Discussions about telecommuting often come with the assumption that the telecommuting workers are freelancers or contractors. However, corporate telecommuting is growing quickly. A study conducted by IWG, a Swiss workspace company, found that 70% of full-time corporate employees around the world work remotely at least one day per week, and 53% telecommute for at least half the week.
In other words, corporate telecommuting — not long ago considered a perk or an anomaly — is becoming a standard business practice. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some key factors driving this trend and review some best practices for effective remote work management.
Why Are More Workers Telecommuting?
To a large degree, remote work is driven by a larger trend toward digitization. Companies have traditionally conducted most major business meetings face to face, and the technologies they used to support business operations were primarily located on site. In other words, there were a lot of flights to meetings and a lot of faxes sent between offices.
In an era of cloud computing and videoconferencing tools, however, the need to remain in the office (or travel for meetings) has declined. Why pay for flights and hotels when a videoconference is a button away? Why wait for a fax or even a phone call when you’re armed with numerous mobile communication apps?
Communication tools and cloud collaboration platforms have also severed the link between proximity and innovation. Projects that once required in-person communication and collaboration can often be completed efficiently outside the office. Efficiency is not the only advantage, however; remote work comes with a variety of benefits.
Telecommuting Benefits for Employers
Telecommuting can save organizations considerable costs and help make them more competitive in terms of hiring and retaining the best people. Enabling remote work can:
- Provide access to a wider pool of talent, as many workers rule out or leave organizations with restrictive telecommuting policies.
- Create a greater sense of autonomy in workers, which can help organizations develop a pipeline of self-starters and leaders.
- Reduce absenteeism.
Benefits to the employer are just one side of this story, however. Workers have their own reasons for preferring remote work.
Telecommuting Benefits for Employees
A work-at-home scenario, whether part- or full-time, offers some significant advantages for employees, including:
- Eliminating or reducing commute time. According to a Robert Half survey, 23% of U.S. workers have quit a job due to a bad commute.
- Greater flexibility, which supports a better work/life balance.
- A greater sense of independence.
While these benefits are compelling, there are some telecommuting challenges of which to be cognizant.
Solving Common Telecommuting Challenges
While remote work offers great flexibility, without the conventional structure of an office, time management can be challenging. Smart time management is the cornerstone of productivity, especially in a home office. Another key is limiting distractions. Telecommuters quickly discover that distractions abound in the home office; the ability to minimize them and maintain their routine will help them stay productive.
Some workers also struggle with the absence of social interaction. They may feel that they collaborate better in a face-to-face setting and miss the camaraderie of an office. It often makes sense for these employees to their increase social activity outside of work hours or move their home “office” to a public setting, like a coffee shop, once in a while. Some workers may also fear that telecommuting puts them at a career disadvantage relative to employees who receive more face time with leaders. These employees should make an effort to communicate and network with others within the organization, even virtually. Remote work should never leave someone feeling isolated or marginalized.
How Organizations Can Support Remote Workers
To access all the benefits outlined above, it’s imperative for employers to have a smart support plan in place for remote staff. Here are some powerful ways they can ensure that remote workers feel supported and stay productive:
- Ensure they have the right technologies and tools for their job.
- Keep remote workers in the loop and prevent them from feeling less essential than onsite staff.
- Encourage collaboration.
- Establish clear benchmarks for productivity.
- Gather feedback to learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Provide face-to-face meeting opportunities.
- Be accessible and responsive.
Full-time workers, and the organizations they work for, are continuing to adopt telecommuting. By following the steps outlined in this article, organizations can help put remote workers on the path to success — and help both parties enjoy the myriad benefits of telecommuting.