Not long ago, working from home was a dream that only certain managers and owners could achieve. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. in March 2020, many workplaces had to rapidly adopt a telecommuting model for most, if not all, of the workweek. The ensuing months have revealed telecommuting advantages and disadvantages for the modern workforce.
If you’re wondering whether to continue (or start) allowing remote work for your employees, here are the pros and cons of telecommuting.
What Is Telecommuting?
Telecommuting is simply the practice of working from home. Employers who implement a telecommuting arrangement allow their employees to work remotely instead of commuting to an office building, warehouse or store.
Advances in technology have increased the practice’s efficiency, making it possible for employees to stay connected with everything they have at the office when they work from home.
Research from Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom reports that as of June 2020, 42% of workers were telecommuting. This is a huge jump from 2018, when about 3.6% of the workforce was telecommuting, according to Global Workplace Analytics.
The Benefits of Telecommuting for Employers and Employees
1. Boost In Productivity
According to Global Workplace Analytics, companies lose over $600 billion a year due to workplace distractions. Talk around the watercooler and interruptions by coworkers can prevent your employees from reaching maximum productivity.
While lost employee productivity is usually considered a telecommuting disadvantage for employers, research shows that concern is misplaced. One of the advantages of telecommuting is that home offices tend to be a more productive space for them because it caters to their individual preferences.
Of the workers GWA surveyed, 77% reported increased productivity when telecommuting. And nearly half of the surveyed employees (47%) claimed the time they would have spent commuting was now devoted to work.
2. Better Work-Life Balance
A boost in employee efficiency is among the benefits of telecommuting because workers aren’t exposed to the same distractions of a traditional office setting and because it provides a better balance between work and life outside of it.
Working at home removes many stressors that can come with office life, such as interacting personally with difficult coworkers. Telecommuters can focus on their job while keeping a close eye on personal responsibilities. For example, removing daily travel is one of the advantages of telecommuting, leaving more time to do chores and removing parental stress from picking up and dropping off children at school or daycare on top of commuting to and from the office.
Morale is key to a happy and productive workforce and healthy bottom line; working from home can exponentially increase it.
3. Decreasing Company Costs
Business owners are always looking for ways to minimize costs. GWA surveys show that 6 out of 10 employers point to cost savings as a significant reason they offer telecommuting. One of the advantages of telecommuting employees is that you can cut down on the costs you pay to accommodate them. GWA reports that an employer can save about $11,000 per year for every employee who telecommutes only part-time.
A few common costs that telecommuting programs can help your small business cut are:
- Office supplies
- Coffee and snacks
- Cleaning services
Saving money on the little things can make an immediate impact on your business’s monthly costs and, if you embrace a full-telecommuting environment, there’s even more to save.
If most of your employees work from home full-time, you’ll notice you’re left with a large, expensive office that doesn’t fit your current needs. If you embrace one of the benefits of telecommuting and go fully digital, you might be able to justify getting rid of your office or at least downsizing. This can be a considerable expense lifted from your books that can free up capital for new projects or business expansion.
4. Potentially Longer Employee Tenures
The monetary and resource cost of onboarding new hires is a large expense and stressor for small business owners like you. Bringing in new staff means getting them the tools they need to succeed. This can mean new equipment, materials and training courses to get them up to speed on your industry. One of the benefits of telecommuting is that it can reduce this burden.
Employees will stick around because they prefer telecommuting. As part of their 2018 employee survey, GWA learned that 36% would choose to work remotely over a pay raise. Of them, 80% consider it a job perk. A 2020 GWA survey reports that 26% of employees would agree to take up to a 10% pay cut to telecommute. This is increasingly important as newer generations of employees become aware of the benefits of telecommuting and see it as a priority in the job search.
When you weigh the telecommuting pros and cons, remember that cutting out the commute and working from home will be a way to keep your current employees performing productively for decades.
5. Better Personal Health and Better Environment
One of the advantages of telecommuting in 2020 was reducing the COVID-19 transmission rate among workplace staff members. Even before the pandemic, however, employees coming to work with colds or other viruses was a concern. Some workers, feeling it’s irresponsible to call out when sick, would return to the office before they’d recovered, leading to prolonged illness and spreading diseases to their coworkers. Offices are breeding grounds for germs, so one of the benefits of telecommuting is that staying home reduces recovery time, and it keeps your other employees healthy and able to perform their duties.
The health of the environment also benefits from more companies embracing telecommuting. Offices are already part of the fourth-largest contributor of emissions, and the cars that your employees use to commute are the second. With cars and trucks hitting the road for millions of miles each day to commute, our carbon footprint continues to grow.
COVID-19-related activity restrictions and shutdowns cut air and water pollution by as much as 25%-50% in cities worldwide. One of the advantages of telecommuting, even part-time, is that it’s equal to taking 600,000 cars off the roads every year. If 1 in 4 American workers telecommute, reports show it’s equivalent to 6 million vehicles staying off the road for a year.
