Like many of you, I spent years commuting to work each day — driving through traffic, spending hours on subways and trains, wasting precious time simply trying to get from here to there. This wasted time could have been better spent on work productivity, personal pursuits, or with family.
Through my own experiences as a business owner, I have found telecommuting to be an attractive alternative to commuting to a centralized workplace. It provides significant benefits for employees and employers alike, as well as offering advantages in the areas of environmental protection and energy conservation.
Studies show that telecommuting is also gaining popularity with many other U.S. employers as they realize the cost benefits offered by telecommuting programs. According to a study conducted by The Dieringer Research Group of WorldatWork (2006) the number of Americans telecommuting at least one day per month has shown an increase of 10% in recent years, rising from 26.1 million in 2005 to 28.7 million in 2006, with roughly 20% of the workforce engaging in some type of telecommuting work. Predictions are that this number will continue to rise to an estimated 100 million workers by 2010 due to factors such as increased access to wireless and broadband connections making it less expensive and more productive to work remotely, and an increasing number of employers favoring alternative work programs designed to help employees with a work/life balance.
State and Federal government entities are also beginning to recognize the benefits of telecommuting and are passing measures to promote telework programs such as the Federal 2001 Transportation Appropriations bill which requires federal agencies to allow all eligible employees whose jobs lend themselves to telecommuting and who would like to telework to do so. The continued interest of Congress in promoting telework programs centers around environmental and energy benefits as well as providing the capacity to remain operational during large scale emergencies. Georgia’s Clean Air Telework campaign is also a good example of recent state focused efforts to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion in metro areas. This program provides grants, tax credits, and other support to local companies to assist them in developing telework programs.
So what are the benefits of implementing a telecommuting program in your company? Here are a few of the highlights:
- Improved Health — Telecommuting can help employees to create a better balance between their work and family life by giving employees more opportunities to spend quality time with family members. Telecommuting can also reduce the stress associated with the rush hour commute as well as provide employees with more time to incorporate health and wellness activities in their lives. Instead of waking up and rushing into traffic, telecommuters can wake up and take time for a cup of coffee, walk the dog, bring children to school, and still start work at the same time. Better health and lowered stress means employees put a greater focus on work concerns during work hours.
- Increased Productivity — Employees who telecommute are not limited to working from home. They can work from different places such as an airport, hotel, or client site, resulting in a greater opportunity for productive work hours throughout the day. Employees who enjoy the flexibility and independent work environment afforded by telecommuting tend to be more productive employees and display increased motivation for their job as well as higher morale and less absenteeism. In addition, telecommuters avoid travel time and may deal with a reduced number of distractions and interruptions than they would encounter in a conventional workplace environment which also results in an increase in productivity. Companies such as the Atlanta Regional Commission have reported that as much as 90% of their managers saw an improvement in employee morale with an average productivity increase of 17% as a result of their telework programs (Clean Air Campaign, 2007).
- Organization and Staffing Flexibility — By offering telecommuting positions, companies can enhance their recruiting efforts because they are not limited to hiring employees in a specific geographic area. Instead, they can select top candidates from anywhere in the country. As the needs of the organization change, employers are free to restructure or reassemble the best teams to fit individual projects with minimal disruption to the company.
- Employee Retention — Each year, many employees leave jobs that they otherwise enjoy due to relocation concerns. The option to telecommute eliminates the number of employees who resign because they want or need to move to a new location. For example, Merrill Lynch reported a 6% decrease in employee turnover as a result of their telecommuting program, along with a 15% increase in productivity. (Wells, 2001) Telecommuters can move with minimal disruption to their work productivity and less employee turnover means bottom line savings for the company in recruiting and training costs.
- Cost Savings — Telecommuting helps companies achieve significant savings associated with real estate costs and overhead. Companies can grow without the need to create additional workstations or build new office spaces. The reduced travel time for employees who telecommute also promotes savings in relation to gas prices and automobile maintenance and repair costs.
- Environmental Preservation — Telecommuting can help with the growing concern about global warming and energy conservation in today’s world. Currently, one of the largest sources of pollution in the United States is motor vehicles. Telecommuting significantly reduces traffic congestion and automobile emissions as well as providing a considerable potential for energy savings in the areas of on-site heating and cooling, lighting, automobile repair, and highway building and maintenance.
Of course, there can be some risks involved with setting up telecommuting programs. Working from home is certainly not appropriate for all employees or all positions. Those employees who are not self motivated may not do well in a work environment where they are not directly managed. There are also some positions and projects that benefit from face-to-face team dynamics and may require on-site interaction between team members. Some telecommuters have also reported working remotely can create an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, a disadvantage which may lead to being overlooked for promotions.
Developing clear policies and providing training for both telecommuters and managers who oversee remote workers can significantly reduce the risks associated with telecommuting programs. Overall communication should be emphasized to keep workers and management connected and companies must ensure that remote workers have the necessary technology and information securities in place in order to work effectively and efficiently from home computers. Built in reporting systems and accountability measures that gauge the impact that telecommuting is having on worker productivity are other good ways to ensure the success of your program.
Despite the risk factors associated with the start-up of a telework program, many employers agree that the benefits of telecommuting far outweigh the challenges and that incorporating a well managed telecommuting program can be an effective way to create a productive workforce.
Christa Heibel is the CEO of CH Consulting LLC. Still in her early thirties, Christa is regarded as an expert in the field of integrated marketing campaigns as well as effectively using technology for supporting sales and marketing efforts. An accomplished speaker, writer and sales trainer, Christa is looking forward to leading her many corporate clients and partners to similar growth over the next few years. She continues her commitment to staying active in the political arena, and plans to expand CH Consulting to actively managing telemarketing and other outreach campaigns for public officials.