Sunny Dhami of RingCentral defines “telecommuting”, before sharing his advice for doing it well within your organization.
Teleworking, telecommuting, or mobile employment. Whatever you call it, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that telecommuting is having on the current workplace.
Once, telecommuting was shrugged off as a trend for millennials and digital brands. Now, 25% of the US workforce telecommutes part of the time.
What’s more, in the UK, predictions suggest that 50% of employees will be telecommuting or working remotely by this time next year (2020).
The ability to work from outside of the office has transformed the business landscape as we know it, becoming one of the biggest transformation drivers of all time.
Despite this, many employers still aren’t sure whether a telecommuting strategy is right for them. If you’re still curious about the concept of telecommuting, and you’re keen to find out more, you’ve come to the right place.
Here you’ll learn everything you need to know about the life of a telecommuter.
Telecommuting Definition: What Is Telecommuting?
People who telecommute take a different approach to the standard work schedule than those living the nine-to-five office life.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, this concept is becoming increasingly appealing, with telecommuting numbers growing by 115% since 2005.
The same study also found that 36% of people would choose the option to telework over a pay rise, and up to 90% of employees would like the opportunity to telework “sometimes”.
Driven by the demand for work–life balance, telecommuting is a working strategy that allows employees to operate outside of the office, often using the same tools and software that they would access in the traditional workplace.
The rise of cloud technology and team collaboration software has made it easier than ever for staff members to access the solutions they need from wherever they are, with nothing but an internet connection.
In the age of teleworking, there’s no need to invest in a long and boring commute to and from work. Instead, telecommuters can operate wherever they are using smartphones, desktops, and laptops.
What’s more, the number of available work-from-home jobs is growing.
As technology continues to evolve, everyone from accountants to customer support agents are discovering that they can be just as productive without a desk as they are with one.
How Does Telecommuting Work?
Although teleworkers can do their jobs from anywhere, they still get the same benefits as employees who work within the office, including a regular wage, and access to state-of-the-art software, usually delivered over the cloud.
What this means is that employees can start working from home without any loss in productivity or performance, provided that they have a good internet connection.
Studies are beginning to show that remote work and telecommuting could make employees more productive.
Gallup found that employees feel more engaged by their work when they’re able to work off-site.
All an employee needs to become a teleworker is access to the internet, an account with the right business software and collaboration tools, and the right attitude.
Rather than travelling to the office each day, these remote-working employees can instead “travel” to the workplace through remote telecommunication links – keeping in touch with co-workers via video conferencing, instant messaging, and audio calls.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Telecommuting?
Allowing employees the option to work from home is becoming an increasingly common part of the human resources discussion for many workplaces.
Businesses are discovering that the opportunity to telework can lead to more engaged employees, happier staff members, and reduced turnover.
However, there are pros and cons to any transformative business strategy.
For instance, while telecommuting might give an employee access to better work–life balance by reducing the amount of time they spend commuting each day, it can also lead to problems with that same balance caused by an inability to separate work and personal life.
The Benefits of Telecommuting
The benefits of teleworking are significant for modern employees.
When you have a telecommuting job that allows you to work from home, you don’t need to spend a fortune on getting to and from work each day.
Instead, you can walk a few feet from your bedroom to your spare-room office and get straight to work. That also means that you spend less time rushing around on a morning trying to get ready.
When you’re working from home you can:
- Avoid the distractions of the workplace, including office chatter, clients, footfall, and even the prying eyes of your manager peering over your shoulder.
- Get more control over your work–life balance: It’s easier to take a moment to deal with a personal emergency when you’re working from home than if you’re in the office. Most employers will also allow you to be relatively flexible with your schedule, provided you get the right amount of work done each day.
- Improve health and well-being: One study found that 82% of people working away from the office experience lower levels of stress. People have more freedom to build their work around their lives, rather than doing things the other way around.
- Improved happiness and satisfaction: According to the Global State of Work Report, people who telecommute are more likely to be happier. The people who had the opportunity to telework at least once a month in this study were 24% happier than their co-workers.
It’s not just the employees that benefit from telecommuting strategies either. Companies that allow their employees to work from home also gain access to numerous advantages, including:
- More engaged and productive employees: The Society for Human Resource Management found that teleworkers are less likely to take time off work, and more likely to get things done than their counterparts. Telecommuting employees will even log into their online workplace when they’re unwell.
