Management Tips

To Telecommute or Not to Telecommute—That is the Question!

by Ann Connor

Working from home is trending in the workforce today. And it’s a tempting trend, no less; one you’ve undoubtedly already toyed with. But it’s easy to see why—the benefits of working from home have been touted far and wide for both employer and employee alike (No commutes! Save money! Higher productivity!). And while these are all very well and good, it might be best to weigh these pros with their often-forgotten cons to see if telecommuting really is best for you or your company.

The Pros

No Commute: Okay, let’s hit the obvious one here—zero time spent in traffic (unless you count rolling out of bed as rush-hour). Not only does this save time, sometimes hours of precious time, it can also save a lot of gas money. Who doesn’t want that?

Flexible Scheduling: Gone are the days when mom or dad would have to miss little Sarah’s soccer game, or when Uncle Joe would wind up late (again!) for family dinner because they got stuck in rush-hour traffic. When working from home, employees can lead a more fulfilling social life by playing a more active role in their families and social circles. It also means that they can make their work schedules work forthem (not against them), creating less resentment towards their positions and responsibilities.

 Fewer Office Interruptions: The water cooler is gone. So are the office drop-ins and lunch breaks that ran over due to juicy office gossip. Working from home, when done right, can allow employees to focus all their time on the beginning-to-end of task completion without a single office interruption.

 Pajamas: Okay, so maybe working in your PJs isn’t for everyone (especially if you’re being Skyped for a conference call!) but the option is certainly there. And even if you choose a more put-together ensemble for your at-home work day, it will most likely cost less than your wardrobe of office attire, because let’s be real—when you work from home, you’re only putting on appearances for yourself.

 Higher Productivity Potential: When scheduling is in the hands of the employee, they get more done. Being able to make it to their kid’s rehearsal, their friend’s wedding, and still meet all their deadlines? Who wouldn’t feel like superman? With the time saved from unproductive commutes, and with the positivity telecommuter employees feel towards their jobs thanks to a flexible schedule, productivity is bound to boost.

 Money Savings: This is a win-win for both employer and employee. Not only do savings translate for the employee, thanks to a wear-what-you-like wardrobe and less money spent on gas, but they also translates for the employer, allowing for smaller office spaces and less money spent on office supplies and resources.

 The Cons

Slackness: Knowing that one’s supervisor is in an office building far, far away could potentially cause telecommuter employees to fall slack at times, especially if that employee has not established a strict and smart schedule. To ensure employees are on track and on their toes, regular in-office meetings may be a great way to encourage telecommuters to meet their deadlines and still feel like the boss is watching.

 At-Home Distractions: While we may have eliminated office distractions, working from home can present a whole set of new distractions—such as laundry, the dishes, and other household chores. Oh, and did we mention kids? Because these distractions are staring you in the face, they can be very difficult to ignore. However, thanks to less time spent commuting to an office, and a flextime in scheduling, hopefully these problems won’t peek up during at-home working hours.

 Isolation:  Without the office environment, a lot of that coworker camaraderie is totally lost. This can result in a feeling of not only isolation from the company but also a lack of competitive drive. It can also mean that, as projects develop inside office walls, telecommuter employees may not get a first-dibs opportunity to get on board. To counteract that, be sure that your telecommuter employees are updated on the comings and goings of the office home base, and visit regularly. 

 No IT Department: Technology, while it has made our lives easier in some ways, can be downright disruptive in others (read, when the scanner breaks and you can’t e-mail important documents). Unfortunately for those who telecommute, your SOL until either you head into the office or someone heads to you.

 Less Collaborative: Because telecommuters are more isolated from their fellow coworkers, it can often inhibit collaboration between unsuspecting employees. By keeping telecommuters in the loop, this can hopefully be avoided.

 Flexibility: Yes, I know, this is also a pro—but without a diligent schedule, and a definitive line between work and home life, employees may find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of flexibility their at-home situation provides. Not only that, working from home also gives the impression to other friends, family, and neighbors that you are available at any given time of day. While this is certainly a pro, when used liberally, it can backfire as a con.

Still a bit nervous that telecommuting might not be effective for your company? Don’t fret. There are many ways to combat the cons of working from home to ensure that both you and your employee reap all the benefits of its pros. Little things, like creating a “commute” or transition into the workday, defining clear lines between the home and work space, and staying connected to other coworkers can fend off the nasty cons that may inhibit the otherwise boastful bennies of working from home. For more tips on successfully working from home visit these links, here and here.

So, while telecommuting might not work for all your employees, there is certainly a case for those special circumstances where working from home really will boost productivity, like say that employee that spends over two hours on her commute—that’s two extra hours she could be clocking towards getting a project done, or checking off a house-chore to prevent any at-home workplace distractions!

How do you feel about working from home? Have you tried telecommuting with your company? Share your experiences with us!

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