Plenty of people dream about how great it would be if they could only work from home.
They’d suddenly have much more free time, they’d not miss the rigorous commute, they’d save gas and transportation costs. And they’d suddenly develop a superhuman ability to multitask, allowing them to perform their job while running errands, picking up the kids from school and catching their favorite daytime TV shows – all during the work day.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and failing to understand the pitfalls of telecommuting can lead to low productivity and possible failure.
It is precisely the results of this notion that has caused many companies to pull back on the telecommuting opportunities they offer while others have implemented training and monitoring systems to help their employees be productive.
If you work an 8 hour day at your job, then plan on putting in 8 hours while working from home. And every interruption, every short trip to the store, every phone call adds more time to your work day, meaning what used to be an 8 hour day could easily turn into 12 hours per day or more.
The numbers of people telecommuting is skyrocketing and today there are an estimated 35 million who work from home across the country, with numbers expected to rise to 43% of all workers by 2016 involved in some form of telecommuting.
Obviously, there are significant benefits to telecommuting both to the employee and to the employer:
WORKER BENEFITS OF TELECOMMUTING:
- An extra hour of sleep each day because of time saved commuting
- In most cases, scheduling of the work day is at the employee’s discretion
- Money is saved from not going out for lunch
- More free time with family and friends
- Location independent work offers opportunity if you’re a rural worker otherwise unable to commute
- No office politics, no interruptions, less stress, and no shoes required
EMPLOYER BENEFITS OF TELECOMMUTING:
- Lower square footage, often eliminating entire buildings. IBM has saved $50 million in real estate costs
- Increased applicant pool to pick from, since distance is less important
- Hiring sight unseen reduces the potential for discrimination
- Happier employees. Stats show most employees would forego a raise for the opportunity to work from home.
- Lower attrition rates, saving the cost of training new staff
And there are disadvantages as well. Even though the concept has been around for a few decades, it is still relatively new and imperfect. Both workers and businesses are learning as they go. In order for telecommuting to be successful, companies have to change the way they run their businesses.
The initial savings from smaller offices must be supported with new training, new computer equipment and new operations systems. For the employee, too often there is no set of instructions for telecommuting, and the change can lead to frustration and even failure:
WORKER DISADVANTAGES OF TELECOMMUTING:
- Lack of social interaction is a large factor. Water cooler chat does have its value. And the hustle and bustle of the office environment does often contribute to productivity
- Lack of discipline can lead to uncompleted projects. Regular interruptions can be a deal breaker.
- Family and friends don’t get it – they continue to stop by and/or call during the work day
- The “out of sight, out of mind” effect can make the telecommuter at the top layoff lists during economic downturns
- Motivation is hard to maintain for some. Setting daily goals is a good place to start.
EMPLOYER DISADVANTAGES OF TELECOMMUTING:
- Difficult to monitor productivity. Some companies find that contract work is most efficient for telecommuters
- Must change management styles. The inability to actually see workers has to be replaced with new systems
- Will need to add technology, such as a VPN (virtual private network) to assist in monitoring remote workers
- Cost of equipment: computer, router, internet service.
- HR department will miss issues regarding worker’s comp, equal pay, harassment or unionizing efforts.
TELECOMMUTING – MAKING IT WORK
If you have been given an opportunity to work from home, it is important that you first establish a daily regimen, just as though you were still working in the office. The routine of getting up, dressing and preparing for the work day is a necessity.
Many use the morning commute to mentally review the upcoming day’s activities. The home worker must also take this time to mentally prep for the day’s business. Consider what your projects are and what your goals are for the day.
- Dress for work, even if it is home-casual.
- Set aside a regular place to work and use it.
- Don’t allow interruptions to your day. Remind family and friends that you are “at work.”
- Stay motivated – set daily achievement goals
- The only “extra” time you have each day is the amount of time you have saved from commuting. Limit your extracurricular work day activities to that amount of time.
- Consider a hybrid situation where you spend a few days in the office each week
Success will depend on many things, ranging from the specific nature of your work, to your ability to get the job done without benefit of a bona fide office environment. As long as you acknowledge the challenges from the beginning, you will be better equipped to conquer them as a telecommuter.