Not long ago, working from home was a dream that only certain managers and owners could achieve. Today, working remotely—or what we now call telecommuting—is a reality for many employees, regardless of industry and their level within a company.
It still might be a foreign concept to you as a small business owner, so we’ll go over some advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting to see whether implementing your own program could benefit your company.
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 interest in the practice, making it possible for employees to stay connected with everything they have at the office right in the comfort of their living room.
Global Workplace Analytics, an organization that surveys and compiles data on U.S. employees, estimates that over 4 million people (over 3 percent of the workforce) now spend over half of their time at home.
As businesses continue to adopt the idea of telecommuting, the immediate benefits are hard to ignore. Employers have seen everything from improved productivity to lower business costs. Employees like it, too. Work/ life balance is important to many 21st century workers, and giving this freedom goes a long way to improve morale.
Of course, there are always some disadvantages. There are concerns about the lasting effects of telecommuting in the eyes of both the employers and their staff. From limiting collaboration to distracting home environments, the disadvantages of telecommuting are why it has yet to go fully mainstream.
The Benefits of Telecommuting for Employers & 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, social media time and interruptions by co-workers prevent your employees from reaching maximum productivity.
While you might think working from home comes with more distractions, it actually allows employees to perform in comfort. Home offices tend to be a more productive space for them because it caters to their individual preferences.
Of the employers GWA surveyed, over two-thirds reported increased productivity when telecommuting. Some claimed home-based employees worked 5 more hours a week than those in the office and used 60 percent of the time they’d have spent commuting performing tasks for the company.
2. Better Work/ Life Balance
Employee efficiency sees a boost with telecommuting because they aren’t exposed to the same distractions of a traditional office setting, but also because it provides a better balance between work and life outside of it.
Working at home removes a lot of stressors that come with office life, such as having to interact personally with difficult co-workers. Telecommuters can focus on their job while keeping a close eye on personal responsibilities. For example, removing the commute leaves more time to do chores, and removes the stress parents face picking and dropping off their child driving to and from the office.
Morale is important, and working from home can increase it exponentially within your workforce. A happier, calmer employer is more productive for your business, and it also helps your bottom line.
3. Decreasing Company Costs
Business owners are always looking for ways to minimize cost. 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 having fewer employees in the office is that you can cut down on the costs you pay to accommodate them.
A few common costs that telecommuting programs can help your small business cut down on 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 really embrace a full-telecommuting environment, there’s even more to save.
If most or all of your employees are working from home full-time, you’ll notice you’re left with a large, expensive office that doesn’t fit your current needs. That’s right, if you go fully-digital, you might be able to justify getting rid of your office, or at least downsizing. This can be a huge expense lifted from your books that can free up capital for new projects or expansion.
4. 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. Telecommuting can reduce this burden.
Employees will stick around because they prefer telecommuting. As part of their employee survey, GWA learned that 36 percent would choose to work remotely over a pay raise. Of them, 80 percent consider it a job perk. 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.
As the average life expectancy rises, people are working later into their lives than ever. Cutting out the commute and working from home will be a way to keep your current employees performing productively for decades. It might not be feasible for an employee with declining health to come to the office every day, but giving them the option keeps your best people with you for longer.
5. Better Health, Better Environment
Everyone gets sick. When we do get sick, it can feel irresponsible to call out for the day. This can lead to employees returning to the office before they’re ready, leading to prolonged illness and the spread of colds and other viruses.
A benefit of telecommuting for employees and employers is that when you’re sick, you have time to get better while still performing your duties. You can sit on your couch and make yourself soup or tea to soothe your cold, instead of going to the office and infecting others.
Offices are breeding grounds for germs, so not only will staying home reduce recovery time, but it’ll also keep 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. It may seem far-fetched, but something as simple as allowing your workers to stay home is a positive step for the environment.
6. Finding the Best Employee, No Matter What
Arguably the biggest benefit of telecommuting to a small business owner is the ability to bring in the best staff. If you own a business that needs all of its staff present, you only have a set region that you can hire from. You might interview a great candidate, but they take a job closer because they don’t want to spend two hours a day getting to and from work.
If conducive to your business model, employees can work remotely full-time. This means you can hire the best person for the job, whether they live in your town or a thousand miles away. Opening up the talent pool allows you to ensure you’re never sacrificing the quality of work that goes into the business you’ve tried so hard to build.
The Disadvantages of Telecommuting for Employers & Employees
1. Abusing the Privilege
As we stated before, many employees see telecommuting as a job perk. This, in turn, means it’s a privilege that owners like you give them to help them be the happiest, most productive worker they can be.
Some employees take it too far, however, and can abuse your generosity. Unless you have a process or software in place that can track their productivity, you can never know for 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 is a fine line between downtime and flat-out time-theft.
2. Lack of Motivation
Being at the office with your boss’s eyes on you at all times can be nerve-racking, but it can be motivating. You have to work when you’re there because, if you don’t, 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 a lack of motivation 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 offer 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.
One employee’s situation shouldn’t ruin the opportunity for everybody. But it’s important to remember that this arrangement may not be for everyone on your staff. As an employer, you may be able to avoid setting these employees up for failure by conducting one-on-one interviews before allowing them to telecommute.
4. Security and Technology
Telecommuting grew popular with tech companies who were able to bring in staff that 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 creates 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 you can never completely protect yourself. Make sure to fully vet your employees to be certain that you can trust them to keep all of your company and customer data safe if they’re working from home.
Also, it may be hard to help an employee who has IT trouble at home. If the power or Wi-Fi goes out, their computer freezes or meeting software goes haywire, it may be difficult or impossible to troubleshoot if they aren’t in the office. 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
Being in an office has certain advantages that telecommuting can never overcome. Technology has come a long way, but sometimes people just need to be around other people. No matter what phone or video meeting software you purchase, nothing will ever bring your team together like getting in a room and working to solve a problem.
If possible, make sure all staff members that work remotely are available to come in for important meetings. If you were able to bring in a great member to your team that lives far away that’s okay, but having as many pieces of the puzzle together when they need to ensure collaboration is at its peak.
Assessing Telecommuting for Your Small Business
Telecommuting is the future of working. More companies are embracing this practice each year, and it’s become somewhat of a dream scenario for many employees. If you’re looking for a change that has the potential to immediately benefit your business, telecommuting should be high on your list.
Like everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting for employers and employees. If you’ve been thinking about allowing your employees to work from home, at least part-time, then hopefully this article was able to help you assess whether it’s right for your small business.