WHY TELECOMMUTING IS BENEFICIAL FOR BUSINESS
Telecommuting is a practice in which an employee works at a location – usually, but not always, one’s home – that is remote from the actual business facility at which he or she is employed. Under this arrangement, the employee maintains close contact with coworkers and supervisors via various forms of computer, internet, and communication technology (i.e. electronic mail, telephone, zoom, social media, etc.)
Telecommuting is an increasingly popular work option in many businesses and industries, and its usage is expected to increase in future, boosted by new innovations in computer and telecommunication technology. This trend is driven by many factors. The labor pool of employees with specific talents will shrink, making more employers more willing to make concessions to keep valued employees happy. A smaller labor pool combined with an increasingly demand for highly skilled laborers has fueled employee-driven change in working environments.
Scarce highly-skilled workers have begun to demand for more flexible work arrangements, especially as they choose to live farther from their employers. New technologies have made working from home a viable alternative. With the advent of high-speed modems, zoom, voice mail, social media platforms, powerful personal computers, electronic mail, and the like, workers can now perform their jobs without losing touch with employers and customers.
Advantages of Telecommuting
Both employees and employers have found telecommuting to be a mutually beneficial arrangement in many instances. Proponents cite several positive factors in particular.
Telecommuting arrangements can help workers realize a general improvement in their personal “quality of life.” They avoid long, stressful commutes, thus gaining more time for pleasurable activities and more flexibility for changeable tasks like child and elder care.
Increased retention of valued employees
Many businesses lose workers when those employees undergo significant life changes, such as starting a family or relocating to another region or state because of a spouse’s career. Telecommuting is one way in which a business may be able to continue to utilize the services of an otherwise unavailable worker. It’s also touted as a tool that permits workers to minimize use of “personal days” in instances where they have to stay home to take care of a sick child, etc.
Increased Employee Productivity
Business studies and anecdotal evidence both suggest that employees are more productive at home, where “drop-in” interruptions and meetings are not distractions. Instead, the teleworker can focus on the job at hand. Of course, productivity at home is directly related to the employee’s level of self-discipline and abilities.
Businesses can of gain significant savings in facilities costs like office space and parking space requirements when staff members telecommute.
Disadvantages of Telecommuting
But while telecommuting programs have been highly successful for many businesses of all shapes, sizes, and industry orientations, there are potential pitfalls associated with them. Commonly cited drawbacks include the following:
Lack of oversight
Direct supervision of teleworkers is not possible.
Some people are unable to be productive in at-home work settings, either because of family distractions or their own limited capacity to focus on tasks when more pleasurable activities (bicycling, gardening, or watching television, etc.) beckon.
The remote access needs of telecommuters and other mobile staff create a hole in security walls with every connection. Procedures should be implemented to allow employee access while keeping out unwanted intruders. This includes periodically updated password protection and informing employees concerning the need for remote access security.
The freedom of working alone comes with a price – the burden of solitude. Partial teleworking arrangements in which the employee spends a portion of each week (1-3 days) in the office and the remainder working from home, can sometimes be an effective means of addressing this problem.
Erosion of company culture and/or departmental morale
Many businesses include certain employees who have major positive impact on the prevailing office environment. When these employees enter into telecommuting programs, their absence is often felt by the staff members left behind. In some cases, this departure from the company’s everyday operations can even have a deleterious effect on the operation’s overall culture.
Loss of brainstorming ability
Given that much of the value added to the production process in western economies is at the ‘knowledge’ end of the spectrum, the dispersal of brains could be a problem. The informal bouncing around of ideas is difficult, or even impossible, without the face-to-face contact of a shred workplace.
Perceived damage to career
A common perception among employees of businesses that enhance teleworking options is that telecommuters are placed at a disadvantage in terms of career advancement and opportunity. Certainly, some professional avenues – such as supervisor positions – may be shut off to workers who want to continue telecommuting, but employers should make every effort to avoid an “out of sight, out of mind” perspective from taking shape.
Some analysts have expressed concern that some employer liability issues regarding telecommuting practices have yet to be completely settled. They cite issues such as employer liability for home-office accidents under common law, applicability of the employer’s insurance coverage when they work at home; and the responsibility for equipment located in the home as particular concerns.
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