Six Organizational Benefits of Telecommuting©
Paul C. Boyd, Ph.D.
Telecommuting is the act of working at a remote location, usually at home, rather than traveling to and from an office. Telecommuters typically telecommute one to three days a week and commute to the office for the balance of the time.
From an organizational standpoint, telecommuting is justified when the costs are balanced by the benefits. If, as is most often the case, the benefits exceed the costs, telecommuting should be actively promoted. There are six benefits that should be considered.
1. Improved Employee Productivity:
Employees who telecommute (and their supervisors) have reported that they are more effective at home than when they work out of the office. The primary reason given is that the multiple, seemingly endless, interruptions at the office create a work pattern that is subject to repeated restarts. These interruptions occur when coworkers stop by to chat or supervisors pop in to ??check up.?? There is the additional aspect of the ??water cooler?? effect that saps productivity. The restarts from these interruptions absorb additional time while employees ??catch up?? to where they were prior to the interruption.
While the social aspects of work are important to employees, there are times when these activities detract from their work. Positions that telecommute two or three days per week find that they can be more effective when at home, yet still maintain professional and social relationships at the office.
2. Schedule Flexibility: Telecommuters are more productive when they can schedule their actual work time a.) during their most effective periods and b.) around the other demands in their lives.
Some individuals are morning people, others are more productive at night. Telecommuters have the ability to schedule work to accommodate their own internal clocks.
They also find that they can more easily balance their work with other demands in their lives. Such demands include: time with family members and time running personal errands.
Telecommuting is not considered a substitute for child or day care. It does, however, provide telecommuters with greater flexibility in scheduling this type of care.
3. Increased Time Available for Work: Telecommuters contend that it takes productive time out of the work day to ??wind down?? from, and mentally prepare for, the stress associated with commuting to and from work. This is time that is available and productive to them when they work at home.
This increased time is not time that the employee would have normally spent commuting. The time referred to here is scheduled time that is not available as a consequence of the stress caused by traveling to work. (For these programs to be successful, it is important that telecommuting not be viewed as a management tool for getting more time out of employee??s lives.)
Additional savings of productive time are often realized as a result of the reduced use of sick time to meet personal or family needs. Not surprisingly, telecommuters report that they are less likely to take a sick day in order to be home for deliveries or repairs, or to take children to important appointments.
4. Overhead Reductions: Organizations with sophisticated and well-planned telecommuting programs have found a number of ways to reduce the space and furnishing requirements for employees. Organizations with a large number of telecommuters have actually reduced their office space requirements, and, consequently, their rents, by insisting that telecommuting employees share desks and other resources at their company facilities. This type of savings can be recognized when organizations schedule their employee??s telecommuting days appropriately.
Some organizations go so far as to treat office space as ??hotel suites?? that can be reserved in advance or assigned when telecommuters ??check-in?? on days when they commute. In these organizations, an individual??s telephone number can be routed to whichever office suite they happen to be occupying.
Some organizations provide sophisticated telecommunications services for their telecommuters. For example, office telephone numbers can be routed anywhere the employee happens to be: a regular office, a shared suite, a client??s location, or the home office. The caller has no way of knowing where the person is at the time of the call.
Organizations have reported up to 30% reductions in overhead by requiring sales and service personnel to telecommute.
5. Improved Employee Retention and Attraction: Employees who have experienced the benefits of telecommuting programs tend to prefer these work arrangements and seek out similar opportunities. These employees are attracted to positions and organizations that offer telecommuting programs. Recent advertise-ments in such newspapers as the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe have recruited for positions that allow telecommuting.
Employers also use telecommuting to keep employees who, for various personal reasons, find that they can no longer commute to their offices. Organizations find, for example, that when the spouse of a valuable employee is forced to relocate, the employee may be retained through the use of telecommuting.
Telecommuting is also a mechanism for recruiting persons with disabilities. These may be individuals who are excluded from the work force solely on the basis of their inability to commute to and from an office. (Employers with persons with disabilities as telecommuters should take care to provide for some social interaction among all their employees.)
6. Program Continuity: Telecommuting also serves as a mechanism to avoid or minimize external impacts on projects and programs. Telecommuters are less likely to use sick days for their own minor illnesses. Rather than take sick time and be unproductive for the entire day, telecommuters often find that the opportunity to work at home allows projects to proceed (and without risking the health of their office mates).
Telecommuting is also useful in minimizing the impacts of other occurrences, such as extremely inclement weather, highway construction, or special events (e.g., the Olympics). In the Snow Belt, ??snow days?? at local schools force many parents to stay at home, rather than go to work, in order to supervise children usually at school. And even employees without children can find it difficult to even get to the office. These interruptions play havoc with deadlines and deliverables. Organizations with telecommuting programs in place are much less affected by the weather.
Telecommuting has been embraced in hundreds of organizations in a wide range of industries. The benefits of telecommuting (improved employee efficiency, schedule flexibility, increased time available for work, overhead reductions, improved employee retention and attraction, and program continuity) are desirable outcomes for any management process. Consequently, telecom-muting is a valuable management strategy for improving the effectiveness of any organization.
© Paul C. Boyd, 1996; all rights reserved.