- Reduced expenses: Employers don’t have to spend as much on physical real estate, office space, electricity, and other overheads when their employees aren’t working on-site. Savings on everything from furniture to office supplies can be significant.
- Better employee retention: The flexibility provided by telecommuting helps employers to retain essential members of staff who need more flexibility in their lives. The option to work remotely can be enough to attract higher levels of talent to a business.
The Disadvantages of Telecommuting
Unfortunately, telework won’t be the right solution for every person or even every business.
Just as the option for remote working can offer benefits to the modern workforce, it can also have downsides when it’s used in the wrong environment.
For instance, work-from-home jobs and telecommuting can lead to the following issues for employees:
- Issues separating work and life: People assume that work–life balance will automatically improve with a remote working strategy. However, some people struggle to separate the two parts of their lives when their office is also their home.
- Increased feelings of isolation: Some employees will feel less like a part of the business culture and team when they’re working outside of the office. This is increasingly common when managers don’t have the time to reach out and check on those working remotely.
- Issues with collaboration: If the right team collaboration software isn’t in place, then employee productivity and creativity can suffer when staff members aren’t able to interact regularly with their colleagues. Some studies find that the biggest innovations come from “unexpected” conversations with other people. You don’t get many of those in a homeworking setting.
For employers, the drawbacks of telecommuting can also be significant. In some cases:
- Employees that aren’t well suited to the telecommuter lifestyle can struggle to find motivation and discipline when working from home. This means that work levels and efficiency begin to suffer.
- Managers can’t easily watch over employees: It’s difficult to know for certain if your team members are going above and beyond to deliver their best work if you’re not there to watch over them.
- Morale can begin to suffer: If your employees feel left out or isolated when they’re working remotely, then they can start to feel less invested in your business, which means that they’re more likely to switch jobs.
Work From Home Jobs: Who Can Telecommute?
Not every job will be suitable for someone who wants to work from home.
Employees in a brick-and-mortar store need to be on hand to provide face-to-face interactions with customers and look after the store.
Security guards and police officers need to be available in person to respond instantly to breaches and unpredictable actions.
What’s more, plenty of employees that need to use their hands at work to deal with things like engineering and product maintenance can’t necessarily telecommute.
However, jobs that are beginning to take on more of a digital essence, like accounting, marketing, social media advertising, graphic design, online customer service and more, are all perfectly suited to the telecommuter.
If your employees rely exclusively on online tools or software that they can access over the cloud, then they can probably take advantage of teleworking.
Some of the most common kinds of remote and work from home jobs include:
- Customer Support
- Data Science
- Project Management
- Software Development
- Quality Analyst
Telecommuting Policies: Why Your Business Needs One
If your business is well suited to discover the benefits of remote work and telecommuting, then the first thing you’ll need to do is make sure that you have the right policy in place to improve your chances of high-quality results from teleworkers.
The option to work from home can be a dream come true for employees and employers alike. However, just like any new policy in the business world, remote working can suffer when employees don’t have any guidelines to follow.
A telecommuting policy reduces the risk of issues with employees failing to live up to employer standards, or vice versa.
With your plan, you can ensure that team members are getting the support and guidance they need to excel in the modern workplace, while also increasing your chances of valuable business outcomes.
Just like a strategy for BYOD (bring your own device) or flexible working, telecommuting polices outline:
- What kind of employees will be eligible to work from home in your business
- What your expectations are for work hours and project performance
- Available software and tools for your teleworkers to use
- Methods and frequency of communication (video, voice, messaging, etc.)
- Repercussions for policy abuse
- Where your employee can turn if they need extra help
- How the telecommute strategy will be assessed and evaluated over time.
How to Create a Telecommuting Policy
Allowing employees to work from home is an excellent way to attract and retain top talent in today’s competitive marketplace.
However, there are factors to consider when you want to give your team the freedom to work beyond the office.
A telecommuting policy is all about putting a formal plan in place that helps you to keep track of your workforce and ensure that both parties are getting the most out of their telework strategy.
Here are some of the things you should do when you’re creating a remote working or telecommuter policy for your team.
