Telecommuting – when regular workers complete their tasks from a location other than an office – is becoming more prevalent in companies of all sizes and types. From 2005 to 2017,1 the number of people that telecommute increased by 159%. Currently, 62% of businesses worldwide2 have a flexible workplace policy.
Recent events have brought telecommuting into the forefront of everyone’s mind, as companies, and many state/local governments have restricted on-site work, and more employees are working from home - with varying degrees of success.
Why the Growth?
Improvements in technology such as, high-speed internet, video conferencing, collaborative messaging, and the cloud, have helped to make voluntary telecommuting a more viable option for many jobs, and many employers.
Telecommuting may be offered as an option on a part-time or full-time basis, depending on a number of factors: the company, the job requirements, and the employee themselves. As we have discovered, too, it is important to have a comprehensive telecommuting policy in place, and the technology to support it, to support business continuity in the event of a crisis.
Related Reading: Remote Working Now is an Investment in the Future
When establishing a telecommuting policy, it is important to look at the situation from the points of view of key stakeholders: employees, managers, clients, customers - all parties affected by a change in work processes.
Advantages of a Telecommuting Policy
1. Cost Savings
Nearly 6 out of 10 companies report3 cost savings: up to $10,000 per full-time telecommuter per year. IBM cut real estate costs by $50 million, and Sun Microsystems cut theirs by $68 million. Dow Chemical reported a 30% decrease in non-real estate savings after instituting a work from home policy.
2. Attract Top Candidates
A company that allows remote work expands the pool of available talent beyond their locality and should be included in your recruiting strategy. The ideal candidate for an open position may reside somewhere else - but telecommuting makes them a viable candidate, alleviating geographical restrictions. Moreover, allowing remote work may be a benefit that is attractive to candidates looking for a better work-life balance, making it easier to attract top candidates in a competitive environment.
3. Reduce Turnover
52% of companies that have instituted telecommuting report4 a significant reduction in turnover. This could be due to a number of factors: improved job satisfaction and employee morale, a better work-life balance, or perhaps work from home is a benefit that employers in your area aren’t offering. Retaining employees helps a company become more profitable, minimizing cost-to-hire, productivity loss, and training costs associated with high turnover.
Related: Is your cost-to-hire above average? Find out with the cost-to-hire calculator.
4. Reduce Unscheduled Absences
Companies that support work-from-home policies report5 a 63% reduction in unscheduled absences. This may be due to a number of factors: employees that call in sick are often not physically ill, but need time to manage family needs, personal issues or stress. With the flexibility of telecommuting, many of these things can be managed without unscheduled PTO. This causes less disruption to the organization, and lowers operational costs to the company.
5. Environmentally Sound
Telecommuting improves a company’s environmental impact. Fewer employees are commuting, reducing pollution, congestion, and traffic accidents. Energy consumption per employee is lower – an estimated 70% less energy6 is consumed by home office equipment compared to office equipment.
6. Employee Productivity
One of the main reasons that companies hesitate to offer telecommuting is because they are concerned with managing employee productivity. But many companies report that working remotely actually increases employee productivity: a two-year study at Stanford7 found a 100% boost in productivity among telecommuters.
Factors to Consider
With all of the advantages that telecommuting offers, there are downsides as well. Some things to consider when creating a telecommuting policy include:
Many tools exist to support collaboration between employees regardless of their location: videoconferencing for remote meetings; shared cloud drives for access to data or documents; instant messaging for on-the-fly conversations between individuals, teams and projects. However, there is research to support the fact that remote workers are less collaborative than those in-office, and that chance collaborations – run-ins with fellow employees – improve business outcomes.
One study at IBM8 found that software engineers working remotely created code that was less integrated with other members of the team, increasing timelines by up to 32%. This is a particularly negative outcome in a business environment that emphasizes agility and speed-to-market.
A successful telecommuting policy would not only define the tools that should be used for communicating between employees and customers, but would also define user expectations. For example, is there a standard for conference calls - video or audio? Do they follow an agenda? Has everyone been educated on video call etiquette? Is there an expectation of how quickly an employee must respond to an inquiry - from an internal team member, or from a client or customer?
Related Reading: 9 Tips for Effectively Onboarding Remote Employees
Managing data security becomes more complicated when the workforce is distributed throughout separate locations. Personal devices may not adhere to corporate antivirus and security protocols, and shared drives may be accessed on unsecured networks – for example, if your remote worker is at a library, or a Starbucks. Outside of a physical office, devices, data, and physical papers or files are more vulnerable to loss and theft.
A successful telecommuting policy will include data security strategies, including methods for accessing sensitive data, utilizing home networks, public networks, or VPNs, and minimizing vulnerabilities to protect sensitive data.
3. Increased Engagement isn’t a Given
While numerous studies support the idea that telecommuting increases employee engagement, not all of the data agrees. A 2018 Workplace Trends study9 found that only 5% of employees who telecommute all or most of the time believe they will stay at their company their entire careers, compared to 28% of employees who never work from home. The full-time telecommuters noted frustrations with a lack of face time, and difficulty building deep relationships with coworkers.
Related Reading: Employee Engagement Strategies That Really Work
When creating a telecommuting policy, consider methods to support remote workers and keep them engaged. Regular, formal team meetings are important to ensure that all employees are informed and have the resources they need - but often, it is the informal interactions that are missed the most. Some companies have an online coffee break, where any available employee can dial in to a video call link and chat - not about work! Others have facilitated online happy hours, online team video gaming, even joint participation in podcasts, TED talks or online educational courses.
4. Legal Considerations
There are legal ramifications to every decision a company makes that affects their employee working conditions. With telecommuting, you must consider:
- Liability: what is your policy if an employee is injured while working from home? Who is responsible in the event of a data breach?
- Compliance: how can you ensure compliance with employment law, such as federal EEOC regulations; or privacy regulations, like HIPAA?
- Discrimination: if not all jobs are eligible for telecommuting, have you considered whether this has a disparate impact on a protected group?
As with all changes to employee benefits and working conditions, there is a lot to think about when considering work-from-home policies for employees. On the positive side, it can reduce costs and turnover, while improving productivity and engagement. At certain times, it is a matter of necessity, to respond to changes in the business environment rather than a matter of choice or preference.
Telecommuting can also be a key benefit for attracting and retaining top talent, which can be a defining advantage in a competitive labor market. However, a telecommuting policy must take into account the possibility of legal, security, and collaboration issues for work-from-home to succeed.
A well-planned, detailed work-from-home strategy can accelerate benefits for telecommuters and for employers, while reducing negative impact. Create a comprehensive telecommuting policy to give your employees - and your company - the best opportunity for remote work success.
Sparks Group offers diversified staffing and recruiting services to help businesses attract and retain top talent. For more strategies to attract and retain top talent for your company, contact Sparks Group today or set up a free consultation with one of our talent acquisition professionals.