As technology evolves, many of the barriers that have traditionally limited telecommuting continue to disappear. The tedious standard of spending 40 hours a week sitting in a cubicle is fading as employers and workers both embrace the benefits associated with telecommuting.
When you pay workers for their time, they're willing to give you as much of it as you are willing to pay for. But, that doesn't necessarily mean they're maximizing productivity during that time. If you told workers that they can have the rest of the week off as soon as they complete their assigned tasks and meet their deadlines for the week, you would find that five days of effort can probably be compressed to two and have a very empty office after Tuesday while everyone is out golfing.
Workers know, though, that they have to be present in the office from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday regardless of how quickly or effectively work gets completed, so instead the work gets dragged out. Finishing quickly is likely to result in additional assignments to fill the time, so there is no incentive to maximize performance. Instead, the work week is filled with unproductive time -- chatting with co-workers, reading personal e-mail, surfing the Web, smoking breaks, long lunches, etc.
A research study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and published by the National Communication Association found, "Employees who telecommute the majority of the work week are more satisfied with their jobs compared to those working mostly in the office because working remotely alleviates more stress than it creates."
Kathryn Fonner, lead researcher for the study, explains, "Results of the study pointed to multiple reasons why telework is linked to high job satisfaction, namely that employees working remotely are, on average, shielded from much of the distracting and stressful aspects of the workplace, such as office politics, interruptions, constant meetings and information overload."
Think about it for a minute. Even if the amount of non-productive time is the same to the employer, working from home enables workers to put the "wasted" time to better use. Instead of just chatting or surfing, the worker can take care of household chores and tasks that have to be done but normally fill up "personal" time -- laundry, dishes, prepping dinner. That also means that when the work day is done, the worker is free to actually use the personal time for more enriching activities than simple mundane chores.
There are a variety of other benefits for both the worker and the employer. No commuting enables the worker to avoid the stress and dangers of rush hour traffic and reclaim many hours of time that weren't even being compensated anyway. Not sharing a work environment reduces the chances that a cold or flu virus can spread throughout a department and cripple productivity, and not having to get up and drive to work enables even marginally sick workers to continue being productive from the comfort of home.
Businesses can also reduce costs associated with the office itself -- the size of the office, the furniture, the electricity used, the cost of heating and cooling the office space, etc.
Organizations should take a serious look at the advantages and benefits of allowing workers to telecommute where possible, and invest in remote access, mobile platforms, and VPN technologies that enable users to work from virtually anywhere.
Small and medium businesses in particular should embrace cloud-based productivity and collaboration platforms such as Google Docs or Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Services (soon to be rebranded as Office 365). Services like Box.net, Dropbox, and Syncplicity also provide a means of sharing information between remote co-workers, and even online tools like Skype and Facebook enable communication and collaboration. Bottom line -- the tools are out there and they are free, or at least very affordable.