Make no mistake; telecommuting is on the rise. It’s not just in Australia either. It’s true all over the world. In fact, there are a wide variety of companies in the world that have implemented a telecommuting policy that allows their employees to have the option of working from home. Unfortunately, every company that has implemented a telecommuting policy hasn’t seen success with it. There are actually businesses out there that have tried giving their employees this freedom only to see a marked drop in their performance levels.
This is precisely why many businesses still resist the option of allowing their employees to work from home. If you’re reading this article, then the big question doing rounds in your head right now would be whether a telecommuting policy would be helpful for your company. There isn’t any clear answer because there are numerous pros and cons of telecommuting policies. Moreover, any one or more of those pros and cons could apply to your business depending upon its structure and industry.
Effectively, the only way for you to figure out whether a telecommuting policy is viable for your company or not is to understand all its pros and cons. Before you do that though, perhaps it would be a good idea to understand the concept of telecommuting better.
A Telecommuting Experiment / Case Study
The fact that telecommuting is become far more popular in the world now than it was a few years ago is undeniable. The popularity of telecommuting on the global scale means that multiple corporations have experimented with the idea to see what kind of benefits it brings them. One of the better telecommuting experiments was reported in the Harvard Business Review at the beginning of last year.
The experiment was led by Nicholas Bloom in collaboration with James Liang. Bloom is the professor of Economics at Stanford University while Liang is a graduate student and co – founder of Ctrip, a Chinese travel website. The experiment helped discover that people working from home are 13.5 percent more productive and 50 percent less likely to quit or switch their jobs.
However, the experiment also found out that telecommuting employees end up feeling lonely which pushes them to want to work in offices again. While the experiment was quite revelatory, it must be noted that it was based on only one company. More poignantly, the nature of work that the employees did in this experiment was also solitary and didn’t involve a lot of coordination and collaboration.
Therefore, while this experiment was indicative of the potential benefits of establishing a telecommuting policy in your business, it still doesn’t provide the complete picture. For this reason, here is our list of pros and cons of establishing a telecommuting policy beginning with five pros.
Pros of Establishing a Telecommuting Policy
Increased Productivity and Efficiency
As mentioned earlier, productivity and efficiency will go up as result of a telecommuting policy being put in place by a business in the majority of situations. As per the research described above, this boost in productivity and efficiency is a result of the workers getting more time to work at home. For instance, when you allow your employees to work from home, they are far less likely to take sick leaves because telecommuting allows for the comfort of home to be combined with work. Similarly, telecommuting employees have a tendency to take fewer and smaller breaks because they feel relaxed and comfortable at home.
The environment at home is in complete control of the individual. This means that truly devoted workers can ensure maximum productivity by making sure that everything is the way they need to work. Hence, the direct result of a telecommuting policy is that your employees will end up being more productive on a per minute basis in addition to putting in more minutes. As you can see, it’s a win from more than one perspective i.e. quantity as well as quality.
Massive Cost Savings
Most people own computers, laptops, or tablets, these days. A lot of people even own printers and scanners. More importantly, people like to use their own equipment as much as possible. This is the main reason why Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is such a great hit in corporate offices. Resultantly, a telecommuting policy can bring your business great financial benefits by doing away with the need for buying expensive office equipment.
Savings on office equipment, however, are nothing when compared against savings from real estate. Regardless of which province, state, or country you consider, real estate cost isn’t something that a business can take lightly. Commercial real estate in a decent location is especially hard to find at an affordable rate. In fact, a large chunk of financial outlay of any business goes towards real estate costs. A simple telecommuting policy can do away with these hefty costs though.
Greater Talent Pool
A central location brings with it even more problems. One of these problems is a limited talent pool. Geographically speaking, only a certain number of people can live in a certain area. Moreover, the better the location of your business’s office, the longer distance your employees will have to travel to reach it. This geographical limitation can prove to be quite significant because it will reduce the talent pool you’ll have available to you.
On the other hand, with a telecommuting policy in place, you’ll never have to worry about the distance that your employees will have to travel to reach the office. In fact, you’ll be able to hire employees from all over the world to work for you. This will not only give you access to cheaper labour but also a more diverse pool of highly specialised professionals.
Better Employee Retention
More than anything else, telecommuting makes your employees’ life less complicated by giving them a more versatile work life balance. In other words, your employees will be able to choose from various options available to them and pick the ones that fit their lifestyle the best if they get the chance to telecommute.
With stresses pertaining to the balance between professional and personal lives taken out of the equation, employees become more stable for the company. This was something that even Ctrip discovered in its experiment. In fact, a high employee attrition rate was one of the two reasons why the Chinese company decided to experiment with telecommuting.
Their experiment revealed to them that within the group of employees telecommuting, the employee attrition rate dropped by a significant 50 percent. What this means is that telecommuting employees are less likely to quit than employees who are required to come to office every day.
Cons of Establishing a Telecommuting Policy
Delayed Decision Making
The biggest problem with having a telecommuting policy is that it slows down the decision making process. This is especially the case when the telecommuting policy doesn’t require employees to be available within a certain time period of the day. the problem can become even more complicated if the employees are working from different time zones.
The reason for this is simply that getting people together to discuss a matter of importance becomes difficult with everybody spread across vast distances. In an office, everyone can be gathered into a single room at a moment’s notice and communication is faster as well. This isn’t the case with telecommuting employees as everyone needs sufficient notice for a meeting to be available and prepared. Since everything needs to be pre – planned, quick decisions become impossible.
Challenging Human Resources Process
It takes a particular type of workforce for a telecommuting policy to bring the right results for a business. The employees have to incredibly driven. As a matter of fact, just being driven is not enough; they actually need to be self – driven because their output will depend entirely on their ability to motivate themselves.
This can be a big human resources problem for many businesses. Initially, a few employees will have to be let go because of poor performance within the telecommuting structure or telecommuting rights will have to be revoked for such employees. For either of this to be possible, their will need to be a reliable and dependable performance tracking system that can be used to measure the productivity of various employees.
Even recruitment can be an issue because how self – driven an individual is can be difficult to measure through a simple interview. This means that multiple rounds of interviews may be required and even probation periods for the newly hired employees during which their performance can be assessed.
In fact, immediately after the introduction of a telecommuting policy, a business may struggle slightly with respect to productivity. How difficult the earliest periods are will depend entirely on the nature of the business in question. However, once the earliest hiccups have been endured and swallowed, the overall performance of a business will improve largely because the deadweight has been shrugged off.
Increased Pressure on Managers
You’ll note that virtually every con of a telecommuting policy revolves around the fact that employees are not available on a face to face basis. Decisions can be made very quickly if everyone is available in the same location and motivating employees also becomes easier if the individual is in front of the senior management. This leads us to the third con of establishing a telecommuting policy i.e. increased pressure on managers.
Managers of a telecommuting staff need to be especially talented and skilful. They actually need to possess the right skill set to be able to cope with all their telecommuting subordinates. First of all, they need to be highly capable with various digital technologies. Next, they need to have considerable coordination and teaming qualities. Finally, they need to be able to keep a track of multiple things at the same time.
Even with all these qualities, a telecommuting policy can put considerable pressure on managers. It is even possible that a business will have to reduce the number of employees per manager metric if it is planning to install a telecommuting policy.