The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting
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, especially in today’s age where a large number of businesses are working completely from home due to COVID-19. 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.