Technological advancements have given us amazing capabilities that have reshaped nearly every aspect of our lives, especially in the way that we do business. The general purpose of technology is to make our lives easier and more convenient, but when it comes to work, specifically telecommuting, does easier mean better?
SHRM’s recent survey results reveal that 60 percent of employers in the U.S. offered flexible work options in 2015, indicating that the perk is still revered as a workplace standard. According to an article by Sara Sutton Fell for the Huffington Post, more companies are turning to telecommuting “as a way to keep their employees productive when cold temperatures and major weather events keep them from getting into the office.” Although the trend has been implemented by more than half of the employer population in the U.S., some companies have sparked controversy by expressing opposition to the idea.
Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned her employees from working from home. Many workers openly expressed their disagreement, but the company was in a slump and Mayer didn’t budge on her decision. “People are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together,” said Mayer. The story quickly made international news, and was met with outrage as telecommuting Americans across the country feared their employers would follow suit. There is a strong case to be made from both sides of the debate over the effectiveness of a flexible and mobile workforce, so let’s consider the factors behind each perspective.
- More hiring options
Telecommuting exposes employers to a broader range of candidates during the recruitment and hiring process. The geographical location of a company’s headquarters becomes irrelevant with a remote working position, which makes candidates from around the globe practical for consideration. Through mobile working arrangements, organizations have better odds of hiring top-quality candidates and can build a high caliber workforce.
- Employees benefit too
Fell brings to light obvious points about today’s workforce and how almost everyone can benefit from flexible work options. “Military spouses need telecommuting jobs to take with them when their husbands and wives are deployed. Working moms and dads need telecommuting jobs that help them balance the demands of parenthood [and their work life.] [Baby] boomers need telecommuting jobs to supplement their retirement income as they transition to a new stage in their lives. People with disabilities need telecommuting jobs so that they can continue to contribute to their professions. Caregivers need telecommuting jobs so that they can support elderly parents, or children with special needs, while bringing in income. Stay-at-home moms need telecommuting jobs so that they can reconnect with the workforce if and when they’re ready. Graduate students and young college grads need telecommuting jobs so that they can expand their options as they start their careers.”
- Improves retention and morale
Giving employees the option to work from home can significantly improve their work-life balance, which reduces turnover and increases loyalty and job satisfaction in the workplace. Not only will this save employers from the headache of filling vacant positions, but it will also save the company money that would typically be spent on recruiting, hiring, and training. With flexible work options, employers also experience a rise in productivity, as shown in a study by World at Work.
- Can affect company culture and values
If half of an organization’s employees have never been to the office, how does this affect the company’s culture and values? It can be difficult to instill the values and culture of a company in an employee who isn’t surrounded by others who set an example and hold each other accountable. In the long run, this could create disconnect between the company’s values and the way it is actually operating. Without physically being in the workplace, employees may have a difficult time establishing important connections and relationships with their coworkers. Additionally, these remote workers may not feel as invested in the company as they would if they worked on location.
- Can hinder communication
Most employees need clear communication from management for project direction, feedback, and goal collaboration. Communicating through email is likely the most common form that remote workers use, which can have some drawbacks. Textual communication alone often leads to miscommunication, which can result in mistakes in employees’ work. It’s important that telecommuters combine the use of email with other forms of communication, like telephone calls and video chats, in order to avoid any miscommunication.
- It’s not for everyone
While some employees jump at the chance to work remotely, it’s not necessarily compatible with the personalities or lives of every worker. Some employees prefer to be in the office for quick access to other personnel, while others may simply enjoy the time away from home, family, and personal distractions. It may also be detrimental for a high-level manager or executive to work remotely, as many employees rely on their leadership within the office and need access to them. It is one thing to work remotely, but being a mobile leader is sure to come with an entirely new set of challenges.
What does science say?
In a recent study, researchers at Stanford University partnered with a Chinese travel agency to study telecommuting. Out of the many volunteers, 255 employees were selected to telecommute. After a few weeks of the experiment, researchers observed a much higher level of productivity from the employees who telecommuted versus those who did not. They had less sick days, less late arrivals, and an increased amount of work completed. This resulted in increased profits for the travel agency, and they liked the program so much that they decided to expand their telecommuting program. Although many employees in the experiment preferred the mobile work arrangement, some decided they’d rather work in the office with human interaction and an established beginning and end to each work day.
So, back to the question−when it comes to telecommuting, does easier mean better? Based on the research, it’s safe to say that the answer is a big “yes!” Not only does a mobile workforce increase profits, have higher productivity, and reduced turnover, but it’s also preferred by a large portion of employees. However, remember that telecommuting isn’t for everyone or for every business, so give it some careful consideration before you begin implementing the option at your organization.
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