More than just a passing trend, telecommuting has been on the rise for almost a decade and many businesses are seeing the benefits in the form of cost savings. According to a report from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, telework increased nearly 80 percent from 2005 to 2012.
Both workers and businesses are embracing the trend. Workers see telecommuting as a way to have greater freedom away from the baggage that comes with working in an office setting. Working from home means not worrying about ironing out wrinkled shirts in the morning, looking busy in front of a nosy boss or keeping on top of office politics.
For businesses, telecommuting means smaller office space requirements, greater staff flexibility, and happier workers. According to a study from the Telework Research Institute, the business benefits of telework include higher employee satisfaction, fewer unscheduled absences and lower attrition – which costs a business in terms of money and lower productivity. Video Conferencing with Blue Jeans Network is one of the fastest way of telecommuting.
The report also found that the average office space can cost over $16,000 a year and telecommuting reduces that cost by about 18 percent. According to a 2013 story on telecommuting from the Christian Science Monitor, telecommuting also saves businesses in terms of energy costs. A Sun Microsystems program that has almost 20,000 employees working remotely has used about half the amount of energy that would have been used if the employee worked in-house, the story said.
Cindy Auten, a general manager at Mobile Work Exchange, told the Monitor that telecommuting is now being used as an important tool for recruiting and keeping workers. “We are seeing a generation entering the workforce that has grown up on the Internet and is comfortable with new technology,” Auten says. “They want their employer to trust them to get the work done even if they are doing it remotely.”
Trust and Other Barriers
A 2013 report from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, titled Federal Telework — Obstacles and Opportunities, found that managerial resistance and cultural issues are the main barriers to widespread adoption of telecommuting. The report included numerous comments from anonymous respondent that said managerial trust and resistance to change were major barriers when it comes to adopting a telecommuting workplace.
“Many managers will admit that the trust isn’t there and they know their employees already don’t produce, so holding them accountable outside the office would be impossible,” the respondent said.
“Some supervisors still want a great amount of detail as to how teleworkers spent their day and what they accomplished, (but) they don’t ask the employees that work in the office about daily accomplishments,” another said.
Internet security was another obstacle cited by the report. For those working at financial institutions or governmental agencies, the threat of hacking is very real and these bodies need to consider measures to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.
Inadequate IT infrastructure was found to be another obstacle. Lack of web-based meeting solutions, difficulty in arranging conference calls and slow connection speeds were all named as technical barriers to adopting telework.
Other obstacles named in the report included a lack of agency commitment, ineffective training, and lack of funding.
Overcoming Obstacles to Telework
The GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com report also provided a number of solutions for overcoming Telework Obstacles.
Leadership initiatives, the report said, could be used to increase adoption of telework. The report authors cited workplace experts who say “a visible and unwavering commitment from leadership” is the only way office policies change. To change managerial attitudes, the report authors suggested having them telecommute once per week. The researchers cited studies that have found managers who telecommute realize they are able to stay connected to the office, be productive and achieve set goals.
Another solution for change is the setting aside of monies for telework training, the report said. More than 60 percent of respondents said a specific training budget would “likely” or “definitely” help. An additional 25 percent said a designated budget “might” help.
The report also described several training and standardization initiatives that companies looking to adopt a telecommuting policy might want to think about, such as security training and the development of results-based guidelines.
The Results of Telecommuting
If a business or government agency is able to overcome obstacles to adopting telework, they may find that it actually increases productivity and leads to growth. According to a 2013 analysis from research firm IDC, companies with telecommuting policies tend to grow faster than those without them.
The report, based on an analysis of over 810 companies, also found that telecommuting companies with employees that work remotely for at least three times a month were more likely to show revenue growth of 10 percent or higher within the last year, compared to companies without telecommuters.
While this isn’t necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship, it does give a glimpse into the corporate culture of fast-growing companies.