6. Finding the Best Employee, No Matter What
Arguably one of the biggest benefits of telecommuting to a small business owner is the potential to bring in the best staff. If your business needs all of its staffers on-site, you’re likely limited to hiring from your region. You might interview a great candidate who lives farther away, but you’ll risk them taking a job closer to home because they don’t want a 2-hour daily work commute.
One of the advantages of telecommuting full-time is hiring the best person for the job, whether they live in your town or 1,000 miles away. Working with a broader talent pool helps ensure you’re never sacrificing the quality of work that goes into the business you’ve tried so hard to build.
Telecommuting Disadvantages for Employers and Employees
1. Abusing the Privilege
One of the advantages of telecommuting is that many employees see it as a job perk. Outside of pandemic times, this means it’s a privilege that owners give to help them be happier, more productive workers.
Some employees, however, can abuse your generosity. Unless you have a process or software in place that can track their productivity, one of the disadvantages of telecommuting is you can never be sure if they’re busy with a spreadsheet or the next level in their video game. Downtime is great during a workday to refresh and recharge, but there’s a fine line between rest and flat-out time-theft.
2. Lack of Motivation
Some workers can find it nerve-wracking to be at the office with a boss’s eyes on them at all times; however, others can find it motivating. If an employee doesn’t complete work in the office, everyone can see it. While productivity can be measured whether your staff is working from home or down the hall from your office, the temptation to slack off is stronger without the lurking presence of a supervisor.
The best way for you to combat one of the disadvantages of telecommuting is to set clear and realistic deadlines so that your employees know what’s expected of them. This holds employees accountable for their work and when it’s being completed, taking away the appeal of taking a few extra minutes to check social media instead of focusing on their job.
While telecommuting offers employees the ability to work from home and the increased comfort and productivity that comes with it, it can also provide some distractions.
Telecommuting is beneficial for employees with environments that have space to get away from the rest of their home life. However, that isn’t always the case. For some employees, being home means they’ll have to deal with the additional distractions of their spouses, children and pets. Some of this has come with the COVID-19-caused disruptions to daily life. Many employers have, rightly, been understanding about these unusual circumstances and their impact on employees. However, once the U.S. has the virus spread under control and life mostly returns to what it was pre-pandemic, you, as a business owner, might want to assess whether your employees’ home environments are conducive to productivity.
One employee’s situation shouldn’t ruin the opportunity for everybody, but it’s important to remember that this arrangement might not be for everyone on your staff. As an employer, you could conduct 1-on-1 interviews with employees to ensure they have the space and resources they need to succeed while telecommuting.
4. Security and Technology
Telecommuting grew popular with tech companies with staff members who didn’t need to be in a traditional office setting to work on their computers. Since then, it has permeated the workforce, and there are more customer and proprietary data on personal computers than ever before. This can create a security risk that you must prepare for, making sure the risk never results in a problem for your company.
Some companies provide private laptops and access to secure servers to mitigate the risk, but one of the disadvantages of telecommuting is you can never completely protect yourself. Thoroughly vet your employees to be sure that you can trust them to keep all of your company and customer data safe if they’re working from home. You might need to have employees sign contracts that detail how they should handle data, privacy expectations and potential consequences for any privacy violations or leaks.
Also, when it comes to technology, it could be hard to help an employee who has hardware or software trouble at home. If the power or Wi-Fi goes out, their computer freezes or meeting software goes haywire, it could be difficult or impossible to remotely troubleshoot. Make sure to have a contingency plan in place and ensure your staff has the technology necessary to perform their duties at home.
5. Lack of Communication
One of the disadvantages of telecommuting is losing face-to-face interactions and collaborations with your staff. Technology has come a long way, but sometimes people just need to be around other people. No matter what, messaging apps, phone and video meeting software might not bring your team together the same way as getting in a room and working to solve a problem.
If possible, make sure staff members who work remotely are available to come in for important meetings.
Assessing Telecommuting for Your Small Business
Telecommuting has been called ‘the future of working,” but since the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., it’s become the present.
There are telecommuting advantages and disadvantages for employers and employees. When looking at telecommuting pros and cons, assess the following:
- Can work be completed off-site?
- Does your company have the technology and support employees need to do their jobs outside of the office?
- Can you ensure productivity without devoting excessive time to monitoring employees?
Keep in mind that telecommuting isn’t an “all or nothing” situation. While some industries need employees on-site 100% of the time, and other businesses find there are more advantages of telecommuting full-time, hybrid telecommuting is also an option. Having office space available for employees to work or meet a few times a week or month could be a helpful compromise to get the best aspects of telecommuting and working on-site.