
There are most certainly instances where it would not be ideal to have IT staff working remotely. As an employer, you should consider the individual’s specific role and how it ties in with the requirements of departments they work alongside. Often, problems may be impossible to troubleshoot and solve from off-site.
In other instances, there may be issues with security or with compliance with regulatory requirements. In such cases, access to specific software, applications, and development tools may be limited and could hamper the ability of an employee to work remotely.
You lose the ability to oversee and manage your employees when they are telecommuting directly.
Losing such an ability can be problematic for an employer. There’s a reason telecommuting is considered a micromanager’s worst nightmare. I am sure you have heard of managers who force their employees into overly strict, rigid schedules with frequent check-ins and inappropriate amounts of information demanded from employees.
Indeed, this is a drawback that can be difficult to navigate. You will feel that the amount of control you have over your employees’ actions has lessened.
Despite that, consider this, a strong leader recognized the harms of being overbearing and micromanaging. They will instead allow their employees to foster their agency over their work.
You cannot display intricate nuance in your interactions with your employees, making effective management different.
When managing employees, nonverbal communication can often prove helpful. With telecommuting, you lose that and instead have to rely on voice or written words.
The loss of nonverbal interaction such as eye contact, posture, and proximity can significantly change communication with employees. These are useful for displaying emotional meanings such as trust, enthusiasm, and confidence. Any manager will sorely feel their loss.
Instead, to maintain effective management, a manager must ensure that verbal communication is as clear and candid as ever.
The lack of face-to-face interaction means that solid work culture is more challenging to develop.
A core loss resulting from telecommuting is the weakening of the social connection and team spirit between colleagues. ‘Water-cooler chat’ is not just idle chatter. It has effects that impact the organization at large.
Employees building relationships with each other plays a significant role in their attitude towards work and their employer and has substantial benefits in building team morale.
An employer may want to mimic this social aspect by setting up telecommuting arrangements such as happy hours and virtual coffee breaks. If done successfully, they may effectively cultivate team spirit outside the office.
Cases Where Telecommuting is Ideal
If an employee has a job where most of their work is independent, they are the ideal employee to be working remotely, as there are few benefits to having them come into the office.
Decreased overhead costs due to reduced need for physical space
Physical space is one of the most significant expenses any commercial enterprise will have to navigate. With every additional employee in the office, the cost of space quickly balloons.
A core benefit of telecommuting is reducing the need for a massive office. Additionally, you can save on other expenses when considering the reduced need for equipment, office supplies, and furniture.
Better work-life balance from reduced commuting time
The average American spends 27 minutes commuting in either direction. This number has only been growing over the years. Shifting to remote work would give employees multiple hours a week of personal time back to them.
The benefits of ensuring that your employees have an adequate work-life balance are hard not to overstate. They will be healthier and miss fewer days, perform better, be more engaged, and positively affect the workplace.
How to Maximize the Benefits of Telecommuting
There are a few ways you can optimize telecommuting to be most effective:
- If certain employees are working remotely, then make sure they drop by the office from time to time. Keeping interactions with their colleagues regular and meeting face-to-face with managers can make a difference.
- Have clear communication protocols with remote working employees. Make sure their colleagues know how to contact them and are constantly in reach during work hours.
- Have schedules for tracking the progress of telecommuting employees. The use of software and online applications can go a long way in raising productivity.
Maintain fairness with your telecommuting policies
You can shift some positions to remote working more effectively than others. Make sure your employees are well aware of this fact, and you keep them in the loop of the factors which go into deciding who telecommutes and who does not.
Making sure your employees think that their management is fair and just in their decision making makes all the difference when it comes to workplace culture and ensuring that they give their best.
Set firm, yet simple expectations
It is a core part of leading a team regardless of the circumstances; It doubles down when the unit is not together physically. They need to know what you expect them to do, when they should be available, how much flexibility there can be, and how frequently they should check-in.
An employer has to make sense of different work ethics that their team may operate by and ensure that the job gets done as smoothly as possible, both by being accommodating and firm when need be.
Arrange times for the whole team to meet in person
Once/if it is safe to do so. Have times where all members of the group meet in person and work together. While productivity can be maintained remotely, sharing ideas and collaborative work is too important to be skipped on entirely.
If you have chosen to not keep a physical headquarters, depending on the size of your team, using a co-working space or a coffee shop can work too.
There are several benefits to telecommuting. Indeed it does seem like it is here to stay after the pandemic. However, telecommuting has potential drawbacks and pitfalls. It is essential to navigate these and avoid damaging productivity and workplace culture.
We have now equipped you to maximize the benefits telecommuting provides and minimize its potential harms with the advice above. Ensure that you set clear guidelines and policies, maintain comprehensive communication, and have adequate procedures to bring about optimal efficiency.