1. Set Expectations
Start by setting clear and reasonable expectations on who should be allowed to telework and under what conditions. Ask yourself how many days a week people should be permitted to work away from the office, and what kind of requests they’ll need to make.
Ensure that your employees know which hours they’ll be expected to be available for conference calls, video collaboration, and other forms of teamwork over the cloud.
Additionally, ensure that your employees are aware of the consistent level and quality of work that you expect to receive from them when they’re telecommuting.
Stress employee accountability and let your team members know that telecommuting privileges may be revoked if work isn’t getting done.
2. Stress the Importance of Communication
Working remotely can be the key to higher productivity in the workplace. However, if you decide that you’re going to allow your team members to start working at home as part of a telecommute campaign, it’s worth remembering that the interpersonal dynamics are likely to be different.
Interactions won’t happen around the office, but over instant chat, voice, and video.
Make sure that your team members are aware of the importance of good communication. Create a strategy to keep them immersed in the company culture with regular face-to-face video conferencing.
Open up an opportunity to chat about things outside of the workplace in team collaboration tools.
Additionally, make sure that your employees know how to properly schedule meetings with colleagues when they need more in-depth conversations.
3. Invest in the Right Technology
Technology is the lifeblood of the teleworking revolution. Without the right tools and digital innovations, it would be impossible for people to get things done outside of the office.
Make sure that you have the right remote work tools in place to support your average teleworker.
For instance, think carefully about what the average person would need to work from home.
This might include providing access to team productivity software over the cloud, data storage and backup solutions, and even more advanced computing hardware.
Most importantly, make sure that your employees have access to team collaboration tools that will allow them to work effectively as a group, even when they’re not face-to-face with their colleagues.
4. Address Security and Compliance
Finally, remember that just because your team members are working from home, doesn’t mean that all of the security and privacy threats of the modern workplace will suddenly disappear.
Just like in the office environment, criminals can still try to make their way into your team member’s software and accounts when they’re working remotely too.
Ensure that you have the right strategies in place to protect the sensitive information and tools that your employees are working with. This could mean implementing regular security training for your teleworkers or asking them to commit to updating their firewalls and two-factor authentication strategies regularly.
It could also mean investing in tools that offer high-level encryption and security services.
What’s the Difference Between Remote Work and Telecommuting?
Crucially, before businesses can jump head-first into telecommuting strategies, they need to understand that there’s a difference between supporting a teleworker with work-from-home jobs and investing in remote working.
Remote work and telecommuting are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two.
What Is Remote Working?
Remote work means that employees can work from anywhere, at any time, without a manager or administrator looking over their shoulder.
Businesses generally spend a lot less time supervising and supporting people in remote working positions. Often, these individuals can even work in other countries around the world.
Remote workers may also be hired and managed entirely over the internet. There’s a good chance that they’ll never visit the office in person.
Although the same can be said for telecommuters, there’s more of an opportunity for team leaders to invite a teleworker to visit the office in person.
What Is Telecommuting?
Like a remote worker, teleworkers also do most of their work outside of the office, although they’ll often need to work and reside in a specific region, country, or state.
These people generally need to be available at particular times of the day for team-building strategies, team meetings, and other purposes.
It’s not uncommon for a business leader to ask a telecommuter to come and visit the office at least one day a month.
The biggest difference between remote work and telecommuting is that with telecommuting, the people involved with the company are often closer to home.
Remote workers are more likely to be hired from locations further afield.
Telecommuting and Work–Life Balance
The purpose of both remote working and telecommuting tends to be similar. Employers offer teleworking roles to access greater productivity and engagement from their team members.
On the other hand, employees look towards work-from-home jobs so that they can obtain a better work–life balance.
According to one study conducted by Fidelity, the majority of younger-generation employees like millennials would happily take a pay cut if it meant that they could achieve better work–life balance.
So, what is work–life balance?
In simple terms, it’s the ability to make your career fit around the other aspects of your life that are important to you, like family time, or personal responsibilities.
Remote jobs and teleworking generally ensure that people can spend more time with their families enjoying meaningful moments with loved ones.
The benefits of work–life balance include everything from greater job satisfaction to reduced stress and higher happiness levels.
However, achieving work–life balance isn’t simple – even with a teleworking role.
