To Telecommute or Not to Telecommute?

Today’s workplace telecommuting trends: Fact vs. fiction

by Anne Caldwell 

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Today’s workforce is changing. More than 80 percent of employees consider telecommuting a job perk, and 36 percent would sacrifice salary for the option of telecommuting at work, according to a survey conducted by Global Workplace Analytics. This begs the question: Should employers provide telecommuting options? The increased demand and employee popularity of telecommuting in the workplace has resulted in the upward trend of more than 37 percent of U.S. workers currently telecommuting, according to Gallup’s 2015 annual Work and Education Poll, but the debate on the benefits of telecommuting rages on. Technology has made working remotely, “telecommuting,” easier and ideal for employees, but is it beneficial to employers, too?

Many business owners are hesitant to implement telecommuting options for employees because they are afraid that telecommuting reduces employee productivity, quality of work and team collaboration — but studies show that when implemented properly, telecommuting is a win-win for both employees and employers. Here are the top three benefits of telecommuting in the workplace:

Morale Boosting: A study from Pennsylvania State University shows that telecommuters are generally less stressed and happier than those who work in an office. Why? Workplace flexibility and the option to work from home promotes a better work-life balance and empowers employees — resulting in employees being happier and feeling more valued. The happiness turns into gratitude, causing employees to become more invested in the company they work for, and to work harder. Workplace research shows that employees who spend at least some time working remotely are more likely to be engaged in their jobs than those who never work remotely. Even more eye opening is that today’s employees are increasingly willing to sacrifice other perks to be able to telecommute, including sacrificing a portion of their salary for the increased flexibility that working from home offers. In fact, as noted above, 36 percent would choose it over a pay raise.

Cost Effective: When implemented correctly, telecommuting increases business profit margins and streamlines business operations — and is cost effective for both employees and employers. It’s estimated that for each employee who telecommutes, a company saves about $11,000 annually, while employees save money on gas, food, office attire, etc. Employees who are given the option to telecommute are reportedly much happier (73%) with their employers and their ability to telecommute than traditional office workers (64%), says a study conducted by OnlineMBA.com. The study also shows that being happier in their jobs means employees are much more likely to stay in their positions, which saves a company a lot of money in employee turnover and leads to retaining top talent. Many business owners don’t realize the true value of retaining top talent; losing a valued employee can cost an employer $10,000 to $30,000, which doesn’t include the additional cost of recruiting and training a new hire, too. Telework has a high impact on employee retention, and can save a company thousands of dollars long-term.

Increased Productivity: Most business owners believe their employees will slack off if they are working from home, but one Stanford study showed that employees actually increased their productivity by 13 percent when allowed to work from home. Another study from University of Texas, Austin showed that telecommuters worked five to seven hours more than their in-office counterparts. Research consistently demonstrates that companies with a more engaged workforce tend to do better in a variety of business outcomes, including productivity, profitability and customer engagement. Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions, yet when allowing telecommuting, employers benefit by reducing workplace distractions, saving money and increasing productivity. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. workforce say they would like to telework at least part time. Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office). Eliminating commuting time often results in employees working more hours from home as well. Some employees also make it a point to be more productive when telecommuting in order to prove they’re meeting all the expectations of the job — and ensure they don’t lose out on the coveted benefit of telecommuting.

Many employers are also embracing telecommuting as a way to show their commitment to the environment, incorporating telecommuting options into their social and corporate responsibility initiatives. Telecommuting means fewer cars on the roads and, thus, less pollution. It also means less electricity used at the office. And these advantages are not appreciated only by management — studies show social and corporate responsibility is also important to today’s workforce.

Today’s employees, especially millennials, place more value on “life perks,” such as corporate culture, social responsibility and telecommuting options, than salary. Millennials are vital to today’s job market; with more than 87 million millennials in the U.S., this demographic comprises one third of the workforce. Millennials are one of Arizona’s largest resident populations, so it’s imperative to attract and retain top talent with unique company benefits that promote work and life balance, such as telework options.

The key to successfully implementing telecommuting in the workplace is identifying options and processes that are best for a business owner’s specific company needs and goals. One critical aspect of implementing a telecommuting policy is to be clear about which positions qualify for telecommuting, that is, which are capable of being done remotely. Another important consideration is whether the individual being considered for telecommuting has the skills and qualities that success on his own requires. Not everyone can be successful operating on his own. Although there is certainly considerable support from the office, successful telecommuting requires self-generation, high levels of organization and initiative. Business owners should develop an employee benefits package that includes telecommuting eligibility and options, telecommuting policies, and company tools and processes for success, too. It is best to implement internal company tools and processes — such as time tracking and monitoring programs and project management and collaboration tools — to analyze business operations, time and task allocation, and employee workloads. Ultimately, these tools will help business owners improve company efficiency and profitability, and cut costs effectively — from anywhere, at any time.

It is important that business owners adapt to today’s workforce and workplace trends in 2016, including telecommuting. Not only does telecommuting greatly benefit the environment, but it strengthens a company financially and creates a more invested, cohesive — and, most importantly, happy — workforce.

Anne Caldwell is the senior HR manager at National PEO in Scottsdale. National PEO is the leading human resource and business services provider in the U.S., managing human resource functions and back-office administrative duties for small and medium-sized businesses, including payroll, benefits, healthcare coverage, workers’ compensation, employee handbooks, and labor law compliance, to increase employer efficiency and cut operating costs.

Telecommuting in public relations

Scottsdale-based The Knight Agency, a boutique public relations, marketing and event agency, launched telecommuting options as a part of its company culture and employee perks, which produced the following results:

Efficiency: Each employee has a different working style, and telecommuting lets employees create their best work, says Erica Knight, president of The Knight Agency. Working remotely lets them plan and strategize without any office distractions, which is important in PR and its tight deadlines.

Empowerment: Working in an environment with telecommuting perks empowers employees and gives them control over their schedule and work efforts — making them feel valued.

Happiness: Employees are happier. Telecommuting minimizes micromanaging, creating a healthy and collaborative work environment that is contagious.

Increased Profits: Clients report they feel the employees’ energy and know they love their jobs, which is quantified by the success and results achieved for the clients. Knight reports this leads to new clients and increased revenue — and also retains top talent, which is vital in the PR industry with its high turnover rates.

The Knight Agency specializes in the hospitality, culinary, entertainment, nightlife, transportation, home and design, and wellness and fitness industries. —RaeAnne Marsh 

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