Over the last decade workplace norms have changed dramatically, particularly in regards to telecommuting. Thanks in part to technological advancements and the entrance of millennials into the workforce, more and more people are working from home -- employee telecommuting grew by 80 percent from 2005 to 2012, according to a Global Workplace Analytics report.
In light of this trend, how you shape your company’s telecommuting policy is brought to the forefront. Allowing employees to telecommute can be a great decision, but it’s not always the best move for your company.
Before diving into the pluses and minuses, it’s important to first understand that while telecommuting usually refers to employees who work exclusively at home, it also encompasses those who work half of the time at home and half of the time in the office.
- Hiring benefits. Recruiting people with unique skill sets is much easier when you are not limited by geography. Keep in mind that not everyone can afford to live in expensive areas like Silicon Valley, New York City or Boston. For this reason, if you require employees to work out of your office, you may be missing out on a lot of potential talent.
- Talent retention. The ability to telecommute can eliminate stressful commutes and improve work-life flexibility, which can boost employee morale and help retain talent.
- Skype. Along with other video conferencing technologies, it makes it easy to collaborate even when someone is not physically present.
- Cost savings. A telecommuting policy eliminates the need to pay relocation fees or buy expensive office equipment.
- Hiring risks. Employees have to be extremely self-motivated and focused to successfully work from home, and it can be tough to gauge these skills in an interview. In addition, remote employees need to be comfortable with flexibility. Those who like structure and routine may not do well working from home.
- Added pressure on managers. Telecommuting doesn’t just affect those working from home—it also affects managers who are in the office trying to manage remote employees. This takes patience, understanding, intense communication and, again, self-awareness. It isn’t always something that will align with a manager’s leadership style.
- Skype. This falls on both lists. While it’s certainly better than nothing, it can’t replace face-to-face connections.
- Additional oversight. When employees work remotely, you can’t pop over and ask a question. Without this direct line of communication, it’s more likely for things to get overlooked or done incorrectly.
Case study: a mixed bag
To test how telecommuting impacts its employees Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, conducted an experiment. About 250 employees volunteered for the study. Half were randomly assigned to work at home while the other half worked in the office.
After nine months, working from home proved to have some obvious benefits. Those who did so worked an average of 9.5 percent longer than their colleagues working in the office, were 13 percent more productive and were half as likely to quit. What’s more, Ctrip saved an annual $2,000 per employee in office costs.
But there were also downsides. Telecommuters were only half as likely to get promoted, and at the end of the experiment, 50 percent of the work-from-home group asked to return to the office, citing loneliness and the fear of getting overlooked for career advancement opportunities.
How to determine whether telecommuting is right for your company
The above example is just one of many. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how telecommuting can impact employees. Based on the study, it appears that a combination of working from home and working in the office is the sweet spot where most employees can find success. It’s completely up to you, however, to determine if this approach will work for your company.
It’s also worth noting that if you want to implement a successful work-from-home system, you’ll need the right technology and have a strategy in place.
Keep in mind that certain positions are better suited for telecommuting. As a rule of thumb, positions that don’t require a large amount of collaboration or technology support, such as sales, are typically well-suited for a work-from-home policy. Manager, public relations, and even IT positions, on the other hand, may require face-to-face interaction.
What do you think? Do you have experience making the decision to let employees telecommute, or do you telecommute at your current job? Let us know your story and your thoughts in the comment section below.