The Challenges in Achieving Work–Life Balance
Despite what most people believe, working remotely or having the option to work from home doesn’t automatically deliver work–life balance.
According to studies from the sociologists at the University of Texas and Iowa, the average teleworker often works longer hours than peers who operate from the office.
The research found that staff members who were working some of the time remotely were less able to disconnect from their workplaces when they were done for the day.
Some of the biggest challenges that people experience when it comes to figuring out how to work from home and enjoy a better work–life balance include:
1. Maintaining Motivation
For many people, the opportunity to work without a manager hanging over their shoulder is a great thing. However, other employees find that it’s challenging to stay motivated without someone to push them.
Certain employees simply won’t be disciplined enough to maintain work–life balance as a remote or teleworking employee.
When you’re surrounded by the comforts of home, it’s difficult to convince yourself that you need to work hard just to earn a wage.
The only way to ensure that you can stay motivated while teleworking is to ensure that you’re doing work that you’re passionate about and implement a routine that keeps you focused on the task at hand.
2. Defining Boundaries
Another problem that people face when it comes to achieving work–life balance is knowing how to draw the line between work and personal time.
After all, it’s all too easy to stay logged into the workplace when you can check your emails or log into your team collaboration software from your phone.
For telecommuters to avoid burning themselves out, they need to know how to define the boundaries between when they’re at work and when they’re enjoying life outside of their career.
Presence features on collaboration apps and do-not-disturb features can be helpful with this.
3. Forgetting About Self-Care
With no standards to live up to in a social situation, employees who telework can begin to lose track of their self-care. Some staff members end up snacking all day because there’s no one to stop them around the house.
They can also struggle with things like showering regularly, exercising and even changing out of their pyjamas.
The best way for telecommuters to make sure that they’re not overlooking self-care is for them to set a schedule that they follow each day.
Creating a routine that involves getting dressed for work, having a morning shower, and even fitting a regular lunch into the routine is crucial.
How to Improve Work–Life Balance as a Teleworker
Ultimately, while telecommuting comes with a ton of benefits for the right people, it also comes with challenges that employees need to think about too.
The importance of work–life balance in the modern world doesn’t just mean that employers need to think more carefully about offering the kind of flexible working solutions that their team members want.
It also means that employees need to understand how to look after themselves when working remotely or teleworking.
If you’re pursuing work-from-home jobs, make sure you’re looking after your work–life balance by:
- Going outside: Studies show that being around the natural world significantly improves feelings of happiness and reduces stress levels during the day. Getting the body up and moving can also help with boosting productivity.
- Making time for social interaction: Since you don’t have a break room where you can interact with co-workers any more, make sure that you’re getting a regular dose of social interaction in the form of conversations with friends, regular meetups with family, and even new educational and social experiences.
- Setting firm boundaries: Make sure that you have a specific place where you can work on a day-to-day basis – not just your sofa or your bedroom. Additionally, make sure that the people around you know when you’re working so that they don’t disturb or distract you.
- Establishing a routine/schedule: Ensure you know when you need to work each day so that you’re not continually burning yourself out by working excessive hours. Once you decide that it’s time to finish for the day, don’t go back and force yourself to answer just one more email, or deal with one more message.
- Making time for self-care: Ensure that you’re embedding plenty of time for self-care into your schedule, whether this means adding exercise to your daily routine, regularly going for walks outside, or just treating yourself to a nice lunch each day.
Exploring the Growing World of Telecommuting
As the world of work continues to evolve, driven by the demands of new generations, the rise of innovative technology and the appearance of new roles, teleworking can’t be overlooked.
Today, it’s the businesses that know how to give their employees the freedom that they need in the form of work-from-home opportunities and flexible schedules that attract the most talent.
What’s more, these companies are also the ones that generally create the most productive, engaged, and dedicated employees too.
With a teleworking strategy, employees can access better work–life balance, while employers get all the benefits of reduced overheads, lower turnover, and stronger productivity.
However, there are challenges and roadblocks that need to be overcome on the path to telecommuting success. Not every business or person will be well suited to this roadmap.
Make sure that before you dive head-first into telecommuting, you know what it means to you and your workers, what kind of benefits you can access, what tools you need, and what you can do to keep risks and challenges to a minimum.