With the growing use of e-mail, the Internet, fax machines, teleconferencing, and other high-tech marvels, many companies are allowing employees to work from their own homes, away from the office.
Remember the good old days, when your alarm woke you at the crack of dawn each morning so you could hurry through your morning routine, hassle your way through rush hour traffic, and then spend eight hours wading your way through paperwork, avoiding co-worker distractions, and fighting office politics – only to get up and do it all over again the next day? Well, the times, they are a-changing. The increasingly portable nature of the computer and other communications devices has made telecommuting cost-effective and viable enough to attract the attention of both large and small organizations. So although your company’s office might be in New York City, you may be sitting in your bathrobe typing away at your computer in Lubbock, Texas. This scenario probably seems like a dream come true, but there are important issues to be considered when deciding whether or not telecommuting is right for you.
The most obvious advantage to employers is the savings in expenses that they can realize. By having half their workforce telecommute just once a week, employers can reduce their overhead and operating expenses by 10% or more. With fewer employees in the office, there is a reduced need for desks, chairs, bathrooms, computers, copy machines, parking spaces, heating and lighting, telephones, and all the other accouterments required for maintaining a working office. Telecommuting also makes it practical for an organization to reach out another 20 or 30 miles or more to find qualified people to fill important posts, and makes it possible to locate individual workers near important clients – which can translate to huge savings in airfares, telephone bills, and expense account costs.
During the past two decades, studies have shown that workers who successfully telecommute are 10-15% more productive than those who do not. Because of less interference with co-workers and less “water-cooler” time, telecommuting employees have more time and attention to actually devote to their work. In addition, it makes for happier workers, so the best employees stay longer, saving on recruiting and training costs. Society also benefits from telecommuting because it immediately cuts down on air pollution, use of non-renewable energy sources, and traffic congestion. And for telecommuting employees, the reduced stress and increased flexibility of daily schedule contributes to a happier family life.
The most obvious benefit for employees in telecommuting is the elimination of the time, trouble, and expense of physically commuting to work. Right off the bat, this gives the average person about an extra hour each day to use for the thinking, writing, telephoning, planning, and paperwork that keeps the wheels of business turning. This extra time also translates directly into more discretionary time, more time with the family, less stress, and general health improvements. In addition, more control over their time allows employees to take short breaks during the day to have lunch with a friend, pick up the kids from school, or cook dinner for the family, with less pressure to keep every minute crammed with work-related activities.
Working at home once or twice a week also saves money – less gasoline, less wear and tear on clothes, and lower food costs due to being able to eat at home. Creating a comfortable and personalized work environment with no distractions because of other employees or office politics gives individuals more freedom and control over their work, making them significantly more productive and efficient, as well as happier with their work. Also, employees can spend part of their evening or night hours working, so they can take care of their shopping, banking, and other personal business during the day.
To be honest, not every one can telecommute. Success at telecommuting seems linked to employees who have a stronger-than-average motivation and drive to succeed. The best telecommuters are independent enough to keep working without the eyes of a supervisor upon them, and self-sufficient enough to stay productive without the constant feedback and support of colleagues. Well-developed time management, organization, and planning skills help telecommuters deliver their results on time so that others can rely on them to fulfill their responsibilities. The most effective telecommuters are those who develop specific goals to achieve, and who have their importance to the company measured by results rather than by meetings attended or hours clocked.
Before accepting a telecommuting job, you should consider the main issues that will affect your success or failure. Do you have the organizational skills and self-discipline necessary to work effectively at home? Will your personality adapt working alone, with less face-to-face interaction with co-workers? Working at home, will you be able to maintain a high enough profile to advance to the position you desire in the company?
A good way to learn more about telecommuting and what it involves is to read about others’ experiences. There are thousands of websites devoted to all aspects of telecommuting, from how to set up a home office to how to find companies that are amenable to telecommuting. Millions of people in the United States and around the world are discovering the power, pleasure, and increase in productivity that comes with telecommuting to work. Although some employers still think that workers who are not subject to direct daily observation by front-line supervisors will not be productive enough to justify their employment, years of research have demonstrated that telecommuting, properly planned and administrated, is actually a very efficient alternative to the traditional office.