The pros of telecommuting can outweigh the pitfalls
Summer in the city means even more gritty commutes and carpools around and between one or both Beltways. The swelter makes one dream of working away from the office, at a home office or a beach or cabin. As the CEO or manager of a company, you may have already considered having your employees telecommute (work remotely on a regular basis). What are the pros and cons of your letting or even encouraging them do so?
As of 2006, an estimated 45 million Americans employees telecommuted. About 90% of telecommuters are in the office at least part-time, so that some of the biggest fears about remote work arrangements affect few employees. However, some legitimate concerns have been raised, mainly in three areas:
Conflicting studies have confused decision makers in all these areas. A landmark 2007 study by Ravi S. Gajendran and David A. Harrison of Penn State University resolved some of these issues. Their meta-analysis, a combined statistical reanalysis of 46 different studies, provided encouraging results. Among their findings: Generally, people working at home performed as well as or better than others, as measured by supervisor ratings and objective measures. They had higher job satisfaction, in part because of the greater autonomy and flexibility they enjoy, and lower turnover rates as well. They are better able to resolve work-family conflicts. And, contrary to expectations, relationships with supervisors and coworkers are not harmed, at least for those who come to the workplace during part of the work week.
Not for everyone
Telecommuting is not feasible for everyone, particularly those in frontline retail jobs. Others who are not good candidates for telecommuting include:
Telecommuting can actually derail some careers. Consider “Bill”, a successful IT consultant who moved across the country but continued to work remotely for his former employer. Within months, he saw his productivity plummet. He couldn’t adapt to becoming a focused self-starter without the social competition that can come from a serious work environment. Within six months, he lost his job. He eventually went back to a traditional office job, and began to flourish again.
Issues to consider
Too good to dismiss
Telecommuting is not for every organization, or every job, or every individual. However, it’s too valuable a tool for productivity, job satisfaction and retention to dismiss out of hand. It can also mean cost-savings in terms of office space and other resources. If it’s applicable to your kind of work, you would be wise to figure out if and how you can make it work.
Fred Mael, PhD, helps organizations and their employees work more effectively, and coaches executives and managers. www.maelconsulting.com. This article appeared originally in the August, 2010 issue of Baltimore SmartCEO and Washington SmartCEO magazine.