It might come as a shock that as of 2010, over 2.6 million Americans telecommute. That’s over 20 percent of the U.S. working adult population. On a global scale, 20 percent telecommute, and 10 percent of those telecommute everyday. The workplace landscape has drastically changed, and we’re not just talking stand-up desks and exercise balls for chairs. In fact, 43 percent of employers surveyed said they work remotely more often than they did three years ago. Improved security and the progress of cloud computing and have allowed more people to take their work home with them. Of course, there are both perks and pitfalls associated with telecommuting. The question is, do the risks outweigh the rewards?
According to The Atlantic magazine, workers are more engaged and productive when they have control of their own time. These employees working outside the office work 21 percent harder than their in-office peers and are 33 percent less likely to leave their organization (according to the Corporate Leadership Council). In fact, 89 percent of respondents consider the opportunity to work remotely as one of three main perks (the other two are salary and reputation). Similarly, out of 950 technology professionals surveyed, just over 30 percent would accept a 10 percent pay cut if they could work full time from home. Priorities are clearly changing.
The flexibility that accompanies telecommuting can be interpreted as both a time-waster and a work-booster. A 10-year review by the Telework Research Network of about 2,000 employees has shown that flexibility actually allows employees to work when they are most productive, whether it be 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.–3:00 a.m., or somewhere in between. Plus, downtime is reduced since employees don’t have to lose a full day’s work to attend to personal business.
Commuting is expensive. The Telework Research Network calculates that a typical two-day-a-week telecommuter in Canada can save an average of $2,000 a year in commuting costs, and gain the equivalent of nine workdays that would have been spent commuting. Not to mention the savings from having one less body in the office.
A worldwide study at Brigham Young University showed telecommuters were able to work 57 hours a week before their job affected their personal life. In-office workers say the same at about 37 hours. Commuting stress and office pressures are also alleviated, improving the work-life balance.
One obvious downside of telecommuting is the security risk involved. Despite the increased use of firewalls and VPNs, there is always a risk of private corporate information ending up in the wrong hands.
The biggest concerns today are:
- Employees accessing corporate networks and company data from unsecured wi-fi networks or free wi-fi hotspots (e.g., doing company work from a Starbucks)
- Employees accessing corporate networks from unsecured personal computers
- Employees storing sensitive information on personal computers or devices
- Employees downloading personal applications or programs onto work computers, exposing them to potential viruses or malware
Improvements in remote computing have virtually eliminated any technological barriers requiring employees to stay in the office to accomplish their tasks. However, this evolution is accompanied by privacy issues that come with allowing employees to work outside of the controlled work environment. Internet privacy, especially the monitoring of web browsing, has become a hotly debated topic. Since telecommuting hasn’t quite become the norm yet, some organizations feel the need to watch over their teleworkers to ensure the work is being done. The question then becomes how far is too far in terms of monitoring information? Moreover, some organizations have no policy regarding sensitive information on personal computers or what to do in case an employee leaves the organization and had been using a personal computer containing sensitive company information.
While the perks for employees are several, employers tend to see the risks first, and you can’t blame them. Telecommuting policies are essential in this respect. Employers shouldn’t be discouraged by the risks associated with telecommuting, as long as its properly managed and risks be methodically reduced.
About the author
Meghan Tooley is a commerce student and active online blogger from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She often offers her views on employment trends in the recruitment industry. She writes on behalf of Metric Marketing, a Winnipeg SEO firm.