Telecommuting is a popular perk that attracts the attention of potential employees and increases morale of current employees – but not without controversy. When Yahoo's Marissa Mayers dismantled the long-standing work-from-home policy for her employees, she cited the decrease in collaboration and innovation when employees regularly worked away from the company environment. Employees raged and many saw this move as an indictment on the benefits of working from home from the tech world. The question remained though: does working from home boost productivity or does it isolate and demotivate your employees?
While the Department of Labor doesn't offer granularity on the distinct benefits of telecommuting, a 2012 review stated the number of positions that could accommodate telecommuting was rapidly increasing, with 24 percent of employees currently reporting working some hours from home. For workers who are allowed to telecommute, 82 percent reported lower stress levels, 80 percent reported higher morale, and 69 percent reported lower absenteeism. In addition, remote work options led 87 percent of employees to state they feel more engaged with their organization leading to a twenty percent increase in overall productivity.
Companies gain more than just productivity from employees who work from home. There are savings that can be quantified in the form of decreased rent, utilities, and employee turnover. In a nine month study conducted at Ctrip, a Chinese travel website, researchers found that telecommuting saved the organization approximately $1,900 per employee. Companies also can advance their green initiatives with work-from-home policies by reducing carbon emissions from commuting and transitioning more policies and procedures online rather than printed material. The savings found with work-from-home policies can save companies thousands annually while improving morale.
Regardless of the overall benefits of telecommuting, there are some employees who simply do not thrive in a remote environment. In the study conducted at Ctrip, employees were given the option of working from home. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that employees who opted to work from home and whose work performance decreased voluntarily chose to return to the workplace. As with any change to workflow, assessing each employee individually can help identify which employees can excel with a work-from-home option and which will struggle without the structure found in a workplace.
While the overall picture for telecommuting is positive, understanding the drawbacks is pivotal to implementing a successful and positive work-from-home policy. Unfortunately, there are some positions that simply cannot accommodate telecommuting. Whether it's a highly cooperative position or one that requires employee presence, identifying which positions are best suited to a work-from-home policy is imperative to implementing telecommuting successfully.
Another drawback of telecommuting for employees is the breakdown of personal time and professional time that some employees face. The report released by the Department of Labor in 2012 found that, on average, employees who worked from home reported spending up 45 hours a week performing work duties, five hours more than their cubicle counterparts. This increase in work hours can be the result of blending the lines of personal and professional work. Employers need to be diligent in ensuring that employees use work time appropriately and don't suffer from decreased morale due to increase time spent working.
Telecommuting can be a strong perk for employees and a simple way for employers to cut costs and increase productivity, if implemented correctly. For a work-from-home policy to be successful, employers need to identify the right positions as well as the right employees for telecommuting. Assess the total picture and consider increasing your company's productivity with telecommuting.