Telecommuting is arguably one of the greatest benefits to evolve from the technological age. Who doesn’t want to wake up and drink coffee and work for the first couple of hours a day in their pajamas? I’m not the only one, right? Of course that’s not what it’s all about. The environmental benefits are exceptional: more telecommuting cuts traffic congestion and noise pollution, and thus carbon emissions and overall negative impacts on the environment. But is allowing employees to telecommute really the best business policy? How is worker productivity impacted, and is it a good thing or bad thing for an organization?
Surprisingly, the research and literature is pretty thin regarding impacts to worker productivity. Part of the problem is that there is no established solid metric for measuring “productivity” in the workplace. Of these studies that do exist, results are often conflicting regarding the effects that telecommuting as on productivity – which directly impacts a company’s bottom line. For example, a study by Futurestep found that telecommuters were as productive, or more productive, than workers in the traditional office setting. Another study by E. Glenn Dutcher, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, concludes that telecommuting effects may have positive implications on productivity of creative tasks, but negative implications on productivity during performance of dull tasks, such as data entry. To understand the all of the benefits and/or drawbacks of telecommuting, three primary players that need to be considered include the environment, the employer, and the employee.
Again, we know the primary way that the environment is benefitted when companies implement a telecommuting policy. Let’s look at just a couple of statistics anyway:
- Estimated that 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline could be conserved annually if every U.S. worker with the ability to telecommute did so 1.6 days per week. (Electronics Association)
- Booz Allen conducted a study that concluded that if half its workforce worked form home just one day a week, office space facility costs would be reduced by at least 10%.
According to The Citrix Global Workshifting Index, 93% of organizations will have implemented telecommuting by the end of 2013 – up from 37% in April, 2012. For the employer, this means that employees are more and more strongly considering the option to telecommute as a significant benefit. Thus, not only does the employee benefit, but by offering this incentive, employers are better able to retain their talent. This has huge implications when considering recruitment and training costs. In addition, telecommuting allows employers to consider reducing their real estate costs by reducing their overall amount of office space. Other overhead costs can be reduced such as desktop computers, office furniture, and land lines.
Telecommuting for the employee includes other benefits besides just being able to work in their pajamas. Telecommuting generally provides greater flexibility, and thus job satisfaction and morale through the ability to control one’s own time. This is especially true when considering the amount of time saved from the commute, as well as saving money through reduced commuting expenses. Telecommuting also allows for more increased work/life balance, giving people more time to spend with their families, to exercise (healthy living has other indirect cost saving implications for the employer), or pursuing personal interests. Reduced stress is also a big factor, whether related to commuting or pressures faced in the office environment.
In the end, each employer is ultimately responsible for determining its own benefits, if they exist, to allowing employees to telecommute – and how often. In this examination, an employer has to take a long look at itself and determine what is best for itself. Not only does this include impacts to the bottom line, but also the overall management style they choose to adopt. Does an employer trust its employees? Do they trust they’ve done their due-diligence in hiring the right people – people that have the ability to identify and adjust to distractions (either in the workplace or elsewhere)?
Personally, I think there are significant benefits to spending time in the office with coworkers and managers, especially early in one’s career. This gives you the opportunity to build relationships and seek out those mentors that are going to help you develop into the best you can be. However, I also deeply believe in flexibility and the option to work outside of the office when necessary. Sometimes there are more distractions at the office, and a few hours working from home or the local coffee shop can be as productive as spending an entire day in the office. Find the right fit for you.
*Title thanks to Citrix