Why Are Companies Still Avoiding Telecommuting?
The technology is here. People are already “connected” by phone, tablet, or computer during every waking moment. High-speed broadband Internet is used in 72 percent of U.S. homes. Multiple studies show that productivity increases when employees work remotely. Surveys show 54 percent of professionals prefer working from their home to the office for important assignments, and 50 percent of U.S. workers hold a job that is compatible with working from home.
But only about 10 percent of professionals work from home regularly. Why are companies still avoiding telecommuting?
There’s already proof of 'failure.'
Big-name telecommuting failures like those experienced by Yahoo! and Best Buy "prove" it doesn't work. But really, they only prove that telecommuting with little oversight and evaluation doesn’t work as a management system by itself. What employers miss is that proactive communication, performance evaluation, management training and employee accountability make the foundation for successful telecommuting, just as they should for in-office work. Without those components, productivity and effectiveness suffer just like they would in a traditional office environment.
Employers think telecommuting is all-or-nothing.
Both Yahoo! and Best Buy threw out their entire programs when issues were detected. But employers with successful telecommuting teams know several key things: first, telecommuting isn’t for everyone. Some employees simply don’t like working from home, others don’t have the skills to perform well as at-home workers, but there are those who thrive.
Second, telecommuting can mean anything from a few days each month to 100 percent at-home work. Third, what works for one department or company won’t necessarily work for another. Smart employers create programs that work for their own company dynamic, culture and employees.
IT security concerns arise with a distributed workforce.
It seems like every week another company announces a security breach, so it’s no wonder employers are concerned with telecommuting security. However, telecommuting in and of itself does not increase a company’s security risk. For example, the recent USPS security breach was the result of outdated security using old and low-quality software, which should have been a concern for the entire organization, not just the telecommuters.
Furthermore, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is already a security hot topic, with employees accessing their company’s networks through their own devices, often from home, at night or on the weekends. The best solution isn’t to cancel telecommuting, it’s to create a framework of procedures and security for remote workers that gives IT an effective way of preemptively addressing security concerns.
Teamwork and collaboration are still seen as in-person activities.
One of the biggest reasons Yahoo! disbanded its telecommuting program was that “communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.” But are communication and collaboration less important or less possible with remote work?
As a 100 percent virtual company, I’ve seen firsthand how the opposite can be true. Video and screen-sharing technologies provide excellent forums for teamwork, and can focus more attention on ideas and collaboration by eliminating or minimizing distractions. Think of the lingering aroma from your colleague’s garlicky lunch, your boss’ pen-tapping or the two “besties” who giggle through meetings. Those distractions don’t exist in a virtual meeting.
It’s not to say that teamwork and collaboration can’t benefit from in-office interaction, but they can also suffer. Telecommuting is a helpful alternative where just as much can get done.
Employers overlook the tangible benefits of telecommuting.
Study after study shows that telecommuting can lead to increased productivity, reduced turnover, fewer sick days, higher employee satisfaction and significant overhead and real estate cost savings. And it allows employers the chance to dramatically expand their candidate pools. A 2014 survey of hiring managers found that 83 percent said it was "somewhat difficult" or "very difficult" to fill job openings. Through telecommuting, a company can hire candidates outside its geographic area without worrying about costly relocation services, should the best recruit live across the country.
Some employers would rather keep their head in the sand with telecommuting, even if it means having an informal, unsecured technological infrastructure, because the status quo is easier. There are lots of problems with this approach, especially because most employees are already working away from their desks, which means they’re already telecommuting. But a formalized and strategic program can turn telecommuting from just another employee perk into a productive, efficient, scalable way of doing business. What smart company doesn’t want that?
Sara Sutton is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time job listings, and founder of Remote.co, a one-stop resource for remote teams and companies, and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative. She was named as a Young Global Leader (class of 2014) by the World Economic Forum for her work in technology and the employment fields. Sutton is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Boulder, Colo. Sutton is also the creator of The TRaD Works Conference, dedicated to helping companies leverage the benefits of telecommuting, remote and distributed teams.