If there was ever a time to think out of the box about ways to cut costs, it's now. One tactic that's hardly new, but deserves another look is telecommuting (or web commuting). Rather than thinking outside the box, you may want to think outside of the office.
According to a report from the human resources association, WorldatWork, 17.2 million U.S. employees telecommuted at least one day a month in 2008. That's slightly more than 10 percent of the U.S. workforce and an increase of almost 40 percent from 2006. Other data from Forrester Research pegs the U.S. telecommuter population at 34 million and predicts an increase to 63 million by 2016--calibrated to Bureau of Labor Services data, that means a third of U.S. workers will be working remotely. Bridging the data gap between these two research results is another matter.
Workers, it seems, want to work remotely. In fact 73 percent of the U.S. workforce wants to telecommute according to Citrix Online's Worldwide Workplace survey. And 53 percent of small business owners want to as well. The Citrix survey, which is available for download, is chockfull of charts and data about the appeal of web commuting and the barriers businesses and employees face in adopting it.
As to the potential benefits for your business, some are obvious--fewer bodies in the buildings can mean lower physical plant costs from your lease to office equipment to your energy costs. Allowing the flexibility and balance inherent to web commuting can help with retention. It could also mean lower payroll costs. According to that Citrix survey, more than 20 percent of U.S. workers would be willing to forego 5 percent of their salary in exchange for the freedom to web commute several days each week.
Of course, it's not as simple as just sending everyone home and then reducing your payroll by 5 percent. There are some basic logistics and personnel management issues to work out--if people share workstations when they are in the office, you need a schedule of when they'll be home and when they won't. There's also the question of oversight and management--some business owners and managers want to see their employees (and, let's face facts, some employees need to be seen). Plus, not every business function is conducive to remote work. Point being you need to pick your spot.
In situations where remote work is possible, though, there's real possibility for cost savings. For example, Concentric Sky, a Web development firm in Eugene, Ore., has reduced its facilities costs by having about a third of the 30-person staff telecommute. Larger companies with call centers are able to recognize savings as well, not to mention tapping into potential labor pools that wouldn't necessarily be available in the local market (there's an outsourcing angle here).
There's also a technology hurdle to clear. To be effective, your remote workers need access to communications and applications and you need to figure out how to provide everything from a phone extension to secure IT access. In releasing the results of that survey Citrix unveiled a site, Workshifting.com, that offers resources and information about how to make this work for your business.
Thanks to the internet, telecommuting is easier than ever before, but that doesn't necessarily mean it makes sense for your business or for every employee, but it may make sense for you in some situations and offer real benefits (financial and otherwise).