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The Benefits and Risks of Telecommuting

Many companies boarded the telecommuting bandwagon in the early 2000s — and with screen-sharing technology and so many virtual meeting options, who can blame them? Employees loved telecommuting because it saved them time and money and gave them the flexibility they craved for things like doctors’ appointments, school pickups, and errands — although that last one probably wasn’t included in companies’ policies.

The Benefits and Risks of Telecommuting

Telecommuting works great for self-motivated employees who can handle their responsibilities and treat telecommuting like the privilege it truly is. For other employees, it doesn’t work as well. But the pendulum can swing in the other direction too — many managers have no problem contacting employees for non-emergencies during off-hours or dumping extra work on them with the expectation that employees will comply to keep their telecommuting privileges.

There’s no question — telecommuting blurs the line between work and personal life. However, telecommuting has more than doubled in the past decade and continues to be a hot-button issue with both benefits and drawbacks.

Here are the many benefits your company can reap when you allow your employees to work from home:

  • A Stanford economics professor linked telecommuting to higher productivity, shorter breaks, and less sick leave.
  • You’ll save money on office space by having employees telecommute. The same study found that companies can save about $2,000 per telecommuter. If you allow telecommuting, you will want to have flexible desk space, conference areas, or other workplace substitutes available for employees if you need them to come into the office occasionally.
  • Geographic restrictions evaporate when you allow employees to work remotely 100 percent of the time. You can hire the best talent, no matter where they’re located.
  • If you are a startup, every minute counts when you are getting your company off the ground. If you allow telecommuting, your team won’t waste one precious minute of the day commuting.

However, keep the risks of telecommuting in mind:

  • Managers don’t always trust that employees are productive when not on site. If you choose to incorporate a telecommuting policy, you must foster a culture that embraces it.
  • Not all employees are self-motivated enough to work without being surrounded by their peers. To combat this, ensure that telecommuters have comfortable, designated home office spaces. Make your expectations clear about what happens during work hours. Primary child care, for example, should not take place during work hours. Have a scheduling plan in place for telecommuters and use the same performance-based measurement system for telecommuters and in-office employees.
  • Some employees may feel isolated when they are cut off from office life. Create opportunities for employees to meet occasionally for business or social purposes.
  • Security concerns increase when employees work from home. To combat cybersecurity threats, make sure all employees use a VPN to connect to the office network. Password-protect all systems, encrypt files, and educate employees about security practices. Put your system administrator in charge of developing and enforcing security procedures for home-based workers.
  • Employers may be liable if an accident occurs in a telecommuter’s home. Check your local laws and with your insurance company about the risks associated with telecommuters.

Last year, IBM, one of the biggest influencers on telecommuting, tightened its telecommuting policy by requiring more than 2,600 off-site employees to reside in one of six designated cities or face termination. Yahoo, Best Buy, and Bank of America have also pulled remote workers back into offices in recent years. Some companies cite the better collaboration among employees; others that fell on hard times cite that they need workers in the office for an all-hands-on-deck approach.

Your company and its needs are unique. Make sure to find a happy medium and choose whichever telecommuting option is best for it.

Editor’s note: This post has not been updated to reflect the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Telecommuting is obviously going to remain a major part of our lives in the coming years. The big unanswered question is when, and how much, companies mandate employees return to the office, and for how much of the work week. Stay tuned.

Akira is the Founder & CEO of Cayenne Consulting. He has over 30 years of experience both as an entrepreneur and helping other entrepreneurs succeed. Akira earned his BA in Engineering Sciences from Harvard University. View details.

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