Career advancement website HowDoIBecomeA.net recently featured an infographic on trends in telecommuting around the world. Apparently, one in five workers globally telecommutes frequently, and seven percent of workers work from home every day. Research shows that six in ten workers worldwide would telecommute full-time if their employer allowed it. Why do employers not allow it? In Canada, about 37 percent of workers say their employer needs them to be at their workplace. There are some mixed feelings about telecommuting, but a look at this infographic might just change some employers’ minds.
Retaining women in the workplace
Telecommuting would help keep an average of 83 percent of talented women in the workforce instead of leaving to raise children. The top five countries experiencing this effect included Turkey (93 percent), Indonesia (90 percent), India (89 percent), Japan (89 percent) and Poland (89 percent). This is clearly critical given the demographics and the need to retain workers in the workforce. With the flexibility of telecommuting, employers can experience less turnover and cost in finding replacements, and employees can continue working, earning income and avoiding career breaks that unfortunately contribute to the gender wage gap.
Preventing extra stress on employees
Another point is that an average of 83 percent of telecommuters have less stress because they spend less time in their workplace and can better arrange their personal affairs. The top five countries experiencing this effect include Russia (90 percent), Turkey (90 percent), Japan (88 percent), South Korea (88 percent) and China (86 percent). This is also an important benefit; employers whose employees are stressed out experience more costs when dealing with stress-related illnesses and absences, and employees suffer with health-related issues. A telecommuting arrangement can help prevent these issues and ensure that employees remain healthier and productive.
Promoting a healthier work-life balance among employees
Additionally, it was revealed that an average of 78 percent of telecommuters have a better work-family balance. The top five countries experiencing this effect include India (86 percent), Indonesia (85 percent), China (85 percent), Russia (85 percent) and Spain (85 percent). This trend is especially important these days, as working conditions in many workplaces cause an unhealthy work-life balance. When employees lack work-life balance, they tend to become ill, depressed, anxious, neglectful of family, overcome by addictions, unfit (rating low in cardiovascular, strength and flexibility performance), and generally poorly equipped to maintain strong work performance. Both employers and employees benefit when the employee has a healthy work-life balance: employers see more productive performers and employees are generally healthier.
But there are some drawbacks
One of the main drawbacks to telecommuting is not seeing one’s co-workers face-to-face. The top countries experiencing this effect include India (78 percent), Saudi Arabia (78 percent), France (75 percent), Sweden (75 percent) and Great Britain (74 percent). This is a serious drawback because human beings need to maintain social connections in order to thrive. This problem can be overcome, however, by ensuring that the workplace has regular get-togethers and social/wellness engagements such as company celebrations. Employees can also try working from home on a part-time basis so they have a mix of both worlds. Further, the employer can have a policy in place to check in on employees and ensure that they are getting out and interacting with others.
Another drawback is that an telecommuters often feel that working remotely makes them less likely to be promoted. The top five countries experiencing this effect include Saudi Arabia (71 percent), India (70 percent), France (66 percent), Russia (66 percent) and Turkey (65 percent). This is understandable, because those employees who are always around the office are seen more often and the employer wants to reward their work, which is plain to see. However, employers can avoid this pitfall by recognizing that telecommuters are also working hard, but just in a different location. Employers who focus on results are less likely to struggle with this issue than employers who reward long hours in the office. This trend is especially troubling for those employees who work from home and are being accommodated under human rights legislation, and could lead to a legal challenge. Employers cannot avoid promoting an employee just because they fall into one of the categories in the legislation (for example, just because they have a disability or are a mother to a young child). Awareness is the first step to avoiding this problem.
Another drawback is that telecommuting can actually create conflict by blurring the boundaries between work and family life. The top five countries experiencing this effect include India (77 percent), Saudi Arabia (66 percent), Japan (62 percent), Great Britain (60 percent) and South Korea (60 percent). This problem can be prevented by putting clear boundaries in place. For instance, just because an employee is able to check work emails by stepping into a nearby room, that does not mean that the employee is on call 24 hours per day seven days per week. It should be understood that telecommuting employees will check emails and phone messages during work hours only.
To allow telecommuting or not to allow telecommuting; that is the question
Given the benefits of telecommuting, one may wonder how long it will take before most of the workforce works from home. The number is already increasing significantly. A 2008 survey found that 40 percent of Canadian employers offered telecommuting that year, compared to only 25 percent in 2007.
Other studies have reported that there are great savings for employers who allow their employees to telecommute. Recent research has found that employers can save over $10,000 per year for each employee who telecommutes two days per week. This happens because there is a reduction of costs, absenteeism and turnover. As well, there is an increase in productivity and morale.
What’s more, when employers allow employees to telecommute, they send the message that they agree that flexibility and work-life balance are important. This has the effect of attracting new employees, developing a more diverse workforce and increasing a sense of teamwork. The other effect is that the flexibility of telecommuting allows employees to coordinate their work and personal schedules, and this reduces stress from work-life conflicts, such as parental and caregiver responsibilities. Consequently, employees experience improved general health, and this in turn, means more savings for the employer.
That is not all. Workers who work from home experience fewer interruptions such as idle talk throughout the day, long lunches and gossip. They can manage their time more effectively, and depending on the arrangement, work in the hours that are most convenient to them. When employees feel trusted and empowered, they are more satisfied in their jobs, and less likely to leave and create extra costs for the employer.
We have not even talked about the fact that some telecommuters live far from the office. Working from home could mean saving two to five hours of driving per day—in good weather. An employee who does not get stuck in traffic is a happier employee, and this means more savings for the employer. Along the same lines, employees who are not leaving a carbon footprint driving to work each day also feel content that they are doing good, and this results in increased productivity and morale.
Telecommuters also do not expose themselves to other people’s cold/flu germs because they are at home happily working instead of getting sick and becoming absent.
But does this mean that the telecommuting employees typically work fewer hours and not as hard? No. They actually often work longer hours, and the work should show that they work just as hard if not harder. There may be less opportunity to micromanage an employee, but does the employer really want to micromanage an employee, or show that the employer trusts the employee? In order to retain good employees, there has to be a level of trust, and this does not mean that the employer has completely lost control of the employee.
Does this mean that there are challenges to work scheduling? There need not be, as long as there is clear communication and an agreement between the employer and employee about what work is required.
Does this mean there are security issues regarding company property? Any information that is sensitive can be encrypted using modern computers, and any company property that an employee must use can be provided on the understanding of certain rules, set out in company policies and procedures.
Does this mean there will be a negative change in team dynamics? There need not be. Existing workplace technology facilitates phone and video conferencing, and employers can be in contact with employees through a variety of channels. There may be a different work process when some or all of the team works from home, but that does not mean it is negative. The changes may srepresent a more efficient way of working and communicating with co-workers.
Employers may see many benefits to telecommuting other than not having to pay for extra snacks in the kitchen; they should have healthier, happier, well-adjusted employees who are eager to work because they are enjoying and appreciating their good working conditions.
Perhaps one day, the “office” will be a thing of the past.
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor