The arguments for allowing your workforce to have more telecommuting options are many. There's the environmental argument, to begin with: Telecommuting raises your company's green profile; it keeps cars off the road and reduces traffic congestion. Telecommuting already saves 10 million barrels of oil per year, according to a 2011 study (PDF) from the Mobility Choice coalition. (See this infographic for more connections between telecommuting and green practices.)
Environmental sustainability and greater work business continuity are valid reasons to create more flexibility in your company's work arrangements. Another, arguably more pressing one? Your employees want it.
Also see A Manager’s Guide to Telecommuting for mentoring advice.
Telecommuting programs can increase employee productivity and satisfaction
According to the Telework Research Network, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework and serving the emerging educational and communication requirements of the Federal teleworker community, telecommuting can make employees more productive, not less—despite what many managers fear. It points to heavy hitters like Best Buy, Dow Chemical, and American Express as just a few companies that have found teleworkers are more productive by 35% to 40%.
In a global survey by Reuters, 65% of respondents from around the world think telecommuters are productive due to the greater control over work life enabled by a more flexible work arrangement. In a Cisco survey of 2,000 of its own employees, 69% of the employees surveyed said they were more productive when working remotely, and 67% said their overall work quality improved when telecommuting.
A study published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology supports this. The study found that workers with a more flexible schedule were better able to balance work and family life. Employees with the flexibility to telecommute at least part of the time worked 19 more hours than their office-bound workers before experiencing work-life conflicts.
Increased productivity from telecommuting and virtual programs also squares with the experiences of Rick Albiero, founder and CEO of the remote workforce consultancy the Telecommuting Advantage Group. There can be a lot of wasted time in a physical office. Woe to the person whose cube or office is a high-traffic zone, he says. How much time is lost as anyone who walks by feels the need to stop in and make small talk? Also, in an office it's easy to "walk around and bump into people." There's less pressure to be strategic in your communications and requests. It's much more likely that you rely on popping into someone's office to make that additional request you didn't think to make when you, for example, first asked for that report. In addition, Albiero says, typically the first part of a meeting tends not to focus on work, but rather gets taken up by topics like what team members did during the weekend.
It is partly for reasons such as these that teleworkers may be not only more productive, but happier. Contrary to the popular wisdom that personal interaction on the job is an important determinant in job satisfaction, a study in the October 2010 Journal of Applied Communications Research notes that there are distinct benefits associated with restricted face-to-face interaction. "Indeed, some communication scholars have questioned the notion that face-to-face interaction or a sense of 'being there' are necessarily positive," write the researchers.
Past studies show that traditional collocated environments do enable greater levels of information exchange than what is provided by teleworking situations (which the authors found as well). However, that increased communication can at times lead to information overload for employees and can actually hinder performance. Interruptions, meetings, unpleasant office politics, and other realities of many offices are easier to ignore; those working at home can instead focus on work and remain unaware of the self-interests and bad behaviors employees can engage in to get ahead. The result? You might say a healthy sense of isolation can create a work-focused bliss.
In other words, having more flexibility in one's work arrangements can boost morale and job satisfaction. And that's no small thing. As the economy makes its way toward recovery, employee attraction, satisfaction, and retention will once again—and are even now becoming—more important to companies, Albiero says. "Now we will have to compete for employees again." And make no mistake: Many candidates demand more flexibility in their work arrangements.
This is especially important, he says, since a lot of people —managers and employees alike — will leave their current job at the first opportunity. Managers have spent the last few years having to lay people off, to tell employees "no raise this year," and to explain that no additional staff can be hired even though their workers are doing the jobs of multiple employees. "People are looking for a fresh start," he says. More flexible work situations that do not rely on an employee being in-office and desk-bound must be considered if a business wants to stay competitive, Albiero says.
To Albiero’s point: According to a new survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of collaboration solutions vendor TeamViewer, 17% of respondents would forego a salary increase for the ability to telecommute.
Given broadband ubiquity and getting-better-all-the-time collaboration tools, providing a robust telecommuting program should be easier for companies today than ever before.
And then there's the exponentially changing cultural norms around technology and communication—and work. When Michael Dziak, COO of e-Work, a training provider that focuses on navigating evolving workplaces, began focusing on training programs, technological connectivity was a real issue. Today, he points out, everybody has a smartphone and e-mail; expectations around what is possible both in work and life has changed dramatically and organizations need to catch up, he says.
Are the warm-and-fuzzy staff productivity justifications for telecommuting not enough for your company? Then you can sell them on the budget advantages in real estate and operating costs: Companies could save $1.1 million if they allowed 100 workers to work at home just half the time, according to the Telework Research Network in a 2010 paper (PDF) prepared for Citrix Online.
Creating more flexible work arrangements can reduce the capital required to own or lease a building, and it also can save on parking lot leases, furniture, supplies, building maintenance, security, and other related costs. In an IBM paper, "Working Outside the Box," author Janet Caldow writes that savings in real estate costs and CO2 emissions "far outweigh the cost to transition an employee to mobile status."
To her point: More than 10,000 IBM employees were mobile by 1995, and dedicated office space per employee was reduced from a ratio of 1:1 to 4:1. That same year, more than 2 million square feet of office space and 7,500 work spaces were eliminated. The total cost to transform 10,000 employees into mobile workers was $41.5 million. The savings? $75 million dollars. "And that was just the beginning," she writes.
Related to real estate, Jill Adams, CEO of HR Telecommuting, a remote work strategy consultancy, points out that telecommuting programs also enable businesses to decentralize their workforce and resources, which translates to a better ability to weather the storms—both literal, and in the form of attacks and other disasters.
Don’t assume that telecommuting is only a policy change. When you support telecommuters, you need more management skills – and a little extra technology. For guidance on that topic, see A Manager’s Guide to Telecommuting.
[Ed: For more on the subject, see:Tips for Telecommuters: How to Tackle Productivity Drains, Bond with Coworkers, and Impress the Boss The benefits of the teleworking are many, but working from home is not without its challenges. Here are 15 tips on how to face potential pitfalls head on.]